Most people will have heard of compression socks or compression stockings, whether they are exercise buffs or not, because these products have been shown to help patients at risk from deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In fact, many people insist on wearing them if they travel a lot by plane. However, there are significant advantages to athletes in wearing calf compression sleeves, both during training, and for recovery afterwards. And although they can look a little dorky to some people – usually people who are decidedly unfit and overweight, I might add – sports compression socks are beginning to make the move from pro athletes and cycling teams, and into the mainstream. The ones I recently bought are the 2XU compression calf guards.
What Are Compression Socks And Calf Guards?
The majority of runners will wear tiny, short ankle socks, and often ones which hide inside the runners’ shoes. These are great because they don’t slip down when you are running – because they are never ‘up’ in the first place! And they usually have other features such as ergonomic fit (ie a ‘left’ sock and ‘right’ sock) and moisture-wicking capability.
Compression socks, in contrast, are much longer, and they come up to just below the knees. They are usually made from technical fabrics also, so they will keep your legs cool and remove moisture. However, they are designed to fit tightly around the lower leg, both to provide the compression advantages required of them, and also to prevent them from slipping down. Compression calf guards are basically the same thing, but they are cut off where you would normally put your feet into a sock; in other words they are simply tight-fitting tubes which you slide up your shins, and you can then wear your regular running socks instead.
If you remember the supremely uncool tube socks from the 70’s, then you might recognise calf compression gear as their latest incarnation – though of course they are much cooler now! Especially as many of the brands like to put the equivalent of ‘go faster stripes’ on them. And that’s great because I, at least, feel like slightly less of a clown running around in them, with their ‘2XU’ logos.
2XU Compression Calf Guard Review
I am somebody who seems to be prone to calf strains every now and then, and am currently recovering from a similar injury. With all the advice about muscle pulls preaching RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – I reckoned I could probably do with something to wear on my calves which provided a little compression. So I invested in these 2XU calf guards – it’s pronounced “two times you” by the way. Don’t go into your local store and ask for “two ex you”, or even worse “two shoe” calf guards unless you want to be sneered at!
The first – and perhaps most obvious – thing to say is that, like any socks or products of this type, they come in pairs. They are also intended to be unisex, and it pays to get out a tape measure to ensure you order the correct size. The sizing chart also gives an approximate sizing based on your shoe size, but it’s far better to get a measured fit. I bought mine from Amazon, and it’s worth saying that the American site gives sizing tables which it states are measured in inches. Amusingly, it goes on to advise you that your size is extra-small (XS) if you have 33-36 inch calves. Not sure I’ve ever met anybody with 33 inch calves, and I doubt I’d call them extra small if I had. Let’s assume they mean centimeters rather than inches, and everything should work out fine!
Anyway, my calf guards are large sized (44cm), and they fit amazingly well. They slide onto my legs easily and are reassuringly tight when they are in place. You might need to re-adjust them a little as they have a rubberised strip near the top (on the inside) which is there to prevent the sleeves from moving about when you run or cycle in them. I’ve never had any problem with them moving around or slipping down, but occasionally I have to make an adjustment as the rubber strip begins to dig into my skin. This is not a major problem however, and once you have them positioned just right, they are very comfortable indeed.
When trying to recover from my injury, I found wearing the 2XU calf guards gave a lot of extra stability to my lower legs, which was something I hadn’t actually expected; a pleasant surprise. I have only been out for a short run in them so far, and definitely felt more secure, and somehow more powerful. Maybe that is just a kind of placebo effect, but that’s how I felt. At the moment, it is hard to say much about enhanced performance as I haven’t done enough running in them. I do intend to continue wearing them for all my future running however, so I’ll update when I have more experience with them.
I also wear them for my exercise bike training, and have felt a lot stronger, and have found that I have better endurance wearing them compared to not wearing them. I’m usually cycling 45-50km per day and so I have a bit more experience to call upon, and can confirm that they do what it says on the packaging, in terms of “reduced fatigue” and “reduced muscle damage”. So I’m enjoying wearing them and can’t wait to do some more running in them to see if I gain the same benefits during higher impact exercise.
That’s my own experience of these calf guards so far, and the main takeaways are that they are extremely comfy, and seem to reduce muscle fatigue on the bike. I won’t repeat what I’ve already said about the benefits of compression clothing in general, which you can find on my post about compression shorts. I did, however, find this short video from the guys at TriSports.com TV, where Johnny West of 2XU Compression talks about the benefits of both using their calf guards during training, and calf recovery sleeves for after high intensity workouts. (Watch the video in Youtube.)
If you suffer from problems with your calves when running, or even with shin splints, then maybe calf guards are the answer, assuming you have made sure your running form is okay and that you are wearing the correct type of running shoes. I’d be pleased to hear about your experiences of calf guards in the comments section, as most types of compression clothing tend to produce a lot of opposing viewpoints – some people swear by it, and others think it is just a load of garbage! What do you think?