So, Does Compression Gear Really Work?

Compression gear promises runners and other endurance athletes improved performance just by what you're wearing; pull on those tight knee-high socks or running capris and you'll improve blood and oxygen flow to your muscles, which supposedly will improve your performance and help you nab that personal record. But with some compression gear costing $100 or more, is it worth the investment?

A new study followed a small group of athletes during two workouts, one where they wore calf compression sleeves and one without. In both, oxygen intake and running gait were measured; overall, there was no difference between the two workouts. This finding adds to the debate regarding compression gear and performance; while there have been a few studies that showed a benefit, others have found that compression gear doesn't make runners any faster or found any difference in V02max or lactic-acid clearance. But an interesting note in the latest study points to a possible placebo effect: of the 16 runners tested, the two who told researchers that they believed compression gear helped their workouts actually did perform better when they wore the calf sleeves.

So, should you shell out the money for gear that may or may not work? If you believe in compression gear, there seems to be no harm in it, and you may just get a small performance boost from the placebo effect or actual physical benefit. Or you can use your compression gear in a way that has been proven to work in studies: as a recovery tool. One study, for example, found that those who wore compression socks 48 hours after an intense workout performed better at treadmill workouts two weeks later than those who didn't, while another found that 13 of 14 runners who completed a 10K race without wearing compression socks experienced lower leg DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) a day after the run, whereas only two of 14 runners who wore compression socks experienced lower-leg soreness. Bottom line: if it makes you feel better or boosts your confidence about your workout, that's reason enough to sport your favorite compression gear with pride.