It's impossible to watch sporting events now – a marathon or an NBA playoff game – without spotting skintight socks, shorts, and shirts. The Heat's Dwyane Wade claims his knee and armbands help keep him injury-free; top U.S. marathoner Meb Keflezighi believes his compression socks diminish soreness and tightness; Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III gives the gear credit for his speed. "When I put it on," he says, "I feel faster."
While many claims come hand in hand with scientific research, there is growing evidence that compression shirts and leggings have some very real physiological benefits – even if most of it occurs after the game or workout.
As anyone who has had a massage after a workout knows, direct, applied pressure can reduce inflammation and soreness. Similarly, when the gear is worn for a few hours after a workout, it has been shown in research to measurably reduce swelling and fatigue.
It may have other recovery advantages, too: In one study, a group of cyclists over the age of 60 had significantly less lactic acid after wearing compression socks. These socks, sleeves, shirts, and shorts act as a circulatory pump, pushing blood through the veins, a fact that some athletes think gives them an edge during competition.
One study showed that runners wearing compression socks had a 1.5 to 2.2 percent increase in pace and could run 4 percent longer. That's about the difference between fourth place and Usain Bolt in the last Olympics. Ben Greenfield, a trainer and Ironman triathlete, largely believes in recovery benefits - "I'm flying over to race in Japan tomorrow, and I'll wear compression tights the whole time," he says. "They keep my blood flowing when I can't make it flow myself."
Wearing a tight, supportive shirt after sports or weightlifting can apply the kind of pressure that has been proven to cut down on swelling and inflammation.
Quads, Glutes, and Hips
These second skins can help squeeze blood back to the heart, slowing fatigue. This is why NFL linebacker Bryan Scott always wears compression shorts. "I sleep in my recovery skins during training camp," says Scott. "By week two or three, when the other guys are dragging, I come out like it's my first day."
Swollen ankles are common after a long run, but they also occur during flights, long drives, or time behind a desk. Compression socks can reduce the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, a blood clot usually found in the leg.
Plus compression shirts can look really cool! Don't believe us? Take a look for yourself here: