The Science Behind Compression Kit

Compression Wear: What is it, when should you wear it and can it improve your performance?

Runner's World UK |

From tights and long-sleeved base layers to T-shirts, calf guards and arm sleeves, compression kit is designed to help you run further and recover faster. But have you ever wondered what the science is behind it?

Oxygen flow

Compression wear works because it helps the flow of oxygen. Oxygen fuels muscles during exercise, powering you to go further and faster. It’s the heart that delivers oxygen to the muscles: blood passes through the lungs, where it picks up oxygen to deliver to muscles. The heart then pumps oxygenated blood to your muscles and picks up waste lactic acid on the way. Finally, deoxygenated blood returns to your heart through the veins – and then the whole process starts again.

A powerful cardiovascular system makes you a strong runner. When you’re in oxygen deficit your heart can’t deliver oxygen to muscles fast enough and you’ll produce lactic acid, which is the burning sensation and utter fatigue you feel when you push it hard. Lactic acid is ultimately what makes you stop.

They key to beat lactic acid build up is to deliver oxygen more efficiently – and that’s where compression wear can help.

Compression clothing is typically ‘graduated’, which means it’s designed to be tighter at the extremities – such as the ankles and lower calf – to promote blood flow back to the heart, helping to send deoxygenated blood back via the veins and removing lactic acid from your muscles as quickly as possible.

You can wear compression gear both during a run, to help blood flow, and afterwards to help re-oxygenate the muscles and remove waste.

Muscle oscillation

You may have spotted the phrase muscle oscillation on compression gear labels too. This is the movement of the muscle that happens as your foot hits the ground when vibration ripples through your body. Compression wear designed specifically for runners will aim to limit this vibration and prevent microtrauma to the muscle.

10 ways compression wear works

  • Improves circulation
  • Increases muscle oxygenation
  • Speeds up recovery
  • Speeds up lactic acid removal
  • Reduces exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD)
  • Reduces muscle oscillation
  • Improves endurance
  • Boosts strength and power
  • Improves body temperature control
  • Reduces ankle oedema (swelling) when flying

Compression kit

Compression tights offer graduated support around the ankles to help veinous return, plus support around the knees and quads – two typically troublesome spots for runners.

Calf sleeves
Ideal for when it’s too hot for tights, calf sleeves will boost blood flow and help to reduce muscle oscillation helping you to recover faster.

Like calf sleeves, compression socks provide pressure from the ankle to the calf to promote blood flow and help to reduce muscle oscillation.

Compression tops typically aim to adjust your posture, opening up the chest area to allow you to take in more oxygen.

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