Given the contradictory findings of various publications around compression garments and Running performance and the broad usage for better performance (Ali et al. 2011, Areces et al. 2015) or faster recovery (Hill et al. 2014, Armstrong et al. 2015) a recent study aimed to review the available literature, calculate effect sizes of compression garments and identify evidence to come up with scientific recommendations regarding the use (or dismissal) of compression clothing (Engel et al. 2016). 32 publications included both an experimental and control group, focused on Running, were peer reviewed and included physiological, biomechanical and / or performance parameters.
To make a long story short: Compression clothing had either no or little only positive effect on Running Performance reflected in Marathon, Half Marathon, 15k, 10k or 5k or 400m Sprint times.
BUT: Running Economy was positively affected on a small but positive scale as well as Biomechanical Parameters like step frequency, step length, ground contact time and swing time.
And although physiological parameters (peak oxygen concentration, lactate concentration, heart rate, cardiac output and stroke volume) were not affected DURING Running, there was a positive response AFTER Running esp. for the clearance of blood lactate and post-exercise inflammatory and muscle damage markers like Interleukin 6 and C-reactive Protein.
A large positive effect was exerted on post exercise leg soreness as well as the onset of muscle fatigue.
simplify triathlon conclusions: Coaches should be very clear about the limited evidence for compression clothing benefits in regards of improving Running Performance measured by time. On the other hand with the small but positive effects on Running Economy and Biomechanical parameters as well as post-exercise parameters compression garments can add value to Athletes and their perception of effort and post-exercise fatigue as well as supporting their recovery. Given the importance of recovery per se thus compression clothing might be helpful for starting a meaningful conversation about recovery and according measures rather than focusing on performance and finishing times only. Again it might help focus the Athlete’s mindset on his perception and intuition during the training.
Ali A et al. The effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1385-92.
Areces F et al. The use of compression stockings during a marathon competition to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage: are they really useful? J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Jun;45(6):462-70.
Armstrong SA et al. Compression socks and functional recovery following marathon running: a randomized controlled trial. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Feb;29(2):528-33.
Engel FA et al. Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing? Sports Med. 2016 Dec;46(12):1939-1952.
Hill JA et al. Influence of compression garments on recovery after marathon running. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Aug;28(8):2228-35.