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.
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).
Note – If you have no idea what to look for when choosing running socks check my post here.
What Are Running Compression Socks?
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.
What Are Compression Socks Made Of
Most running 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.
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.
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 athletic compression gear comes in handy.
Running compression socks 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.
In the experiment, 33 marathon athletes were divided into two groups:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The compression socks sporting athletes run on average 12 minutes faster.
These two benefits of athletic compression technology are simply the main benefits. There are many other gains you can reap by wearing compression gear.
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.
These high-performance fabrics wick away moisture from your skin to the outer surface, where it evaporates.
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.
This is of course just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many benefits compression gear offers.
Does Running Compression Socks Improve Performance?
Do compression sock for runners work for improving performance?
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Choose the Correct Compression Stockings
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 stockings.
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.
How Tight Should Compression Socks Be?
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.
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 :
As a general rule, shoot for 18 to 24 mmHg of pressure.
revealed that 20 mmHg at the ankle is the optimal amount of compression needed to improve blood flow and optimize recovery benefits.
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.
Follow these guidelines to get the measurement; you’ll need.
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.
Measure the circumference of your ankle by placing the measuring tape at the narrowest part of your ankle, just above the ankle bone.
Measure the circumference of your calf—the widest part.
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.
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.
Otherwise, you’ll end with the wrong socks, and that sucks.
So, medium size in one brand of athetlic compression stockings may not be the medium in another.
The Right Materials
Just like your running clothes, (hopefully), your athletic 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.
Don’t Buy White
Instead, choose from a variety of basic colors that compression socks come in, including black, beige, navy, etc.
New to Running? Start Here…
Inside this guide, you’ll learn how to start running and lose weight weight the easy and painless way. This is, in fact, your ultimate manifesto to becoming a faster and a stronger runner. And you want that, don’t you?
Don’t miss out! My awesome running plan is just one click away.
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.