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A Guide to Compression Clothing

Over the last few years, many brands have been promoting the use of compression clothing and the benefits of doing so. The ultimate claim and reason for the popularity of compression clothing is that they will help athletic performance and recovery. There are many brands in the marketplace including the leaders Skins and 2XU with others like Performax offering a less expensive alternative. Then there are many specific compression companies like Compressport or SLS3 who focus in on the calf compression for endurance athletes like runners.

What is compression?

Loosely defined compression clothing is any piece of clothing (top, pants, socks) that are focused on compressing the skin and particular body parts. The more sophisticated brands like Skins make sure that the pressure is specific at certain points so that the correct level of surface pressure is applied to specific parts of the body.

What are the Benefits?

The major listed benefits for compression clothing like compression tights are:

During Performance

1.Reduced build up of lactic acid – this can improve performance

2.Reduced muscle vibration – providing more support for the muscles and delaying fatigue


1.Improved blood circulation and hence recovery.

2.Reduce DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) – that stiffness you get after long exercise.


Do they Work?

There have been numerous studies aiming to compare exercise and recovery with/without compression clothing and the basic result is that improvement has been documented during/after longer forms of exercise but minimal impact has been shown for short explosive exercise. 

If you want some science reading try 

“The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle performance following high-intensity sprint and plyometric exercise” by Duffield, Cannon & King or

“Lower limb compression garment improves recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in young, active females” by Jakeman, Byrne & Eston

The Placebo

Often people refer to compression clothing as working on the top 5 cms of the body – the brain. If you buy specific clothing and it feels good then you are likely to perform better.  There is also concern the fashion requirements of children who “must have” compression shorts to help their sports performance.

There is no doubt that the combination of strong marketing and peer pressure will result in many people buying compression garments for reasons other than the scientific principles of increased oxygen flow and muscle vibration.

What Else?

Many of the brands have added significant other benefits to their compression garments that make them worth reviewing in their own right:

1.Warmth – some companies like 2XU offer a thermal version to help with consistent body warmth during warm-ups, exercise and recovery.

2.Wicking – taking away the sweat. Many of the brands including Skins and Performax make sure their material is as moisture removing as possible. This enables more consistent body temperature, especially in warm temperatures or indoor sports.

3.UV protection. If you exercising out in the sun make sure you seek a garment that supports your activities and has a UV protection (greater than 30).

2XU Womens Compression Thermal Tights

How to Choose?

There are many options and it is worth reading about individual brands but here are some hints to keep in mind:

1.What is your real purpose – is it for comfort during moderate and short exercise or are you exercising to muscle fatigue. Look for the leading brands if intermediate to elite performance is what you are after.

2.What type of pants do you need – what exercise are you doing. If it is more quad focused (cycling, speed work for example) then opt for the shorts or half-tights. If you are looking a fatigue for your calves look at the tights or specific products from companies like Compressport or SLS3.

3.What type of top – what is the purpose – sleeveless if fine as an under garment, whereas long sleeve is great for warmth or protection.4.Price – You can spend $70 up to $160 for a pair of tights. Often it is worth starting with the lower end and moving up as you get comfortable and see value. 

What about Care?

Lastly, Compression gear such as shirts and tights are delicate and expensive clothing. Follow the manufactures recommendation for washing and drying – don’t just throw them in with your sports gear. They will last a long time when cared for.

Skins A400 Womens Long Sleeve Top   Compressport Calf Ultra Race 3   Skins A400 Mens Half Tights