Athletic wear is a huge industry. By 2024, the industry is expected to reach over $200 billion1 in global sales. A large chunk of this market is compression wear, which apart from looking good, is supposed to improve performance and speed up recovery. There is quite a bit of research on this topic. Does compression clothing actually improve any marker of performance or is it a marketing ploy and waste of money?
How does compression wear improve performance?
There have been a number of studies on the effects of compression wear on athletic performance. Compression wear works by: reducing swelling following exercise, aiding in orthostatic intolerance (symptoms due to standing for long periods of time), and improving blood flow3.
What does the research say on compression wear?
Study 1: Effects of Compression Tights on Recovery Parameters after Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Study2
This study looked at the effects of compression wear on recovery. Nineteen athletes participated and were split into a compression group and a control group. Both groups were put through a lower body resistance training program to induce muscle damage. The compression group then worse specialized gear in order to measure recovery speed compared to non-compression garments.
The results were mixed. The authors of this study looked at four dimensions of recovery. Of those, two (training level and flexibility) were significantly improved following wear of compression gear. The researchers concluded that wearing compression gear on recovery was moderate. They did note that because wearing specialized gear is relatively low effort, athletes should take this step in order to marginally improve recovery.
Study 2: Effect of Lower Body Compression Garments on Hemodynamics in Response to Running Session3
This study looked at the effects compression boxers had on sprint performance. Thirteen participants were included in this study. Participants either used compression boxers or loose fitting boxers during the experiment.
The results showed that sprint time, blood pressure, and rate of perceived exhaustion were not affected by the type of boxers worn. The authors concluded that no positive effect was seen in the athletes wearing compression undergarments.
Study 3: The Effects of a Compression Garment on Lower Body Kinematics and Kinetics During a Drop Vertical Jump in Female Collegiate Athletes4
This study looked at the effects of compression gear on vertical jump performance. Twenty three collegiate athletes participated. Each athlete performed 2 sets of 3 vertical jumps with and without compression gear. The results showed the compression gear had minimal effects on lower body mechanics during the jump.
Study 4: Comparison of three types of full‐body compression garments on throwing and repeat‐sprint performance in cricket players5
This study looked at the effect of compression wear on sprint performance. Ten cricket players participated and were split into four groups: Skins, Adidas, and Under Armour branded compression gear. The fourth group was a control group and did not wear any specialized compression gear. The subjects participated in a 30 minute sprint session.
The results showed there were no significant difference in sprint performance between the groups. There were however differences seen in post exercise creatine kinase readings in the groups wearing compression gear. This indicated improved post exercise recovery when wearing compression gear.
Study 5: Effect of compression garments on delayed-onset muscle soreness and blood inflammatory markers after eccentric exercise: a randomized controlled trial6
The final study looked at the effects of compression gear on exercise recovery. Sixteen males participated and were split into compression and control groups. The subjects performed bicep curls on a preacher curl machine.
Various indices of recovery were measured after exercising. The compression group showed faster recovery of strength and less muscle soreness than the control group. Researchers concluded that wearing compression gear could speed up the recovery process and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
The Bottom Line – Is it worth buying and wearing compression gear?
The research on whether compression gear helps or hurts is mixed. The bright spot of wearing compression gear seems to be in improving the recovery process and reducing muscle soreness. The improvements in performance are limited. Switching to compression garments is a fairly easy change to make requiring little in the way of sacrifice. Even if the upside is limited, the work you put in to make the switch is minimal.
Compression gear most likely helps competitive athletes the most. If you are trying to squeeze every bit of advantage any place you can find it, compression gear makes sense. For the casual exerciser, compression wear provides limited and sometimes unnoticeable effects. Still, they may improve comfort and decrease soreness with little added effort. The bottom line – given the minimal work required to make the switch to compression wear, the minimal benefits are probably worth it.
- The Growth of Sales in Sportswear | Markets Insider. (2017, August 10). Retrieved from https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/the-growth-of-sales-in-sportswear-1002249734
- Hettchen, M., Glöckler, K., Stengel, S. V., Piechele, A., Lötzerich, H., Kohl, M., & Kemmler, W. (2019). Effects of Compression Tights on Recovery Parameters after Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2019/5698460
- Venckūnas, T., Trinkūnas, E., Kamandulis, S., Poderys, J., Grūnovas, A., & Brazaitis, M. (2014). Effect of Lower Body Compression Garments on Hemodynamics in Response to Running Session. The Scientific World Journal, 2014, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2014/353040
- Zamporri, J., & Aguinaldo, A. (2018). The Effects of a Compression Garment on Lower Body Kinematics and Kinetics During a Drop Vertical Jump in Female Collegiate Athletes. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(8), 232596711878995. doi:10.1177/2325967118789955
- Duffield, R., Portus, M., & Edge, J. (2007). Comparison of three types of full-body compression garments on throwing and repeat-sprint performance in cricket players. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(7), 409-414. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.033753
- Kim, J., Kim, J., & Lee, J. (2017). Effect of compression garments on delayed-onset muscle soreness and blood inflammatory markers after eccentric exercise: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 13(5), 541-545. doi:10.12965/jer.1735088.554