Friday, 5 September 2014

Compression gear - Does it really work?

Wearing Compression
Shorts post-exercise
I know, I have been silent for some time, but it has been summer holidays and now school has started again. Now, back to the subject.
I see a lot of people at the gym wearing compression gear. Socks, shorts, tights or shirts. But what evidence is there to suggest that it actually does improve your performance in the gym.
I've read a few studies(1–3) about the effects of compression gear during and post-workout.
Before diving into the studies, I just quickly want to explain the hierarchy of research designs. At the bottom of the hierarchy we find case reports, which is a report of the symptoms, signs, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of an individual patient. Higher up chain in the hierarchy, we find the Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs), which are specific types of scientific experiments and often the golden standard of clinical trials. At the same level or just above, depending on the scale you look at, are the Systematic reviews and Meta-analysis. Simply put, Meta-analysis can be seen as conducting research on previous research.
The higher up the in the hierarchy a study or report is, the better.
Right, back to the studies.
The first study(1) I read was a meta-analysis with the title “Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis” pushised in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
They wanted to determine the effects of compression garments on recovery following muscle damage. They used studies that evaluated the efficacy of compression garments on measurements of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscular strength, muscular power, and creatine kinase.
They used 12 studies, measuring at baseline and 24, 48 or 72 hours post-exercise.
They found indications that the use of compression garments had a moderate effect in reducing the severity of DOMS, Muscle strength, Muscle power, and creatine kinase.
The second study(2) was a Review named “Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery” published in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
In this study, they wanted to assess the original research on the effect of the wearing compression clothing on sport performance and recovery after exercise. The studies they used examined the effects on endurance, strength and power, motor control, and physiological, psychological, and biomechanical parameters during and after exercise.
They ended with the conclusion that the application of compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations with consideration of the effects magnitude and practical relevance.
The last study(3) I read was “Effect of Compression Garment on Short-Term Recovery of Repeated Sprint and 3-km Running Performance in Rugby Union Players” from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
This was an RCT study, which wanted to investigate whether wearing compression garments during recovery improved subsequent repeated sprint and 3 km run performance.
The rugby players (n=22) did a series of circuits developed to simulate a rugby game. Afterwards one group (n=11) put on a full-leg length compressive garment and the other group put on a similar-looking non-compressive placebo garment. They wore it for 24 hours, and after the 24 hours recovery they removed the garments and did some 40 m repeated sprints followed by a 3 km run.
The results showed that the 3 km time was decreased, the 40 m sprint times were improved, and fatigue was diminished for the group wearing compression garments compared to the placebo group. DOMS was also substantially lowered in the compression group compared to the placebo group.
So, what can we deduce from the three studies?
It seems there might be some effect of wearing compression gear during exercise, but it seems to be more effect wearing the compression gear, for 24 hours or more, post-exercise during recovery.

  1. Hill J, Howatson G, Someren K van, Leeder J, Pedlar C. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2013 Jun 11;bjsports–2013–092456.
  2. Born D-P, Sperlich B, Holmberg H-C. Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Jan;8(1):4–18.
  3. Hamlin MJ, Mitchell CJ, Ward FD, Draper N, Shearman JP, Kimber NE. Effect of Compression Garments on Short-Term Recovery of Repeated Sprint and 3-Km Running Performance in Rugby Union Players. J Strength. 2012;26(11):2975–82.