Athletes of all kinds including cyclists, runners, Triathletes and Duathletes are looking for an edge over the competition. Training systems/programs have been used for decades to get the athletes to where they want to be. However, more recently, to gain an advantage, these athletes have been turning towards better techniques to recover after the hard and heavy periods of training. We all have been sick over the years, and it is from personal experience that the quicker we recover, means the better the immune system, and hence feeling better quicker. Endurance training, and the concept of recovery, is seen in combination with training to be one of the two main pillars. So weather you are a serious cyclist/runner or a recreational exerciser, we all want to feel good when we get out running or riding
One of the ways companies have marketed to cyclists and runners, is to improve their recovery, have been through the use of compression socks/stockings. The claims from the various manufacturers has been that these compression socks increase oxygen delivery to the muscles, decrease and flush lactic acid out of the exercised muscles, and in addition help to prevent cramping and minimize general muscle fatigue. All which will help the cyclist or runner perform the next day or several days later with minimal soreness from previous days of riding. Originally these compression items were just socks that only covered only the lower leg/calf area, however today, you can purchase many other products from full leg to ¾ length tights, covering not just the lower legs, but the quadriceps, hamstring and gluteus muscles of the lower body. However, like many products on the market today, there is always debate on the validity of the claims. There is no doubt that many cyclists and runners believe in the science behind compression garments, as we see many people walking, running and riding around with these garments on. But do they really work, or is there just a placebo effect?
The research has been quite limited and very hit and miss. Very little evidence has shown that the use of the compression garments during the activity improves the performance, however, it was the recovery benefits of the use of compression socks that were seen to be more evident. For cyclists and runners to get the full benefit, the compression sock needs to be graduated – so tighter around the ankle and decreasing up to the hip. The compression sock, must be well fitted, and have a compression range of 22-33mmHg of pressure. Just a little science behind why they should be configured this way, and why this type of pressure is advised. The circulatory system is a combination of arterial (blood from the arteries) and venous (blood from the veins) blood flow. The arterial blood flows, at a high pressure (>120mmHg) , and conversely venous blood, flows a low pressure. The veins have a special one way valve to push the blood back towards the heart, but not the other direction. It is the muscular contraction that squeezes and pushes the blood back to the heart. This is the same premise that the compression socks work on, they push the blood up from the working muscle and towards the heart, and from the heart back to the working muscles, so think of it as a cycle (no pun intended).
The results of a study conducted found the following:
- They felt much looser and fresher after wearing the compression socks/tights proceeding hard workouts.
- They had decreased swelling in the thigh following wearing the compression tights for recovery post workouts.
- The perception of leg muscle soreness when wearing the socks and tights for recovery.
On a personal note, I wear both compression socks and compression tights after hard rides, and have found them to be of great value. I have experienced less muscle fatigue and soreness, and particularly find them helpful when I am doing back to back days on the bike. I wore them all last year while training and riding for three weeks in French Alps. With the rigours of hard days in the saddle, I found the socks and tights to be very helpful. Even if you aren't doing high intensity cycling, but maybe you are training for a multiple day event, charity ride, or running a marathon or half marathon, the use of these garments could help you feel fresher and stay stronger longer.