‘Compression clothing’ is often used as a generic name for a range of products and it’s important to understand the differences between what’s on offer. Some of it is ‘true’ compression clothing, whereas other items are functional pieces of kit that are tight-fitting.
Why use compression kit and what is it meant to do?
Proprioception is about being aware of your body, its posture and its movement. It is possible to wear clothing that increases this awareness and, therefore, improves your posture and technique as you train and compete.
This is a more difficult goal to achieve. Applying a suitable amount of pressure to a muscle increases circulation to it – improved micro-circulation. Think of the principle behind the socks you can buy to prevent deep vein thrombosis on long aeroplane flights. Doing the same during exercise can boost your performance because the extra blood helps fuel your muscles and remove waste products.
You can also wear the clothing between sessions to gain the same benefits – weary legs are flushed out and recovery enhanced. Sleeping in the clothing or wearing it under your regular clothing allows you to go into the next session fresher.
Of course, there’s always a catch when something sounds this good… improved micro-circulation is a more difficult benefit to achieve than increased proprioception. If you use inadequate pressure, circulation is not stimulated. Too much pressure will have the opposite effect – circulation will be hindered!
The right materials, the right cut and wearing exactly the correct size become very important. Hence, you will see far more complex sizing charts for clothing that can really deliver on this front.
If you watch a very-slow-motion film of a runner, you will see their muscles vibrate and oscillate as they run. It is believed that reducing this oscillation and vibration may reduce the strain on the muscles during exercise and so reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) – in other words, feeling as stiff as a board a while after exercise. The less soreness you have after training, the sooner you will be ready to tackle that next session.
As material technology and biomechanical understanding increase, experts come up with more and more ways of applying the know-how. At ASICS, Inner Muscle technologies have been developed to improve posture and give resistance that strengthens key, but hard to train, muscles. adidas, meanwhile, has spotted that by adding a Powerweb (a polymer overlay that works like hi-tech rubber bands) to its clothing, athletes can improve their posture and the power they can generate. A lot of the power generated when you run is from ‘elastic energy’ – for example, from stretching and releasing your Achilles tendon. The adidas Powerwebbing seeks to add to that energy.