Athletes & Compression

One trip around the internet with Google will show you claim upon claim saying that compression socks are beneficial for athletes either during or after exercise. You will also find that the research around those claims won’t make a statement definitively one way or another. Let's look at some of the details around this controversy and determine the overall benefits of compression to the athlete.

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Why Compression Helps

Before we examine whether compression socks should be a part of your workout attire we need to understand what compression socks actually do.

Let’s examine the journey blood takes when it’s traveling to your legs. The heart pumps blood through veins in your body to bring oxygen to all your extremities. But once there, the blood must get back somehow, and that’s where veins come in. They push the blood back to your heart and process starts all over again.

Here is where you end up with hiccups in the cycle. The blood in your veins works against gravity when it is in your legs and attempting to make that trip back up to the heart. Some health issues can impede circulation, and that means blood would pool in the veins of the lower legs or feet leading to fatigue or even life-threatening blood clots.

So how do you reduce your risk for these health complications? You help your blood flow out and apply some pressure to the leg tissues and walls of the veins, so the blood in your legs makes it back up to your heart in good time. The easiest way to get this support without surgery is to wear compression socks or stockings.


Benefits to Athletes

Great! So what about athletes? Why would athletes need or want to improve blood circulation?

At one point in time researchers thought compression socks might play a role in athlete performance believing that the socks would improve blood flow and help the heart to pump more efficiently. A more efficient heart allows your muscles to get more oxygen and more quickly reduces the buildup of lactic acid. More oxygen and less lactic acid means faster sprints, longer jumps, and heavier bench presses, right?

Unfortunately, the jury is still out. Studies do not support the hypothesis that there is a clear correlation between wearing compression socks and improved athletic performance, but one thing is clear- wearing compression socks while working out will not negatively impact performance. What researchers do know is that they help reduce swelling when recovering from your workout.

Simply put- compression socks might not help you during the athletic performance, but they certainly won’t hurt you, and they can improve your recovery time.

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How to Wear Compression Socks When Training

So how and when do you wear compression socks? During or after your workout and next to your skin.

That last part sounds ridiculous but hear us out. In photos and in real life you see compression socks worn over a pair of tights or yoga pants. While it is stylish to do so, it is the wrong way to wear your compression socks and reap the benefits of the graduated compression.

Wear your compression socks next to skin and underneath a non-compression layer for full benefit. If as a runner or lifter you own compression tights be sure you do not end up layering compression socks underneath compression tights as this will pose a health risk for you on top of being just plain uncomfortable.