Friday, July 9, 2010

Compression Running Socks - Just a Fad or Not?

Compression socks are everywhere and the question is do they provide benefits for athletes. It's interesting to see all the new fads come and go over the 25 years of my racing experience. Do you remember the trend of big heavy cushioned running shoes many years ago and now it's all about lightweight, barefoot running, lighter the better.

I first noticed a trend of these new compression running socks while competing in European ultra triathlons as many athletes not only used them during the run and also the bike. Many of my European friends and competitors mentioned that they provide benefits of reducing fatigue in the lower leg muscles specifically in the calf and Achilles area's.

So, I decided to test them to see if they do have any benefits while training and for recovery. After researching online, there are many models and styles to select with most priced in the $50-$60 range (Zensah, SL3S, CEP). So they are not cheap and the majority of the socks are made from different types of nylon. There are a couple models that blend in wool. The main differences is whether you look at an entire sock or the compression sleeve. I figured that the sleeve might be easier to put on especially with triathlon transitions and allow me to sleep with them without getting hot feet (from a whole sock. Also, during a race I can choose my own socks. I purchased the Zensah sleeves.

The first time I ran with the compression sleeves I noticed that it was a bit of a tight feeling around the calf area but after a few minutes they seemed fine. I did not notice much benefit in shorter 1 hour runs and then decided to try them for a long 6 hour run with greater fatigue in the lower legs. I noticed less tightness in my calves and overall they were not that that warm which was a concern and of course looking a little odd (I tested them during a trail run in the heat of the summer and they are black color). The next test was to wear them after a long workout running and this is where I think they provided the greatest benefits. They seemed to reduce some of the extensive fatigue and the next day the legs recovered very well. I figured they might be a a good recovering tool if I slept with them every night during last year's DECA Ultra Triathlon. After every day and completing the Ironman distance I put them on for sleeping and did notice benefits of reduction of the overall lower leg fatigue.

Overall, I think they do provide some recovery benefits after long workouts. I plan on using them this year again for the DECA Ultra Triathlon for active recovery during the few hours of sleep per day. Test them out as they might provide benefits for you during your training and racing, but remember that the best recovery starts immediately following the workout with your recovery drinks and quality food!