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Do Compression Stockings Work?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

- Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year
 
Q: 
“Do Compression Stockings Work?”

A: Athletes of all kinds, including cyclists, runners, and triathletes, are always looking for ways to get an edge over the competition. Recently, athletes have been turning towards better recovery techniques to gain that advantage.

One of the products marketed to cyclists to improve their recovery is compression socks/stockings. Manufacturers claim that compression socks:

  • increase oxygen delivery to the muscles
  • decrease and flush lactic acid out of the exercised muscles
  • help to prevent cramping and minimize general muscle fatigue

All of which helps cyclists perform better, with minimal soreness, when they next train. In the past, compression socks covered the lower leg/calf area. But now you can purchase other compression products such as full leg to ¾-length tights that cover not just the lower legs, but the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles.

Many cyclists use compression garments. But do they really work?
The research is limited and a bit hit-and-miss. There’s very little evidence that using compression garments during activity improves performance. However, the recovery benefits of compression socks/stockings are more obvious. One study found that athletes:

  • felt refreshed and relaxed after wearing the compression socks/tights before hard workouts.
  • had increased blood circulation in the thighs after wearing compression tights for recovery after workouts.
  • had less leg muscle soreness when wearing the socks and tights for recovery.

For cyclists to get the full benefit, compression socks need to be graduated — tighter around the ankle, then decreasing in pressure up to the top of the sock. The compression sock must be well-fitted, with a pressure range of 22–33 mmHg.

Why is this type of pressure advised?
The circulatory system carries arterial blood from the heart and brings blood from the veins back to the heart. Arterial blood flows at a high pressure (>120 mmHg), but venous blood flows at a low pressure because the veins have a special one-way valve to push the blood back towards the heart, but not the other direction. Muscular contractions squeeze and push the blood back to the heart. The compression socks work on the same premise. They push the blood up from the working muscle and towards the heart, and from the heart back to the working muscles—think of it as a cycle (no pun intended).

On a personal note, I wear both compression socks and compression tights after hard rides, and have found that I experience less muscle fatigue and soreness. Compression socks are especially helpful when I do back-to-back days on the bike. Last year I wore them while training and riding for three weeks in French Alps. With the rigours of intense days in the saddle, I found the socks and tights sped up my recovery so I could ride hard again the next day. Even if you aren’t doing high-intensity cycling, using these garments while training for a multiple-day event or charity ride could help you feel fresher and stay stronger longer. I recommend trying them this season. Let me know how they work out.

Next month I’ll focus on other important areas of recovery, including nutrition and massage. Stay strong, ride well, and have fun.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at
LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.


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