Many individuals wear compression garments (CG) either at the gym while training to enhance muscle pump or as a tool to alter locomotion to better game performance; however, what is the logic behind wearing these garments?
You often hear that wearing compression garments can improve your performance in the gym and also enhance your recovery! I'm not sure about you, but this had me intrigued! You're telling me wearing these can allow me to train harder and recover faster?
The increasing popularity warrants an explanation. Let's look at the research.
Common Compression Garment Claims:
- Improved Muscle Performance During Training
- Reduced Muscle Soreness
- Soft Tissue Repair
- Reduced Muscle Swelling
Improvements in Muscle Performance During Training
Can wearing compression garments contribute to better performance in the gym?
A study by Periera et al (2014) found that the use of a compression arm sleeve while performing 4 sets of an elbow flexion exercise (Preacher Curls) during training does not enhance muscle performance.
In addition, a study by Martorelli et al (2015) found no significant improvements in terms of muscular power and neuromuscular performance during a resistance training bout.
Contrary to what has been thought, muscle performance increases from CG's during acute bouts of exercise seem to be insufficient. There does not appear to be any physiological improvements in muscle performance when wearing CG's during power training or any training for that matter.
Furthermore, If you choose to wear compression garments during training for comfort or to make a fashion statement, have at it! The research does not indicate performance detriments if you wear them.
So is there even a benefit to wearing these types of garments? What about wearing the garments outside of your training?
Based on a 24-hour recovery period, the implementation of full body CG's as a recovery tool positively enhanced the recovery process based on psychological, perceptual, physiological and performance variables (Kraemar et al 2010).
Testing during a 24-hour recovery window is essential because most athletes and highly active individuals want to recover and be able to train and compete within this time period post training (Kraemar et al 2010).
Reduced Muscle Soreness
Kraemar et al (2010) found that through the utilization of whole body CG's, upper body torso soreness was drastically reduced but arm soreness was not reduced. This could be associated with the constant eccentric loads that the trained individuals are accustomed to during their resistance training protocols.
Soft Tissue Damage Repair
In addition to reduced muscle soreness, the use of whole body CG's significantly reduced major enzymes associated with muscle tissue damage - Creatine Kinase (CK) and Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH) (Kraemar et al 2010). CK and LDH concentrations were decreased within the 24 hour recovery window when wearing CG's compared to the control, suggesting that the use of CG are beneficial in reducing soft tissue muscle damage (Kraemar et al 2010).
Reduced Muscle Swelling
Kraemer et al (2010) found reduced muscle swelling in the thigh in the compression group (CG) compared to the control (CON) suggesting that CG's can impact muscle swelling as shown in the graphs below.
Results in both males and females were consistent showing the CG's did have a positive effect on recovery after resistance training in these various conditions studied.
Similar results were found in a Meta- Analysis by Hill et al (2013) stating CG's allow for a more drastic recovery in terms of muscle function, muscle soreness and Creatine Kinase Levels compared to the control group.
What do the results mean for you?
If you're going to combine CGs and training, make sure to have a recovery mindset, as the implementation of CGs seems to be effective in the recovery from heavy resistance training.
However, Hill et al (2013) explains it is important to note that although conclusive evidence was found, none of the studies outlined the exact pressure the CGs exerted only using estimated values from the manufacturers. Body variations in terms of sizing also need to be taken into account as everyone has different tissue mass, and different tissue mass calls for a variation in pressures exerted by the garment to see the necessary recovery effects.
Take Home Points:
- CGs tend to have a positive impact on muscle recovery (reducing muscle soreness/swelling and increasing tissue repair)
- CGs likely have no effect on muscle performance variables during training.
- More research is needed on optimal CG pressures for different body compositions and variations.
- If you enjoy wearing CG's during training, then do so
Hill, J., Howatson, G., Someren, K., Leede, J., & Pedlar, C. (2013). "Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sport Medicine." Retrieved August 22, 2017, from http://www.spioworks.com/files/Compression%20and%20Excercised%20Induced%20Muscle%20Damage.pdf
Kraemer, WJ, Flanagan, SD, Comstock, BA, Fragala, MS, Earp, JE, Dunn-Lewis, C, Ho, J-Y, Thomas, GA, Solomon-Hill, G, Penwell, ZR, Powell, MD, Wolf, MR, Volek, JS, Denegar, CR, and Maresh, CM. "Effects of a whole body compression garment on markers of recovery after a heavy resistance workout in men and women." J Strength Cond Res 24(3): 804–814, 2010
Martorelli, SS, Martorelli, AS, Pereira, MC, Rocha-Junior, VA, Tan, JG, Alvarenga, JG, Brown, LE, and Bottaro, M. "Graduated compression sleeves: Effects on metabolic removal and neuromuscular performance." J Strength Cond Res 29(5): 1273–1278, 2015
Pereira, M., Bottaro, M., Brown, L., Rocha-Junior, V., Martorelli, S., Neumann, M., & Carmo, J. (2014). "The Effects of Graduated Compression Sleeves on Muscle Performance: A Randomised Controlled Trial." International Journal of Sport Science and Coaching, 9(5). Retrieved August 22, 2017.
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