Compression Clothing: Recovery For The “Athletic Hangover”

Compression clothing has become a key weapon in many athletes’ arsenal. Popularity of these skin-tight garments has dramatically increased during the recent years, not only because of their style, but also because of their accumulating evidence regarding their possible performance and recovery benefits.  Part I of this post will look at their effects on recovery post performance, whilst Part II will examine their claim of improving physical abilities and athletic performance.

Performance-induced fatigue is highly common in all levels of athletes.  More common than not many athletes will experience one or more of the following:

  1. Muscle soreness
  2. Muscle weakness
  3. Fatigue

These attributes lead to feelings of exhaustion and reduce an athlete’s ability to continue training or performing at a maximal state, and increase the risk of injury from overtraining. This means a period of “recovery” is often required to allow the athlete to rest, in order to meet or exceed performance in subsequent attempts. [1]

Exhausted

Several physiological attributes can determine an athlete’s progression of recovery[2]:

  1. Normalisation of physiological functions (eg blood pressure/heart rate)
  2. Return to homeostasis (normal cell environment)
  3. Recovery of energy stores (blood glucose and glycogen)
  4. Restoration of cellular enzymes

One of the major benefits of using compression garments is to accelerate recovery following exercise. These effects are mainly attributed to enhancing peripheral blood flow in an attempt to restore physiological conditions as stated above.

A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning 2010[3] looked at the effects of 24 hour whole body compression vs regular clothing following heavy resistance training. They found that with compression clothing, recovery was optimized by:

  1. Decreased resting fatigue rates
  2. Reduced muscle soreness
  3. Lowered ultrasound measure of muscle swelling
  4. Lowered concentrations of creatine kinase (enzyme marker for muscle damage)

NB: However in the same study, they also tested parameters for physical performance, which showed no significant differences when comparing compression clothing with regular.

Also, 2 different studies[4][5] looked at the rate of glucose uptake and blood lactate removal during recovery with compression clothing. Both studies found no difference in the rate of glucose uptake nor in the removal of lactate.  However both studies did find that the participants “perceived level of soreness” had reduced greater when wearing compression garments when compared to regular clothing.

Whether it is a physical or psychological change when wearing compression clothing, one can argue its relevant use in athletic recovery. When trying to minimize the “athletic hangover”, it’s good to know that compression clothing can alter objective measures (eg. how swollen/damaged you muscles are) and not just subjective factors such as how sore you feel. With more and more research it does seem solid that compression clothing can benefit recovery following performance-induced fatigue.

By William Chin


[1] Bishop P A, Jones E, Woods A K (2008) Recovery from training: a brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(3):1015-1024

[2] Jeffreys I (2005) A multidimensional approach to enhancing recovery. Strength      and Conditioning Journal. 27(5): 78-85

[3] Kraemer W J, Flanagan S D, Cornstock B A, Fragala M S, Earp J E, Dunn-Lewis C, Ho J Y, Thomas G A, Solomon-Hill G, Penwell Z R, Powell M D, Wolf M R, Volek J S, Denegar C R, Maresh C M (2010) Effects of a whole body compression garment on markers of recovery after a heavy resistance workout in men and women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24(3): 804-814

[4] Sperlich B, Born D P, Kashkinoro K, Kalliokoski K K, Laaksonen M S (2013) Squeezing the Muscle: Compression Clothing and Muscle Metabolism during Recovery from High Intensity Exercise.

[5] Sperlich B, Maegele M, Kruger M, Schiffer T, Holmberg H C, Mester J (2011) Cardio-respiratory and metabolic responses to different levels of compression during submaximal exercise. Phlebology 26: 102-106

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