Compression socks have been around the medical field for years, particularly in treatment use for varicose veins, spider veins, and surgery recovery. It’s only been in recent years that compression gear has made its way to the running and triathlon communities, billed as a method to help improve recovery from tough workouts. There’s a lot of misinformation and hype out there, so let’s dive in and talk about the real SQUEEZE!
What exactly does compression do and what does research say?
Compression gear is meant to help increase blood flow by applying pressure to the blood vessels, which constricts the vessels. This constriction then forces blood through a smaller pathway and moves the blood back up the legs to the heart. Compression socks attempt to keep blood from pooling in the feet and lower legs, which can also help reduce swelling.
Early on in compression wear, a lot of research indicated that there was a giant placebo effect with compression socks/gear and not much support that compression helped beyond that. Since then, there are several peer reviewed studies showing that compression socks can help in running recovery but may not enhance performance.
How is compression measured?
Typically, compression is measured in mmHg, or millimeters of mercury, and most compression for runners is about 20-30 mmHg. The compression that you’ll find in most running gear is a graduated compression, meaning that the pressure increases as it goes toward your heart, pushing the blood back to your heart. This is why it’s so important to make sure that what you’re buying is a legitimate product, measured for your needs (more on that later!).
How can it help me as a runner?
Many runners use compression socks as a recovery tool after a particularly difficult workout or long run. If you notice swelling in your legs or feet, this may help and
How do I use it?
Most compression socks and sleeves are measured for size based on the circumference of your calves. Your foot size isn’t really important here since the compression at the foot isn’t as high but instead increases as it goes up the leg, so be wary of brands that simply ask for your foot size. Instead, make your way to your local specialty running store and get measured. Make sure both of your calves are measured, and if you’re on the verge of two sizes, try them both on to find what’s most comfortable. Most people will go with the smaller size but like most things, it’s about what’s most comfortable for you!
Compression socks and sleeves are meant to be used for both exercise and for recovery. Many people prefer to exercise in the sleeves, as they can continue to wear their preferred socks, and then use the full-length compression socks for recovery. Most experts agree that it’s best to not use the sleeves for recovery as they can contribute to blood pooling in the feet, so if you’re planning on wearing sleeves, just make sure you’re moving around and not lounging on the couch.
Products we like
One brand that really stands out in terms of performance is CEP Compression. They use a high-quality yarn that provides a great squeeze as well as breathability, and the socks have a seamless toe to reduce friction. While I don’t wear compression everyday and instead prefer to wear them for long runs and recovery only, I’ve found that they last longer and provide a tighter squeeze than some other brands.
Try the new CEP 3.0 Compression socks, made with a lighter weight yarn that still provides medical-grade compression.
Proper care for your compression gear will help protect your investment and keep it performing well throughout the year. When washing, put your socks or sleeves in a garment bag and wash with the rest of your athletic gear. Use a mild soap, cold water, and the gentle cycle, and lay them out to dry. Some brands recommend a low tumble dry occasionally to allow the compression to bounce back as well.
Compression socks and sleeves have a similar lifespan to running shoes and sports bras– depending on how frequently you use them, they can last from 6 months to a year. Many runners will only wear compression on long run days and race days, which will also help extend the life of the garments. If you notice that putting your compression gear on has become incredibly easy and they’re not as tight anymore, it’s probably time to invest in another pair.