Do compression tights work?
Are you a fan of compression clothing? Or perhaps you’re thinking about the merits. You’ll see big claims about compression tights and shorts everywhere. From Skins and 2XU to Adidas and Under Armour, they are all keen to have you dipping into your wallets to buy the clothing that they claim will keep your muscles feeling fresher and less fatigued. But are compression clothes worth the money? Here’s what one leading brand, Skins, say about their new Active 200 series: “Built on SKINS’ scientifically proven engineered gradient compression to enhance circulation and deliver more oxygen to boost muscle performance, SKINS 200 series garments also feature muscle wrapping and support for stronger performance and reduced risk of muscle injury. “SKINS lightweight 200 Series warp knit fabric features 50+ UV protection (in all non-mesh areas), antimicrobial properties and moisture wicking so your skin can breathe.” Big claims indeed! And on their Skins Recovery tights: “If you’re not that keen on ice baths, there is another way. Clothing in the SKINS RY400 range will make a big difference to your recovery time. The compression levels have been engineered based on scientific research to improve blood circulation, getting fresh oxygen to your tried muscles to help them repair faster.”
What’s all the fuss about?
Well, you’ll all know how your muscles feel after walking a hill or mountain, or cycling a long distance. They will be fatigued and aching. The next couple of days usually feel worse, until eventually your muscles recover, gain strength and you are ready to exercise again. But what if you need to keep going over many days or you really don’t like that fatigued feeling (who does?!)? Compression clothing is meant to help to reduce muscles fatigue and aid performance. But does it work?
My experience with Skins compression shorts and tights
I have no scientific proof about whether Skins do perform minor miracle on my leg muscles but I do believe that wearing the shorts and tights helps with muscles recovery. I can offer a few examples.
- During a cycle tour in the Pyrenees – over many of the Tour de France cols – I religiously wore Skins recovery tights at night. The next day I was able to get on my bike and pedal up more cols. The fatigue didn't disappear but it was less than I would have expected.
- After cycling the infamous Bealach Mor cycle sportive, I was able to walk two Munros (3000ft Scottish mountains) the next day without feeling too tired.
- On a weekend of Munro bagging I wore Active Skins tights for walking. Against the odds I managed to walk 11 Munros over three days. I am not sure if I would have done this without the help of the compression tights!
- During running reps sessions, I am training for the World Age Group Triathlon Champs, I have to put my body through hard running sessions. I like to wear the Active 200 women’s Skins shorts. They are incredibly supportive while exercising and they seem to help with muscle recovery for the next day of exercise.
But I can’t say for sure if the Skins made the difference. It could be that I am so fit (ha, ha!) that my body is able to repair itself quickly. I doubt it. I think there is some truth in the Skins claims, that they tight fitting fabric offers support and improves circulation to the muscles, and, thus, helps with speedier recoveries. On the downside, Skins or similar need to be tight to work. They can feel oddly tight to start with. And if you are in any way self-conscious, you might not like your body being on display in ultra tight fabric. On the plus side, Skins can easily be worn beneath other, looser-fit garments. If you’re thinking about a tough, multi-day walking or cycling holiday I would also think about wearing compression tights for the days or nights or both. There’s something in my mind that says, every little helps!