Compression clothing form-fitting garments such as t-shirts and shorts designed to improve athletic performance and reduce muscle soreness. The idea for such workout clothing probably came from support hosiery that helped with venous disorders such as thrombosis, edema and phlebitis. Compression clothing can be quite expensive, with some shirts costing over $100, so before making such an investment you should look at the research.
The June 2001 Journal of Orthopedic Sports and Physical Therapy and the January 2009 Journal of Science Medicine both published studies that found that perceived muscle soreness was reduced when subjects used these garments. One interesting study on the use of compression garments after eccentric exercise was published in the May 2006 Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. The subjects were 11 male, recreational athletes. The exercise performed was 30 minutes of downhill walking, and the subjects used a compression garment on just one leg. There is a question of objectivity, as the subjects knew which was the control leg. The authors concluded, “The data suggests that wearing compression garments in the recovery from eccentric exercise may alter the inflammatory response to damage and accelerate the repair processes inside of the muscle.”
As for performance with tight-fitting compression garments, the idea is that they reduce muscle vibration and therefore reduce fatigue; compression also can reduce the sensation of pain in such injuries as iliotibial band syndrome. The Australian Institute of Sport studied the effects of compression tights on 30-minute cycling bouts (although it should be noted that the AIS is a partner of the company that manufactures the garments studied) and noted benefits such as decreased swelling in the thigh using the garments, lowered heart rates and blood lactate levels while exercising, improved ability to perform a second cycling workout during the same days, and decreased muscle soreness. There is also an upcoming study to be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that looks at the effects of compression garments on high-velocity throwing and serving motions. Researchers found that “wearing a compression garment can improve motor control in the shoulder during rotational movement.”
Not all the research is so positive. In a study published last year in the European Journal of Sport Science on two female and five male elite flat-water kayakers, the researchers found that the upper-body compression garments used in the study “did not provide any significant physiological or performance benefits during simulated flat-water kayaking.” Further, in a July 2007 British Journal of Sports Medicine study of three types of compression garments (Skins, Adidas and Under Armour), the researchers concluded, “No benefit was noted when wearing compression garments for repeat-sprint or throwing performance.”
The jury is still out on these high-tech garments but some of the research looks promising, especially in the area of reducing muscle soreness.