Compress That, Buddy!

In a recent on-line article about compression gear, the author cited a bunch of studies on elite runners and concluded– wait for it… that there was no conclusion. No scientific consensus on whether compression has benefits or not.   Well, this never-been-elite-and-never-gonna-be is ready to disagree!

Back in 2013 I had pretty much ignored the ads for compression clothing, figuring they were just another sexy way for manufacturers to part runners from their money. It seemed obvious to my innocent mind that having to stretch that heavy fabric every time my legs bent or straightened would bleed-off precious energy which was better applied between my feet and the ground.

But…I was also on the verge of quitting marathons. Not because my times weren’t progressing (they were, though only very gradually and not consistently), but because running 26.2 just felt plain wrong. Despite having followed a ramp-up training plan to build strength and endurance, every marathon left me feeling more mangled than majestic. Gutting out those final miles on legs that refused to respond, then staggering around for several days like a stiff-legged zombie, I figured I was simply not cut out for it. Until the horrific Boston bombings happened; after which my entire cardiovascular system wanted desperately to line up in Hopkinton the next year and join the hordes of other runners and spectators to show the world that those two impotent losers had not accomplished a damned thing.

Knowing I’d need all the help I could get, I scrunched up my tight little fists and sprung for a pair of CW-X ¾ length compression tights, after which – drum roll please….

What I did not experience was any sensation of resistance or wasting energy. My mental image now is that, just as much as your motion in one part of a stride stretches the fabric, the springy stuff acts to snap your leg back in the other, so fifty-fifty.

What I did experience was a big difference in how my legs felt in the later stages of long runs. Where before the heavy muscles around the thighs had been flapping and flopping like to tear themselves from the bones, now they were solidly in place, and because of that they maintained more strength longer. Day-after was the real kicker though, with noticeably-less leg fatigue and stiffness after running in compression than without.

Third conclusion? A couple of months after getting those tights, I wore them for an official marathon – and PR’d by over 15 minutes! I’m not saying that was all the compression tights (it was a downhill course, after all), but could I have kept up that pace in the last 6.2 if my legs were feeling flayed from the bones like I’d learned to expect? Not on your Lycra.

Since then I’ve worn compression tights for pretty much every event over half marathon distance. (But not for training; training is about applying stress to induce growth, so I save the stress-reducing super-gear for actual events.)

Thus sayeth the Follow-dog: get yourself a pair and see how they work for you. I’m already sold.

P. S. – Compression socks? Haven’t tried ‘em for running (I’m hooked on wool socks by Darn-Tough or Smartwool) but do use them after a big effort, for comfort and quicker recovery. Compression sleeves? Sleeves are a great layering option for warmth in marginal weather, have never tried compression up there. Compression shirts? Not with my mid-section, thank you very much!

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