The fitness world is saturated with things promising to deliver next-level results when it comes to achieving your workout goals—and even more that promise to do so with little effort. We’re talking gidgets and gadgets and supplements aplenty. You’ve got your activity tracker on, your wireless headphones in and your BCAAs all ready to go—and whilst that’s all well and good, chances are you’re overlooking a little something which can yield even bigger results.
This begs the question: can the simple act of slipping into a pair of leggings (albeit, a much tighter pair of leggings) before your sweat session be the difference between a good and even better workout? The short answer is yes.
Here’s what you need to know about compression and how it can work for you:
“Compression has a number of physiological benefits, from improved performance to reducing the risk of injury and speeding up recovery,” says Shona Halson, Recovery Physiologist from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). “The major benefit of compression is an increase in blood flow in and around the muscles, which results increased functionality while exercising and a speedier recovery.”
“Compression also prevents muscle oscillation, which is the movement of the muscles that happens when you exercise,” Halson goes on to say. “If you have less muscle oscillation, you’ll likely experience less muscle soreness and recover faster, so you can get back on your feet in time for your next training session.”
“During activity, compression wraps the muscle, reducing muscle damage and fatigue,” Halson says. “Post-exercise graduated compression helps to increase blood flow, which aids muscle repair, reduces soreness and improves recovery. The theory behind this is that compression garments compress the smaller, finer veins and force blood through the deeper, larger veins back to the heart. When working out, this means more blood is flowing back to the heart, reducing stress on the body and allowing for improved performance. As a result, it helps to lower heart rate and decrease the risk of injury. During recovery, the increased blood flow also increases blood lactate removal and reduces swelling, which means less soreness and gets you back training faster.”
Contrary to popular belief, “compression wear is not just for elite performers,” says Halson. “It’s also for everyday athletes.”
“Whether you enjoy group training, HIIT or RPM, team sports or running, wearing compression garments will allow you to multiply your performance, going harder for longer and recovering faster.”
You can even wear compression leggings if you’re just going for a walk. “The benefits of wearing compression apply whether you are doing high or low-intensity training,” explains Halson. “Even if you exercise one to two times a week [in compression wear], the benefits will still be felt, which will hopefully encourage you to keep up your exercise and feel more energized going into each session.”
Many activewear brands nowadays claim their garments to have ‘compression-like’ properties, when really they’re just using the term ‘compression’ for tight-fitted clothing that doesn’t actually deliver the benefits associated with increased circulation and muscle stability, advises Halson. “It’s important to know that compression is not regulated and not all compression garments are created equal,” she stresses.
So, how do you ensure you’re buying into quality? Put simply, look for keywords such as ‘graduated compression’ or ‘gradient compression’ on product descriptions and labels. “2XU is the leader in this technology, which is made up of a unique fabric combination that is powerful, lightweight, flexible and durable,” says Halson. (Oh, and Kimye are fans).
“Some studies show positive results for people wearing compression garments when sleeping (as long as it’s comfortable for them to wear compression to bed). Compression is also recommended on flights, as the increased blood flow reduces muscle swelling and the risk of DVT, and promotes blood flow to the heart. Compression socks are another comfortable option when traveling on long-haul flights.