Trends come in cycles. One of the trends most popular runners have adopted over the past few years has been compression garments. Manufacturers tout their alleged benefits. They include enhanced blood flow, higher oxygen uptake, increased running performance, faster recovery times and injury prevention.
Highly competitive runners and triathletes who are looking for a competitive edge will pay big money if there is even a hint of a benefit. But what does science reveal about the claims made by manufacturers of compression garments?
Compression Gear Put To The Test
Several scientific studies on compression technology did not conclude there was a meaningful difference between the group with compression and without. A comprehensive study in 2013 specifically tested the claim of increased blood flow with compression shorts. The researcher did not see an increase but rather a decrease in blood flow to the lower extremities. A review of about 30 other studies suggested that the proposed benefits were localized to sports requiring more explosive jumping activities like basketball and certain track and field events.
Yet another study was published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. The researchers tested 16 male elite runners and put them through a litany of tests at increasing speeds without compression technology. The researchers tested the group again, this time wearing the compression garments. As previous studies concluded, there was no difference in oxygen uptake, biomechanical efficiency or blood flow among the group.
So Is It Worth It?
Study after study has concluded the same thing. So why do athletes buy compression garments? One of the answers is herd mentality. This describes the tendency for people to be influenced by their peers. As coaches, we constantly try to get runners and triathletes to resist throwing money at their problems. In the never-ending search for a shortcut to training, endurance enthusiasts will buy whatever they see others wearing if they believe it works. Because others have it, they want it too.
The other reason may be the good old-fashioned placebo effect. If you think it works, perhaps it impacts your performance in some way. An old episode of Seinfeld comes to mind. I can just hear George Costanza now. “Jerry just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”