Part of our coaching service is helping the athletes we coach find the right gear. Since a lot of the athletes we coach are looking for simple and somewhat inexpensive ways to make performance gains, one of the most frequently asked questions about gear revolves around the use of compression garments. “Should I wear compression socks during my race?” “Will compression tights help me recover faster from hard workouts?” “Can I expect to run faster with compression gear?” These are just a few of the typical questions we get.
There has been a handful of studies done on the ergogenic effects of using compression garments during exercise, however, results of many of these studies are not always applicable to triathletes, and one study often conflicts with another. A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a study that basically states what I have suspected about compression gear all along. Here’s a link the study, entitled Compression Garments and Exercise: Garment Considerations, Physiology and Performance. The article basically states that there is little or no scientific validation that compression garments aid in performance. Additionally, its use as a recovery tool is also inconclusive at this time.
That being said, I feel that anecdotally, compression seems to have at least a minimal effect on my bodies for recovery. My experience with using compression garments has been that using it after hard, long runs, for example, seems to aid in recovery. When I have used compression in this manor, I seem to feel the effects of hard workouts less the following day. I also have used compression for travel, where I sit on a plane or in a car for more than two hours. In this instance, the typical swelling of ankles, feet, and sometimes knees seems to be minimized, if not avoided altogether. On the other hand, wearing compression during exercise, again, in my experience, has had no noticeable effect on my performance. Others have reported differently. I’m sure there is some amount of placebo effect occurring, maybe even for all of us.
So what does this mean? Should you use compression garments in triathlon? The answer is that I don’t know. Studies tell us that maybe it works, but then maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe science, theory, and practice have just not met up in the same spot yet.