Once reserved for diabetics and frequent flyers, compression socks have gone mainstream, thanks to athletes who swear by their performance benefits in training, racing and recovery.
“I started wearing compression gear in 2007, and I sure got some funny looks as the first person in the USA to wear them [at Ironman Louisville that year],” said Chris McDonald, a professional triathlete and four-time Ironman champion. “I was chatting with a surgeon about post-op recovery, and he said to me, ‘I know nothing about sport, but I can’t tell you quality compression socks will help with return blood flow.’ So I just tried them!”
Although experts are still debating whether the effects are more in your head than your legs, I’m a proponent of compression gear, based on experience. Not only do my legs feel fresher mid-run, but they’re also less sore the day after. Plus, blindingly-bright colors keep me happy during hard workouts 🙂
Personal opinions aside, though, there are a few reasons why it may be worth setting your gear budget back a few bucks (prices for these puppies are in the $45-70 range) to get ahead in your training:
1. Improve circulation. Ever get that “heavy legged” feeling while working out? Compression gear can help prevent blood from pooling in hard-working muscles to keep legs feeling peppy.
2. Stay comfortable. If you’re worried that wearing compression socks means you’ll have to give up your favorite cushy, anti-blister socks, think again. Many brands offer arch support and extra padding in the toe and heel.
3. Increase protection. Socks aren’t just for shielding feet against shoes. Much of today’s compression gear does double duty with special materials that provide a cooling effect and SPF sun protection.
4. Speed recovery. Bounce back faster with recovery-based styles, which are engineered to help get fresh blood into muscles and flush out byproducts, such as lactic acid.
All the brands and technology out there can get overwhelming, which is why I recommend starting at a site like BrightLifeGo. They’re an authority on the subject of compression, having tested and handpicked their entire collection of socks and stockings — both for athletic use and everyday wear.
I even found a new favorite brand there — Sigvaris. Style-wise, they’re a departure from my usual obnoxiously-colored gear…but functionally, I just couldn’t pass up their graduated compression design, extra-cushy footbed and anti-blister toe fabric.
Factor in all the other bells and whistles, like high-tech fibers to regulate temperature (and odor), Achilles Tendon Protectors to reduce vibrations on ligaments, plus extra-wide top bands to keep everything in place…and, well, I pretty much live in these things when training, racing and traveling.
Want to feel the squeeze yourself? Here are a few things to take into account when picking your perfect pair:
- Length: Do you want a knee-high sock or a full-length legging?
- Use: Are you looking to use compression for work, play — or both?
- Level: How tight do you want it — mild relief or moderate support?
- Design: Is form (aka style) just as important as function?
“I definitely feel the benefits with both performance and recovery time,” said McDonald. “If you can recover quicker you can train harder. Put on compression for all travel (including drives over two hours), wear them during and post workout, and put a pair of compression socks on as you are sitting around at night. It’s not rocket science; it just takes routine.”
Is compression a part of your training and racing attire?