A basic guide to compression running kit

Compression leggings for running

What’s so great about compression running kit? We take a look at what’s available in more detail, as well as answer the top questions about compression.

What is compression running kit?

It’s hard to get away from the word ‘compression’ when it comes to the latest running kit. There are new products being released all the time, and specialist brands like CEP (www.cepsports.co.uk), SKINS (www.skins.net/uk/) and 2XU (https://www.2xu.com/uk) are producing technically advanced kit for all levels of runner.

The general idea behind compression running kit is that it creates tailored pressure on the blood veins to help move blood back towards the heart, counteracting the effects of gravity and preventing blood from pooling in the extremities.

It is used in the medical world for all manner of things. Ladies who have given birth, for example, or people who are in hospital for surgery, may have been offered compression socks to help maintain a strong blood flow when they are otherwise immobile and could be at risk of blood clots. Compression socks are also used on long-haul flights, again to keep blood flowing and to reduce the risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis).

The compression in these products are ‘graduated’. This means that the compression level changes throughout the kit, with maximum compression further away from the heart and a lighter compression as you move closer to the heart. Over time, these benefits have been translated into running gear. As well as socks, you can now get compression calf sleeves, arm sleeves, tops, leggings, shorts… Pretty much every part of your body can be compressed!

What are the benefits of compression kit?

There are many reputed benefits of compression gear for runners. These include increased endurance, which is why they are often seen on long-distance runners. Compression gear is also supposed to help when working at a high intensity or using explosive power, making it popular among sprinters and other field athletes. Compression kit can also be used to aid recovery, reducing muscle soreness and decreasing recovery time. There have been some studies done into their effectiveness, and certainly all of the key brands have research to prove their impressive claims. Some runners swear by using compression gear; others don’t feel the benefit – so there are certainly no guarantees.

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Should I wear compression kit for running or recovery?

Either, or, both. It’s up to you and what suits you best. Some runners will swear by compression technology to run in, while others find it constrictive. Other runners will use compression as part of their recovery routine and find that their muscles have reduced soreness as a result. Other runners use compression for both running and recovery.

It really is trial and error as to what works best for you. Really good compression gear costs a fair amount of money, so it can be wise to save it for when you really need it: longer training runs, races, intense speed sessions… And always look at the washing instructions! Don’t just bung them in a standard wash. When you are holding probably the most expensive socks you will ever own in your hands, you don’t want to ruin them. The technology needs to be protected so it continues working for you. The washing label is there for a reason!

Is there a difference between compression running kit at different price points?

Not all compression gear is made equal, and you can certainly see the difference in the price. Popular low-cost high-street supermarkets have been known to bring out compression base layers at regular intervals at a fraction of the price of the big-name brands.

So ,why would you spend £100 on a pair of compression shorts when you could spend £20? There are various factors to look for and consider when it comes to compression gear. For a start, when you’re paying the higher price points, you are buying some impressive technology. Manufacturers have to take into account comfort, flexibility, fit, wickability, breathability… and then on top of that, the actual compression technology too. It’s a complex art and, like anything, the more you pay, the more you get. But it really comes down to what you, as a runner, really need.

If you just want to try compression out, then a light compression layer could be a good place to start. If you’re looking for something more heavy-duty because you are trying to prevent or protect injury, improve recovery time due to an intense training plan or want to increase your on-the-run performance, specialised brands can offer more.

Medical-grade compression socks have a grading system you can use to compare different models. They will have a range in mmHg, which is millimetres of mercury. The range shows the maximum (near the ankle) and minimum (up by the knee) compression levels. The higher the numbers, the more compression. It’s not a case of the higher the better, though. Some runners prefer lighter compression to run in and tighter compression for recovery.

Watch out for the sizing too – you need to get your tape measure out and get the right size for your body, not just your usual size. The compression technology won’t work at its best if you have the wrong size.

The industry view

CEP compression socksCEP is a sports brand that creates intelligent sportswear, with targeted compression to improve blood circulation and speed up lactate metabolism. So, they certainly know a thing or two about the benefits of compression for runners.

Matt Davey, CEP UK & Ireland Brand Manager, shares a few thoughts on the use of compression wear: “Compression offers a number of benefits for runners looking to support their performance and recovery. Compression has a ‘stabilising’ effect, significantly reducing muscle vibration/oscillation, through which the athlete is able to enjoy enhanced proprioception and joint stabilisation. It also helps to promote arterial flow, improving the supply of oxygenated blood supply to the muscles and accelerating venous return – increasing the removal of metabolic substances from the muscles.

“CEP products are produced using ‘graduated’ compression. This means that the compression is strongest at the lowest point (the ankle area), and gradually reduces the further up the leg you go. This compression effect helps to support the blood vessels by decreasing their diameter, improving the supply of oxygenated blood to the muscles.

“CEP offers medical-grade compression, and is manufactured in Bayreuth, Germany by medi – the global leader in phlebology with experience spanning over 60 years. The compression sports range is produced to the highest-quality standards. It offers a safe and effective form of compression for maximum performance, recovery and health gains.”