Do slower runners need compression?

Does compression kit benefit slower runners and shorter mileage? Hazel Sillver investigates

Compression socks

Do slower runners need compression?

Compression clothing is a burgeoning trend, with an increasing amount of runners powering about in knee-high calf-sucking socks. But is it relevant to those of us who run slowly or who only do short distances, such as 5K or 10K?

‘Definitely,’ says Sammy Margo, a chartered physiotherapist based in northwest London ‘Compression kit is beneficial for any running distance. Yes, it used to be worn solely by sports professionals, but now it’s entering the terrain of the everyday Jo Jogger and that’s great.’

What is compression gear?

Most compression kit looks like regular running gear – the difference is it’s so tight and snug against your skin that it stimulates your muscles. You can buy a whole outfit of compression gear if you want to, because specialist manufacturers (such as 2XU) and big retailers (such as adidas) offer skin-hugging tops, tights, shorts and socks. The latter usually reach up to the knee and are a common sight on runner’s calves nowadays. You can also purchase compression ‘sleeves’, which hug your calves, quads or arms.

How does it work?

The theory is the tightness of the material (which is stretchy and usually made of polyamide and elastane) activates the muscles and stimulates blood flow. More oxygen is circulated, which reduces build up of lactic acid and creatine kinase, in turn boosting performance and recovery.

How does it help short-distance runners?

‘The benefits of compression clothing apply on any length of run,’ says Sammy. ‘It keeps the body warm, boosts circulation, helps to supports the muscles and, should you fall and injure yourself, it will stop the flow of blood.’

Does science back up the claims?

Research by Stellenbosch University in South Africa showed that runners had a faster lactate recovery rate after wearing compression socks. And further studies have suggested compression socks improve leg power during running and aid recovery by increasing venous blood flow when you’re resting and reducing muscle soreness. However, the American College of Sports Medicine found no difference in the oxygen consumption of runners wearing compression socks and runners wearing regular socks.

When should I wear compression kit?

There is a common misconception that because compression clothing reduces the amount of warming up you need to do before a run and prevents muscle stiffness when running in the cold, that it shouldn’t be worn in summer. ‘I wear compression gear all year round, even if it’s hot,’ says Sammy. ‘This isn’t just winter wear. In Australia, where it’s warmer than the UK, a lot of professional sports people wear it all year.’

How long should I wear it for?

Once you’ve finished your run, keep your compression clothing on for around 30 minutes to reap the recovery benefits it has to offer. It should reduce any fatigue, stiffness and soreness, even if you’ve only jogged 3K. But after half an hour, take it off! ‘Neverwear compression clothing when you’re not exercising,’ warns Sammy, ‘because it will make muscles lazy – if they’re not being called upon to work because the tight clothing is doing it for them, they switch off, and your circulation won’t be as good because the body is relying on the pump action of the compression tights instead of its own action.’

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Chris Macdonald

Written by Chris Macdonald | 367 articles | View profile

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