You might have heard about compression clothing, whether it was on the label of those cute workout crops you just bought, or in a fitness magazine. That’s right, compression isn’t just for the socks your grandmother wears to help her circulation anymore. It’s taken off in the world of fitness since studies have shown that it can improve endurance and recovery. Another benefit of compression fitness gear that we don’t necessarily see advertised? Full body support. It’s not just the skin on your face (or chest) that sags over time, and compression garments can help keep everything perky!
What is compression gear?
Made from tightly woven elastic fibers, compression gear molds tightly around body parts causing enough pressure to mimic muscle contractions which pushes blood back through muscle and tissue to to improve circulation and recovery. In simple terms, I think of it as fibers that hug my muscles and support them through movement. It’s also thought that the pressure placed on muscles from compression clothing effects sensory receptors, which changes the feedback to your brain and improves the strength and endurance of muscles.
What are the benefits?
The better known benefits of compression gear include increased blood flow and reduced heart rate during exercise, improved recovery from intense exercise and increased strength (more details here and here). Powerlifters wearing compression gear were able to squat more than those who did not. While I don’t strive to be an elite athlete, this isn’t so bad as a bonus! Reduced soreness is also a common benefit.
However, my favorite benefit of compression gear is that it can help your body parts defy gravity. Just as it can in the face and breasts, gravity takes a toll on skin all over your body. Stretching of the skin and ligaments through high intensity exercise (running and jumping) can increase the breakdown of collagen from head to toe which is why you’ve been advised to invest in a good sports bra. Similarly, skin that has been stretched by underlying fat tends to sag after extreme weight loss and exposure to UV rays breaks down collagen and elastin which are important proteins for skin elasticity. Just like maintaining a healthy weight and wearing sunscreen is important for keeping things tight, keeping skin and muscle in place through high intensity exercise with compression clothing can help prevent sagging later in life.
What to look out for:
There are several blends of fabric used by different brands in compression gear, from polyester to Lycra. Skins, a popular compression brand touts their tear-drop shaped compression weave as superior to the circular weave that’s more common, claiming that it’s better for maintaining the correct level of compression. Bodyscience uses strategically placed panels in their gear which they have shown to be effective in targeting compression to different parts of the body, which may be beneficial to athletes who put more stress on certain body parts (i.e. glutes).
When it’s supportive benefits that you want from your compression clothing versus extreme performance enhancement a thick, body hugging stretch fabric is probably sufficient. The brand I am wearing here is RYU. The pants are incredibly thick and comfortable, and the top has similar compression benefits. It’s interesting, because I have a pair of Nike crops that are supposed to be compression, however compared to these thick leggings it feels like they are doing nothing.
One of my favorite quick and easy ab moves is the plank (detail on the post here). Lately, I’ve been experimenting with wall planks and hoping to work my way up to a full handstand. I find that elevating my body puts a greater emphasis on my upper body muscles and engages my core and glutes more deeply. Nerd Fitness has a great article here on how to work up to a handstand!
Are you on the compression clothing band wagon yet?