Compression clothing is not anything particularly new, but it has more scientific study behind it these days, and as a result has begun to crop up in many different sports, notably cycling and running, but also in team sports such as soccer where compression shorts and often compression tops are worn underneath the regular kit. For certain sports, a pair of compression shorts is also very useful to spare any blushes, for example in field hockey and tennis, where the ladies wear skirts which could easily ride up and expose their underwear otherwise. But aside from any vanity issues, compression sportswear is designed very specifically to address several issues which can lead to deteriorating performance, and so it has become essential gear for many of the pro athletes and cycle teams, both for use during training and especially for post race recovery.
What Are Compression Shorts?
Compression clothing in general is apparel which fits very snugly against the skin, and this provides several advantages compared to more usual, baggier sportswear. Firstly, for clothing in general, the tighter fit means better contact with hot skin during exercise, and since this type of clothing is made from high tech moisture wicking fabrics, it allows sweat to be more effectively removed from the skin surface. Eventually it will evaporate from the surface of the garment to provide efficient cooling when needed.
Compression shorts are a specialized case where, as already mentioned for women, they give the female athlete more confidence without the constant fear of embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions. For men, they are even more functional as the tighter fit means they hold ‘everything’ firmly in the right position, and also help to prevent chafing and soreness often associated with looser shorts, which might constantly move about and rub the skin during a race or training session.
There are two main types, the more common ones being similar to cycling shorts, which extend down towards the knee to provide compression to the upper part of the legs. The second type is shorter so that they can be hidden under soccer shorts, rather like briefs. However, it is common even to see soccer players wearing the longer ones which extend down beyond the length of their team shorts.
What Does Compression Clothing Do?
So it’s all very nice having all this tight-fitting clothing to wear while on the bike or running, but what does it actually do? There’s the obvious moisture wicking benefits of course, but there are some other studies carried out by manufacturers, and there is testimony from many athletes and professional team cyclists, which all point to the positive effect compression clothing has on muscle recovery after exercise. The benefits in this case, post-training, concerns the improved return of venous blood to the heart. While the heart pumps blood very effectively through the arterial system, venous return is an uphill struggle against gravity, so giving the system a helping hand with compression is a good way of staving off muscle soreness, and helping to remove lactic acid after strenuous training.
As well as compression shorts and other attire being very useful to assist recovery, it is also claimed to help during exercise, which is why football teams, soccer teams and a whole array of other sportsmen and women wear them. They can be very effective at reducing muscular oscillation during jumping and sprinting movements, leading to more efficient use of energy and a reduced risk of injury and premature fatigue, since the muscles are constrained into moving the way nature intended.
To summarise, this type of gear is intended to both improve performance by promoting efficiency in how the muscles are allowed to move. It further helps overall duration of exercise by wicking away moisture and cooling down the athlete. And it helps to control and reduce swelling and delayed onset muscle soreness, by increasing circulation and dissipating lactic acid build up in muscles forced into anaerobic mode during high intensity workouts.
Can You Compress Anything Else?
Compression shorts are not the only piece of performance enhancing base layer. There are short and long-sleeved compression tops, as mentioned earlier, and many professional soccer players wear them underneath their regular team colors. But there is also specialist compression gear for cycling in particular, for example, calf guards and compression socks and tights, as well as compression arm sleeves to reduce swelling in the arms after gruelling mountain races.
For run training there are various lengths of compression tights, which are great as a base layer for winter runs. And of course for triathlon, there are trisuits which comprise of a sleeveless top and shorts as an all-in-one unit.
There are several notable brands of compression wear, and mainstream high street sportswear brands such as Nike and Adidas also produce their own kit. The main ones to look out for are Skins, UnderArmour, 2XU (pronounced “two times you”), Gore, Sugoi, and a whole array of others.
So if you are now looking for a little added edge to your racing – having covered all the usual bases in your performance training, from sports nutrition, decent kit, strength and cross-training, brick training, and perfecting technique – maybe it’s time to give a little compression clothing a try, and see for yourself if it really does enhance performance…for you.
Where To Buy Compression Shorts & Other Compression Clothing
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