Following on from part I “Compression Clothing: Recovery for the Athletic Hangover” we know that performance-induced fatigue can be heavily controlled through the use of compression clothing. This is done by optimizing recovery through:
- Decreasing resting fatigue rates
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Lowering ultrasound measures of muscle swelling
- Lowering concentrations of creatine kinase (enzyme marker for muscle damage)
These factors can most definitely accelerate recovery which would improve subsequent physical performance; however does compression gear itself provide immediate improvements in physical attributes during activity?
Popular compression clothing brand “SKINS” claims that their gradient compression technology is engineered to “enhance circulation and gets more vital oxygen to your active muscles – boosting your power, speed and stamina”.
Similarly “2XU” compression clothing reports that it can also help with muscle containment and help with reducing muscle vibrations during exercise. These factors minimize damage and overall fatigue, whilst applying pressure to the skin surface to improve sensory awareness. These “technologies” assist in enhancing physical output and improves “posture, agility, mobility and stability”.
A literary review , which examined 31 different peer review articles where each involved studies on any kind of compression clothing in relation to strength, power and endurance found that compression clothing had either a small positive or no effect in performance whilst exercising.
When wearing compression clothing, positive results were found in 5 studies which demonstrated improvements in single and repeated sprinting abilities (10-60m) as well as 4 studies which showed improvements in vertical jumping abilities. The suggested reasons for their improvements with compression clothing include:
- Improved warm up via increased skin temperature
- Reduced muscle oscillation upon ground contact
- Increased torque generated around the hip joint
Studies that investigated strength, power, balance and stability when wearing compression clothing, showed minimal to nil improvements when compared to individuals who were without compression garments.
Unlike compression clothing’s effects on an athlete’s recovery, their effects on player performance are still questionable. With some evidence suggesting that compression clothing can improve warm ups via increased skin temperature and assist in stability of muscle oscillations during contraction, compression clothing may then have a role in injury prevention.
However there is still a substantial amount of evidence that suggests that compression clothing do more for looks then they do for athletic performance. However it is still vital to bear in mind that an athlete’s psychological and mental state can largely influence their performance. So if you or your athletes find that compression-clothing works, don’t throw it out just yet!
By William Chin
 Born D B, Sperlich B, Holmberg HC (2013) Bringing Light Into the Dark effects of Compression Clothing on Performance and Recovery. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 8: 4-18