Elite Trainer Tom Hall analyses whether this active style trend lives up to the hype, and whether you should invest.
Baggy trackies are out. Today, it seems, the tighter your kit the better. Whether it’s shorts, T-shirts, or full-length leggings, both men and women are taking to the gym floor in compression gear. However, this isn’t just because a pair of leggings serves to accentuate the aesthetic benefits of your squat regimen. If the marketing bluster is to believed then compression gear is a potent performance-enhancer that also supercharges your recovery, dulling next-day DOMS. But is this fake news or the real deal?
The science behind compression gear is based on blood circulation. Your muscles’ ability to perform and recover is determined by their supply of oxygenated blood. Blood pumped form your heart supplies your muscles with the oxygen they need to contract – helping you to lift heavier and run faster – while also clearing out the pain-inducing by-products of exercise that have you hobbling after legs day.
While all this happens naturally, compression garments are designed to augment both processes. The sensation of compression triggers your brain to send help. More oxygenated blood is delivered to your hungry muscles and enzymes that leak from your muscles post-workout, and cause the aforementioned hobbling, are mopped up. Not only that, the tight garments constrict your muscles to reduce inflammation and therefore stop the build-up of fluid that causes painful swelling while your muscles recover.
Although further research is needed, there have been several studies into whether your fetching gym leggings deliver on their promises. And, to be honest, so far, so underwhelming.
Results have indicated minor benefits to sprint speed, jump height, time to exhaustion and time-trial performance. And while that’s an impressive number of boxes ticked – minor means minor.
Interestingly, the most potent and real benefits were experienced when the compression gear is worn after your session. Researchers discovered that muscle soreness can be greatly reduced with the use of compression gear, speeding your recovery and therefore helping you to get more out of your next training session. All positive stuff. The downside? To get these benefits you have to wear your compression gear for 24 hours after you complete your final rep. Not really what you want to be wearing under your suit all day after a morning workout.
Worth your wages?
Going by the results above? No. And even if there were more tangible positives, it is important to remember that a recovery protocol including proper sleep, nutrition and hydration is far more effective than any piece of kit.
However, this is to ignore one important factor – the placebo effect. It may sound strange, but the effect looking and feeling the part can have on your performance is very real. Whether it’s the confidence to get under a heavier-than-ever barbell, or to increase the incline on your next treadmill sprint, science says the right kit can provide you with a mental edge. And so, while you may mock (or aspire to be) the gym-goer strutting through the free weights area clad in three-quarter length leggings – there is method to the aesthetic. Beyond looking good in the inevitable post-gym selfie, that is. By all means trial the trend – if nothing else, at least you’ll have a warm pair of leggings to wear on the cycle to work come winter.