Are you considering using running compression socks?
Then you have come to the right place.
Not long ago, compression gear used to be the sole reserve of diabetic patients and airplane pilots, but recently this technology, especially running compression socks, have become trendy.
Many companies are increasingly marketing these stockings to runners, stating that they increase athletic power, speed up recovery, and can drastically enhance performance.
Are any of these claims true?
In today’s article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the science behind compression socks (if there is any) and how it might affect recovery and performance.
I’ll also share with you a few practical guidelines on how to make the most out of compression running socks (if you decide to give them a try).
Running Compression Socks Explained
As the name implies, compression socks are snug-fitting, stretchy socks that gently squeeze the lower legs, functionning as a base layer that’s super snug in specific areas.
Typically worn up to the knee, compression socks apply gradual pressure to the veins on the surface of your lower legs as well as the arteries and the muscles. They’re like tube socks on steroids.
Compression gear tends to be tighter at the extremities, gradually declining in pressure towards the heart. More specifically, running socks squeeze around the calf, compressing the veins on the surface of the lower legs as well as the legs muscle and arteries.
This, according to theory, help boost blood flow and decrease lactic acid build-up—which in turn may speed up post-run recovery and reduce fatigue.
Compression gear can be applied to a range of items, such as shorts, arm sleeves, tights, tops, and more.
The compression power level depends on many factors such as fabric material, structure, and size as well as the runner’s size, shape, and personal preferences.
You can purchase these socks over the counter or at a sporting goods store. If your doctor prescribes them, your insurance may cover the cost.
You can also get a compression sleeve—just the tube part without the foot.
Most compression socks are made from high-performance fabric that incorporates rubber and fibers but is firmer than your typical everyday socks.
The Science of Compression
Now, let’s look at some of the science and research behind the effectiveness of compression gear for both recovery and performance.
Please don’t roll your eyes just yet; I promise not to bore with a lot of technical, scientific, medical jargon.
Plenty of research suggests that compression socks improve blood flow and reduce muscle oscillation.
This, in theory, can help speed up recovery, keep your body well aligned, and prevent energy waste—all of which improve performance and training efficiency.
Let’s delve deeper into the athletic gains.
The Recovery Gains Explained
As far as I can tell, the recovery element is based on sound scientific research. Numerous studies have found that opting for compression gear speeds up recovery and decreases muscle soreness afterward.
Running increases blood flow to your heart and lungs as well as the main running muscles, such as the calves and quadriceps. This blood is delivering both oxygen and nutrients that the working muscles need to perform their function.
When you stop running, so does the force that pushes the blood back to the heart, resulting in a process often called ‘blood pooling. This usually occurs in the lower legs and the feet, resulting in circulatory problems.
Here’s where compression gear can come in handy.
Running stockings apply significant pressure to the layer of muscles around your lower legs, which support and squeeze the veins of the lower legs, helping the blood make the journey back to the heart.
By putting pressure on the surface veins, arteries, and muscles, blood circulation is forced through narrower channels, resulting in more blood returning to the heart against gravity and less blood to pool in the lower extremities.
Technically, once blood is flowing well, risks of pooling and forming clots in the veins are severely reduced. That’s a good thing if you ask me.
This ain’t just a theory. There’s sound research behind the claims.
In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers assessed the effectiveness of wearing compression socks in the 48 hours following a marathon and what they found was quite compelling.
In the experiment, 33 marathon athletes were divided into two groups:
(1) Group One wore compression socks for 48 hours after the marathon.
(2) Group Two wore non-compression socks (placebo).
To measure recovery rate, all of the subjects performed a treadmill test two weeks before the race, and then again after the event.
In the end, subjects who wore the compression socks performed better on the post-race treadmill test—by almost a minute — than the placebo group.
The result shows a significant beneficial effect of compression socks on recovery compared with placebo.
Another research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine reached similar conclusions.
Here are more links to research that found relevant correlation between compression gear and recovery
Reduce Muscle Movement
Another acclaimed benefit of using compression gear while working out is a reduction in muscle oscillation.
Don’t stop reading yet. Also known as “tissue jiggle,” muscle oscillation is the fancy name scientists use to refer to the muscle movement that that occurs when vibrations go up your body as your foot strikes the ground.
Some experts claim that excessive muscle oscillation contributes to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and other exercise-related aches and pain.
The greater the rate of muscle oscillation while running, the more likely you are to experience soreness or even get injured afterward.
So anything you can do to limit this undue jiggling is welcome.
Here, again, where compression socks may work very well.
The theory is, compression socks secure your muscles in place, so they wobble or shake unnecessarily while running. This limits vibration and prevents trauma to the muscles caused by the repeated impact during prolonged training.
This is another benefit that are based on well-established scientific proof.
The South Africa Study
Following marathoners participating in the Two Oceans Ultra Race in South Africa, researchers concluded that athletes who wore compression socks during the competition had drastically less muscle damage and were able to recover a lot faster, than those who opted for regular-knee-high socks or those without either.
Not only that? The compression socks sporting athletes run on average 12 minutes faster.
And that’s just one research. There are actually more.
A plethora of studies, including one done by Ali, have revealed reductions in muscles soreness and perceived fatigue when wearing compression socks.
Another research suggests that compression socks may reduce both the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness and recovery time following eccentric muscle damage.
Here are some links to more research
These two benefits of compression technology are simply the main benefits. There are many other gains you can reap by wearing compression gear.
Here are a few.
Increase skin temperature. By keeping your muscles at a comfortably warm temperature, you’ll be less likely to get injured. That’s, after all, the main purpose behind a warm-up.
Increase comfort. Running stockings can keep your feet comfortable during your runs. You can stay cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter which can help your performance levels. The right socks can also prevent friction and chafing.
Help you stay dry. Most running compression socks are made of nylon or polyester related materials, which help you dry faster once you work up a sweat. These high-performance fabrics wick away moisture from your skin to the outer surface, where it evaporates.
Improved sense of proprioception. Proprioception refers to your body’s natural awareness of its joints and moving parts. It’s what lets you walk without having to look at your feet. Compression gear improves this sense by putting external pressure on the receptors within the skin, therefore, improving proprioceptive abilities.
Speeds up lactic acid removal. Thanks to the increased blood flow, lactic acid will be cleared out of your system a lot quicker, so your muscles will be able to keep going for longer while experiencing less muscle fatigue and soreness.
This is of course just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many benefits compression gear offers.
For more, check the following sources :
Does Compression Gear Improve Performance?
This is the big question.
Do compression sock for runners work for improving performance? Evidence seems to be anecdotal at best.
Here’s the bad news: The acclaimed performance gains of compression technology during running are yet to be proven. Little evidence exists that support the notion that compression gear improves performance when worn during exercise.
Despite the promising ads and the explosive trends of compression technology as an effective tool for increasing performance, there’s a limited amount of research backing up their efficacy.
What’s more? I found drastic contradictions within the research itself, with some reporting measurable performance benefits while others refute the existence of any differences between using compression gear and not using it.
Since most of the studies conducted on compression gear—at least the ones I checked out—do not use a control group, it’s virtually impossible to tell whether the performance improvements stemmed from the compression itself or the athlete’s perception of the compression.
That’s what’s known as the placebo effect —meaning, you run faster and further just because you think you can.
Furthermore, plenty of research has found no differences in running times, oxygen consumption, VO2 max between athletes sporting the socks and those where weren’t.
Check these links
Note. Keep in mind that no research has shown that compression wear hinders athletic performance, either.
In the end, I don’t think that compression socks are the magic bullet you need to help you reach full running potential.
I know this goes against the popular opinion (and those trendy ads you see everywhere), but now you know what you’re getting yourself into. Be a smart consumer. Don’t fall for trends.
But, as based on scientific studies, it’ll help with recovery. For some runners (including yours truly) that’s enough reason.
And if you believe that compression socks can turn you into a more powerful and faster runner, then be my guest. A little bit of placebo won’t hurt.
How to Choose The Right Running Compression Socks
By now, you should have made your decision about whether using compression socks is worth or not.
Thanks to the technology and materials used to make them, compression socks are by no means cheap. Expect to pay roughly $40 to $120 for a quality pair of compression. At that price range, these stockings aren’t exactly something you buy on a whim.
In case you’re itching to head to the nearest sports good store and get yourself a pair of compression socks, here are a few tips to help find and choose the right ones for you.
As previously stated, compression stockings are designed with gradient compression. This helps provide the right level of compression where you need it the most—the ankle—but not where you don’t—the foot.
Compression levels are offered at various levels, measured in mmHg.
As a rule, compression socks should feel snug enough on the legs but not so tight that they become painfully compressed.
Get The Right mmHg ‘Dose’
The unit of measure for gradient compression is millimeters of Mercury or mmHg for short, which refers to the amount of pressure provided by the socks. The greater the number, the higher the compression.
This is the same standard doctors use for gauging blood pressure.
Compression levels are posted on most products. As you look at different compression sock, you’ll see it described with numbers ranging from 8 mmHg through 30 to 40 mmHg.
In general, there are four main levels of compression :
- Mild compression: 8 to 15 mmHg
- Moderate compression : 15 to 20 mmHg
- Firm compression: 20 to 30 mmHg
- Extra firm compression: 30 to 40 mmHg.
As a general rule, shoot for 18 to 24 mmHg of pressure.
Research by Byrne et al. revealed that 20 mmHg at the ankle is the optimal amount of compression needed to improve blood flow and optimize recovery benefits.
Further research concluded that the sweet spot for compression is roughly is 20 +/- 5mmGh level.
Get The Right Size
In general, your running stockings should be the same size as your running shoes. Ill-fitting compression socks—whether too big or too small—may either cause blisters or restrict blood flow. Both extremes are bad options.
Follow these guidelines to get the measurement; you’ll need.
Check this awesome YouTube Tutorial.
Your compression socks should be long enough to cover your entire calf and shin, ending just below the knee joint.
If your socks are too low, they won’t provide enough compression, whereas if they’re too high, they might irritate the back of your knee while running.
Measure the distance from the back of the bend of your knee to the floor behind your heel. Remove your footwear for an accurate measurement.
Measure the circumference of your ankle by placing the measuring tape at the narrowest part of your ankle, just above the ankle bone.
Next, measure the circumference of your calf—the widest part.
Measure Your Arch
Arch length is measured from the point on top of the foot to the highest point in the foot arch.
To size it up, place your barefoot on the floor, then wrap the tape around your foot.
Assessing Your Results
The last step is to take the recorded measurements and use them in conjunction with the sizing charts for the specific brand you want to choose the correct size.
Most compression wears companies, such as Sigvaris, Juzo, Jobs, or Medi, provide these sizing charts. They also offer quick tips on getting the right measurements you need to find the most appropriate size.
Don’t skip this step. Otherwise, you’ll end with the wrong socks, and that sucks.
Note: Many Products—Many Sizes
Size may differ between different brands. Each manufacturer/brand has their sizing chart. So, medium size in one brand of compression socks may not be the medium in another.
The Right Materials
Just like your running clothes, (hopefully), your compression socks should be made from high-performance, breathable, and technical materials to keep your feet dry as you log in the miles. You should also get fabric and texture you’re comfortable with.
These fabrics let moisture move away from the skin to the other surface where it evaporates, allowing you to use the socks while exercising or wear them for hours post workout.
If a pair does not allow for moisture to escape, then it’ll turn into itchy and irritable materials, and over time, it will cause blisters and develop an odor.
5. Don’t Buy White
It gets dirty fast, and you don’t want that.
Instead, choose from a variety of basic colors that compression socks come in, including black, beige, navy, etc.
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If you get anything from today’s post is that there is always a place for compression socks in your running gear.
Are they the magic pill for improving performance? I don’t think so.
Do they help with recovery? Yes. As research suggests and experience dictates, yes of course. The rest is really up to you.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime thank you for reading my post.
Keep Running Strong