Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dress to compress

Someone pointed out to me at the No Excuses 5k just how many people are now wearing compression socks and sleeves.  They wanted to attribute this phenomenon to me starting to wear them in training and at races, but I am not taking any credit.  Other speedsters like Paula Radcliffe and Gete Wami have been wearing them on and off for years.  I think the Escays were the first on the Sacto running scene to be seen wearing them regularly, so give them the credit.

I first started wearing them for recovery after my trip to Washington D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon in October.  As I've noted before, I didn't have a great experience there because my body felt like hell.  After the race I was emailing back and forth with my coach from the Impala Racing Team and mentioned that my legs felt really dead before and during the race.  He asked if I had worn compression socks on the flight over.  Of course, I had not.  I wasn't even aware this was necessary.  He said I should definitely get a pair and wear them on the flight to Belgrade because they can really help reduce leg swelling and maintain good circulation in addition to preventing clots.  I bought a fashionable pair of the white, drugstore knee-highs that night. 

I had seen runners wearing them during training and races for years and always wondered what was up.  So, I went in to Fleet Feet Sports to check out what they had in stock for my trip to Belgrade.  I chatted with store owner and triathlete Pat Sweeney about his experience wearing them.  I found out that he swears by them.  I bought a pair of knee-high recovery socks and was thinking about getting a pair of the sleeves for training.  Pat was very enthusiastic about the sleeves he had tried from RecoFIT Sports.  He ran upstairs and grabbed one of them for me to try on.  It seemed to fit and he told me to run with that one and see what I thought.  I thought the idea he had was for me to test the one out and compare how that leg felt with the other leg.  I later found out he just couldn't find the other sleeve.

So, I started with just the one sleeve.  It looked a little weird, but that doesn't really phase me much.  I quickly realized the folly in this experiment and sent a note to the owner of RecoFIT Sports explaining how I only had the one sleeve and wanted to find out how to get a complete set.  She had great empathy for me and sent a complimentary pair to me right away.

I have worn these sleeves for the last few months of training and racing and feel like I can properly evaluate their merits.  Of course, as I always say, I am but a sample size of one in this big experiment, so take my data for what it's worth.  I don't believe compression devices confer much if any advantage while racing in terms of performance.  I do think, however, that they speed your recovery and that is super important.  This seems to jive with an article written by Brian Metzler for Running Times recently.  He cites a 2007 study that compared the performance (measured as maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate and minute ventilation) of treadmill runners wearing the sleeves to those not wearing them and found no difference between the two groups.  They did find a significant result in shorter lactate recovery rate after exercise in the runners wearing the socks.

I also think that they provide biomechanical support or reduce lower leg jiggle.  I have had consistent issues with tight calves and tender shins for as long as I've been running.  Nothing that has ever kept me from training, but just a side-effect of running.  I've noticed this tenderness is much reduced since I've been wearing these things, especially the RecoFIT version.  I have also tried the Zensah sleeves, but they're just not as well designed and executed. They don't seem to support my leg as well. 

I do have to say that wearing these bad boys takes a whole lot more commitment in the summer months as opposed to the winter.  First, there's the heat issue.  You're wearing a black, tight fitting piece of spandex on your lower leg when it's 90+ degrees out!  I do have to say I didn't really notice them when running in the heat in Belgrade.  They were actually the least of my worries.   I'm also somewhat concerned about the funky tan line I'm developing that leaves the impression of wearing a winter-white knee-high on my lower leg all summer.  Not attractive!  I guess that's why they make fake tan in a bottle.

Finally, I got a great tip from Pat about wearing full-on compression tights.  These are apparently quite popular with the Tri guys.  I bought a pair of Zoot tights from Fleet Feet and wore those on all of my flights to and from Europe.  I think these are much better than just the socks in this circumstance.  I noticed a major difference in how my legs felt after these flights.  Major.  I also wore these after super hard training efforts for several hours post workout.  I think this helped with recovery too.

So, you have lots of options for compressing.  You will get occasional snide comments from trail monkeys or a sassy little whistle here and there if you're lucky.  As a gadget junky, I always suggest you try new things to see if they work for you.



  1. Cracking up on your wearing one sock at a time! You are hard core! OK - you've convinced me - with all the air travel I do - I must get a pair. I'm guessing you've tried them all & can recommend the best? What about for skinny legs?

  2. Cindy, You're funny! I wear 2XU compression socks on planes now unless I'm wearing the Zoot recovery tights. Both work well.

    As for sizing, you measure the circumference of your calf to determine your size, so you should be able to find one that fits. The problem for you will be the length. They may not reach much past your ankle with those long legs of yours:)