Athletes and fitness fiends alike have very prominent opinions regarding compression gear. The supremely snug attire is thought to improve performance and speed up recovery, but researchers have a confession to make: compression clothing is pretty much useless for endurance runners. (But hey, at least it covers up some leg...)
The study, published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, rounded up 16 competitive male distance runners. They were fixed with monitors and masks to measure their gait, oxygen intake, and other variables, then set loose on a treadmill, running at three progressively increasing speeds. Compression sleeves were slipped over calves, and the treadmill test was repeated, the New York Times reported.
Results showed that there was no statistically significant difference in running efficiency or biomechanics between when the runners wore compression and when they did not. If the sleeves had functioned as expected, the runners would have used less oxygen.
Fear not if you’re a sprinter, a basketballer, or a bodybuilder, though. Compression gear can be advantageous in situations where an athlete is engaging in explosive movements, like sprinting, leaping and jerking, a 2013 review of more than 30 studies found.
And if you really enjoy the suctioning tightness of compression gear, then keep at it. You have nothing to lose.
“Since beliefs are strong performance enhancers, I would recommend compression clothing to persons who believe in the performance-enhancing effect,” says Billy Sperlich, a professor of exercise science at the University of Würzburg in Germany, who co-authored the review.
Just make sure the gear fits properly—as in, it's I-can't-fit-my-hand-in-here tight.