Compression Garments: Do they work?
By: George Cho, MFSc, CEP, CSCS
From athletes to guys lifting weights in the gym and the kid playing soccer, tight workout clothes have really come into vogue. But do compression garments actually work and if so, for whom or for what? How exactly do compression garments help? To get some insight into these questions, we turn to 2 excellent review articles:
- Sports Medicine entitled: Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A meta-analysis. A brief summary is provided and the interested reader is encouraged to read the full article linked below.
- Hill, J et al. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013.
Below is a brief synopsis of the conclusions from those papers. For those who are interested to read the full text of the articles, please refer to the references at the end of this article.
Summary points from these two scientific papers:
- Statistically significant and likely beneficial effects on recovery from resistance training when used 2 - 8 hrs and greater than 24 hrs post-training (after training).
- Likely beneficial for recovery from cycling to assist in the performance of cycling on the following day.
- Likely no benefit for recovery from running.
- One reports that likely there is no benefit to power training, whereas the 2013 paper suggests there is a benefit
- Compression garments likely does NOT assist in performance.
- The degree of tightness may not be practically significant
Why is it beneficial for resistance training recovery?
Resistance training results in what is called: exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). To recover from this, there is a need to bring nutrients to the muscle and to take out waste metabolites which accumulate as a result of resistance training. One way to facilitate this recovery process is by increasing circulation. Studies suggest that compression garments do exactly this. Compression garments compress dilated veins and prevent venous reflux thus enhancing venous return towards the heart. It reduces edema (fluid accumulation) and therefore helps improve circulation. It is also likely that compression garments help reduce the sensation of soreness and may even help recover from what is called: delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Why are compression garments NOT beneficial in running?
The likely benefit of compression garments is in facilitating recovery specifically for exercise-induced muscle damage. However, running and power exercises involve much more than merely exercise-induced muscle damage. For example, power training involves co-ordinative, tendon-mediated, physiological and neuromuscular components of recovery. Recovery from running goes beyond merely repairing muscle damage. Thus, the authors state: "It is therefore unsurprising that ameliorating muscle damage alone is often insufficient to aid in recovery from running, as this milieu of degenerative processes is unlikely to be wholly addressed by a single recovery method."
Recovery not performance
It is important to note that the studies do not really support any benefit of compression clothes for performance. Thus one would not expect to derive much of a benefit from wearing compression clothes during weight training, sports, etc. However, wearing compression clothes 2 - 8 hrs and 24 hrs after resistance training may help enhance recovery from a prior workout.
Brown, F et al. Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 2017; Apr 22
Hill, J et al. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013.