If you read last weeks post about ice baths, then you know I’m on a quest to tease out the facts on the best ways to recover between runs. This week I’m going to explore the “urban running myths” behind compression garments, particularly socks. I must say that I personally love my compression socks!
I love the way they feel, the way they squeeze my calves extra tight to keep them locked and loaded, the bright colours that match my gear, and I believe they work…but is that all it takes? The belief that they work, aka the placebo effect, or do they have a scientific benefit, that’s what I’m looking to find out!
What are compression socks meant to be doing?
Previously compression socks were only found on those with poor circulation and those taking the long haul flight to Sydney. However, in the last few years they have been used as recovery aids for athletes and have been making their way onto plenty of runners before, during and after their training. The *science behind the socks (and other compression gear) is to stimulate blood flow, increase circulation and reduce lactic-acid build up in an attempt to help the legs recover faster from a hard run; however, the results of the research is conflicting.
Do you believe in compression socks?
This has been the main sticking point in a lot of the research I looked at. Most of the research to date has shown a significant reduction in [self]-reported post-event muscle soreness, but how do you tease out the facts if someone believes they’re “supposed to” benefit? That’s what the researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport set out to do. They had 12 well-trained male runners perform back-to-back 5K time trials with one hour of rest in between. They did this on two separate occasions, once while wearing compression socks during the one-hour recovery period, and once without.
The results were interesting, but maybe not surprising, as the study found there was a tiny speed-up in the “believers” second trial after wearing the socks; while the “skeptics” had a significant (20 second on average) slow-down. The study also found that reported muscle soreness and fatigue were lower for both groups after wearing the socks regardless of their prior beliefs.
The take home message?
Of course, once again the results are mixed, but I think the important thing to ask is what are you looking to get out of your compression gear and do you think it works? For me, since I’m looking for recovery and decreased muscle soreness between runs [not quick recovery for the purpose of performance]; the majority of research is in support of post-run compression gear. Additionally I feel like they work, therefore, whether the benefit is scientifically proven or “all in my head”, according to the research that’s enough for me to continue to don my colourful calf accessories!
Next up nutrition, and the exploring the faults of my current recovery diet!
*information from Sweat Science