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Running: Compression vs. Recovery Clothing

Compression clothing and recovery clothing – What's the difference and which products are right for your run?

With many different types of high-performance gear available, it's hard to know what the actual differences between certain products are. Compression clothing and recovery clothing are often thought of as interchangeable and offering the same benefits. However, there is a distinct difference between what compression clothing and recovery clothing offer and how they help you perform better: Compression clothing helps you during your run while recovery clothing helps you prepare for your next run.

Designed to wear during your run to enhance athletic performance, compression clothing combines high-performance technology with an unrestricted yet tight fit.

Although most compression clothing may look similar, the differences lie in the details. Compression clothing can vary between brands, but most provide their own high-performance features. By understanding the function and benefits of different technical offerings, you can determine which products best suit your running style.

Graduated pressure, or compression, means the product applies the most pressure to the areas furthest from the heart. In a pair of compression tights, the pressure will be tightest near the feet and ankles, gradually lessens near the knees, and is most relaxed around the thighs and waist. By applying the most compression to the muscles furthest from the heart, graduated pressure helps blood circulate more effectively and efficiently, helping muscles better manage the demands of intense sporting activities. This can help increase running endurance while reducing negative post-performance effects, like muscle soreness.

As you run, your muscles are continuously vibrating. Known as muscle oscillation, these repeated muscle vibrations increase injury risk and cause muscle fatigue, which reduces your athletic ability. Targeted compression reduces the effects of muscle oscillation by offering unique support and stability to muscles. Helping hold muscles in place, targeted compression reduces injury risk, muscle fatigue and damage, and negative post-performance effects so you can perform at a higher level on this run and the next.

To provide performance benefits, compression clothing fits snugly, yet comfortably to the body. On hot days, It may seem like the compressed fit would only make you warmer, but moisture-wicking materials actually help you stay cool and dry. The materials are designed to pull sweat away from the skin to the outside of the fabric so it can evaporate faster. Moisture-wicking technologies vary between brands but the function remains the same. And, on cold days, compression clothing's tight fit helps regulate body temperature, keeping you warm.

UV protection keeps you safe from the sun's harmful rays. Whether you're running casually or racing competitively, these materials protect you from sunburns, skin damage, and radiation absorption. UV protection is helpful for all runners but is a near necessity for long-distance races ranging from 5Ks to full marathons.

Fit For Your Run

For all runners, compression tops can provide warmth and coverage from the elements. For high-mileage or multi-day runners, these tops provide exceptional muscle support, helping to relieve muscle soreness, especially in the biceps and triceps.

For long or intense runs or sore joints, arm sleeves can help you comfortably perform. Continuous arm pumping can lead to muscle soreness, which arm sleeves can reduce. Arm sleeves that extend over the elbow can help distribute synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints.

While some runners may not like to race in these, compression tights are exceptional for training and can be worn during competitive runs. Especially helpful for high-mileage runners and those competing in multi-day competitions, full-leg compression offers great support, can provide performance benefits, and helps reduce injury risk and post-performance soreness. From a practical standpoint, compression tights can benefit every runner by managing body temperature, making running on cold days or during the winter months a little more bearable.

For runners who prefer to wear briefs or shorts with an inner brief, compression shorts offer a supportive alternative. These shorts are good for everyday exercise to competitive races, provide ideal support, and, by relieving pressure on muscles, can help you perform as you recover from injuries, such as a pulled hamstring.

Leg, or calf, sleeves are a good option for runners who don’t like wearing full-length tights. Offering optimal support to the lower leg muscles, especially the calf muscle, and the Achilles tendon, leg sleeves reduce injury risk in some of the leg muscles most utilized in running. Leg sleeves can be used for training, casual running, or competitive racing.

Beneficial to every runner, compression socks help circulate blood throughout the lower leg, provide extra support to your shins and calf muscles, and can keep you legs warm. For added comfort, compression socks may include moisture-wicking materials or padded heals.

After a tough training session or a long run, recovery clothing minimizes negative post-performance effects, helping your body recover faster so you can perform better on your next run.

Similar to compression clothing, recovery clothing looks similar between brands and specific products but differs in often unseen technical features. But, unlike compression clothing, recovery clothing provides its own distinct technical offerings and has a different purpose.

When compared to compression clothing, recovery clothing exerts more pressure on the muscles. Enhanced pressure limits movement more than compression clothing so that your muscles recover over a slower period of time.

When you are running or exercising, your muscles, especially those in your legs, lengthen. As runners know – you can feel great when you're done with your workout or race but the next hours or days can be a different story. Intense athletic activity damages your body's soft tissue, including muscles and tendons. When the muscles begin to cool down and retract to their original state, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) occurs. Wearing recovery clothing after your performance can reduce muscle fatigue, pain, and soreness.

Similar to its benefit in compression clothing, graduated pressure helps your body circulate blood. When combined with the enhanced compression that recovery clothing offers, the graduated pressure offers increased blood circulation, helping your muscles recover from strenuous activity. When you are exercising, your body produces lactic acid, which, like DOMS, causes muscle fatigue, soreness, and pain. Increased blood circulation helps your body flush lactic acid from your system. In addition, increased blood circulation allows your muscles to receive more blood and vitamins, allowing them to repair faster. This helps you perform better on your next run.

Right For Your Recovery

More effective for high-mileage runners or those participating in multi-day races, recovery tops help soothe tired or sore upper body muscles. Long runs can take a toll on the upper arm muscles, especially the biceps and triceps. Recovery tops can help relieve the effects of continuous arm pumping.

Offering an alternative to recovery tops, arm sleeves provide support to the biceps and triceps without having to wear an entire top.

Beneficial for everyday runners, recovery shorts target and support crucial leg muscles, including the groin, thigh, and hamstring, allowing increased blood circulation to help repair muscles.

If you’re serious about your running performance, than recovery tights are for you. Full-length tights apply pressure to and support all essential muscles in your legs, helping the muscles rebuild so you feel fresher on your next run.

Recovery socks provide a less-restrictive alternative to recovery tights. Recovery socks soothe and support the Achilles tendon, shins, and calf muscles. These socks can be combined with recovery shorts to provide benefits similar to those provided by recovery tights.

To maximize your recovery, most brands will suggest a certain length of time that their product should be worn, with times ranging from a couple of hours to overnight. These recommended times are a great starting point but you should consider additional factors, such as how far or how long you ran and the next time you will be running, when determining how long recovery clothing should be worn. After several uses, you will get a feel for how your body responds to recovery clothing and will be able to better determine the length of wearing time needed.

Although compression clothing and recovery clothing look similar, they each provide different benefits. Compression clothing helps you perform better now while recovery clothing prepares your body for the next run. Choosing the products that best suit your running style can help you maximize your performance and speed up your recovery.