Why do people use compression gear?
The claim is that the compression garments are believed to improve the blood return to the heart (as it would while recovering) and allow for a better cardiac output which would deliver more oxygen to the working muscles and improve your endurance. Sounds good right? Well in theory this seems to make logical sense: help get the used blood back to the heart to become oxygenated and then return to the muscles that need it. The problem I have with this claim is that we don’t know if the body needs help getting that blood back up there. What would ever give us the impression that the blood is going to pool in our feet while running? There is no current research to show that this is (or has ever) been a problem among the healthy population or during activity; so why is it now?
It is true that compression garments have been used for years with great success in the medical field helping people that suffer from peripheral vascular dieses: compression garments help those patients avoid pooling of blood in the legs. Now a crude analogy would be to say that eye glasses have also been used for years with great success in the medical field helping people see better; but would we take that statement to believe that eye glasses would help a person with good vision? No, we all understand that eyeglasses are only beneficial for a certain population that has a physical need for them. Then why do we just blindly believe that compression gear will benefit a healthy athlete?!? A majority of the research on compression garments has been done on the resting population and only preliminary studies have actually been done on the population while active. But there is no research that shows an athlete would suffer from pooling of blood during an activity.
Now to prove I am not just a “hater” I do see (in theory) how compression gear could be beneficial to the athlete while recovering from a race or a hard workout by improving blood flow in areas of the body (such as feet and legs) which would results in enhanced nutrient delivery and removal of waste products to and from muscles. So compression can be particularly helpful in the feet and lower legs where gravity has a greater effect on blood return to the heart.
As a side note all of these studies and results have been done on the “unhealthy” population so it is still not proven that the “healthy” individual will see the same results or need any type of assistance to avoid blood pooling. But hey I guess it can’t hurt! I personally know (and coach) some athletes that use compression garments while racing and training and they swear by them.
They claim that they feel better while running and do not feel as sore after. To them I say: (1) if you always feel good and are never sore then we may need to look at your zones and test again, (2) if it works for you keep with it! The thing is we just don’t know if the compression garments are providing them with a physiological benefit or just a psychological one: either way it is a positive benefit to them.
Bottom Line: The bottom line is that there really is no evidence to support the use of compression gear while training or racing but there is at least some to support the use of these garments during recovery. If you feel you have trouble recovering or if you are increasing your training load then go ahead and give them a try after your workouts and see if they work for you. If so and you want to give them a try while training then be my guest but don’t do it because you just read an ad. I am not a “hater” I am just not a “believer” yet.
Work, Live, Train Coach Hammond