Compression Wear - Buyer's Guide


The ultimate post ride recovery could include any number of the following elements: cool down, stretching, food, massage, ice baths, lying down with your legs above your heart... we could go on and clearly some of these are more practical than others in the action packed lives we lead.  Certainly the lying down bit might be greeted with some raised eyebrows for those on the cycle to work scheme!


But recover we must if we are to enjoy our next ride, or get the most out of our bodies when racing or training hard and the use of compression clothing offers real benefits.  Specifically, there is a larg body of independent research which has shown that compression clothing can prevent loss of motion in joints, decrease perceived soreness, reduce swelling and promote muscle recovery. 


So we’ve pulled together the following information to help you understand what’s available and how it works.


compression wear



Compression garments


Elite athletes have been wearing compression clothing since the late 1990’s and you can now purchase a number of types of garments, including:

  • Tights – long and three quarter length
  • Shorts – with or without a bib
  • Tops – long and short sleeved, or sleeveless      
  • Socks – yes, that’s the Paula Radcliffe look
  • Calf sleeves – essentially socks without the foot bit, although some have stirrups
  • Arm sleeves – just like arm warmers but with a tighter fit



How they work


The science is relatively straight forward.  The compression of targeted muscles has been scientifically proven to improve performance in training, competition and recovery, because it improves blood circulation.  This, in turn, increases oxygen delivery to working muscles, which enhances their performance and also helps the body to eliminate lactic acid and other waste products from exercise.


The bottom line is that muscles can work at a higher rate for longer and they recover more quickly.  So the soreness felt after intense exercise, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS for short), which kicks in about 24 hours after a hard workout, can be noticeably reduced by using compression clothing.



When to wear compression clothing


Different items have been developed for different uses, including:


  1. During physical activity – anything from training and racing, to active leisure pursuits, like walking or gardening
  2. To aid recovery post exercise – use after any activity and wear for at least 3 hours.  Some compression garments can be worn under clothing or even in bed
  3. When recovering from injury – to help the body to recover from specific injuries, for example if you have pulled muscles like a hamstring or calf muscle
  4. In the workplace – compression wear can provide support and enhance circulation, which can be beneficial if you spend a long time sitting, standing or walking at work
  5. When travelling – to reduce the effects of jetlag and lower the risks of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)



Why wear compression garments


Top of the range compression wear can deliver a number of benefits, including:


  • Improved recovery and reduced post exercise pain
  • Treatment of injuries
  • Protection from injury
  • Reduced the risk of cramp
  • Improved muscle alignment
  • Reduced muscle vibration and therefore fatigue
  • Improved muscle oxygenation and therefore function and recovery



Features of compression wear


Compression wear is designed to deliver a squeeze to muscles that will aid recovery, but a look at the price tag will tell you that not all brands are the same.  The primary differences between different products will be the compressive force they give, the fit and the durability of the garment.


The compression or squeeze is a function of the fabric – the knit or weave and the elasticity – in conjunction with the design and fit.  Top of the range gear will take into account your height, weight and of course the fact that you are female.  In addition, some brands go beyond this to provide pressure over specific body parts to suit the needs of different activities – cycling uses different muscle groups to swimming or running for example.


Gradient compression is also something to look out for.  This is where the compressive force applied to the extremities is greater than that applied nearer to the core body.  So, for tights, this would mean the compression delivered around the base of the calf would be greater than that applied at the top of the quads.


Beyond this, you can look out for:

  • Cycling specific compression wear – designed and cut with the specific needs of cyclists in mind
  • Anti bacterial – preventing the build up of bacteria and minimising any associated odours
  • Protection from the sun – 50+ is the highest we have seen
  • Flatlock seams – for comfort
  • Wicking properties – to draw moisture away from the body
  • Body temperature regulation – to accommodate warm or cold conditions


We've put our bodies on the line and we’re currently testing some compression wear.   We’ll be reporting our findings soon, so check back for the reviews and feel free to post your experiences on the Forum.


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