Compression- What does it really do?


As a runner/fitness lover compression products are everywhere on the market saying they will aid recovery and help out muscles. Are they really necessary? What does it really do and how?

The science

When muscles work during exercise they are fuelled mainly by oxygen, specifically through aerobic exercise (anaerobically a different system is at play but still produce waste products). Once oxygen is utilised by the muscles, waste products such as lactic acid alongside deoxygenated blood are emitted and pumped back to the heart to where oxygenated blood is found and the process starts all over again. Basically, lactic acid is what slows down oxygen uptake by the muscles. It’s that’s vile heavy dull ache you feel in your legs. The faster the process of removal is, the more efficient the athlete. This is where compression comes in.

By compressing muscles using a graduated scale thought clothing, we can aid the speed of by deoxygenated blood is pumped back to the heart, as well as the all important removal of lactic acid. Therefore when running, main muscle groups such as the calves and quads could benefit from the use of compression. The same could also be said for boxers/racket sport players for the use of arm sleeves. The apparel industry has suggested not only can compression be used for recovery but also for warming up and the training session/run itself.


Many research studies back the brands theories on improving recovery rates especially in the legs ( Valle et. al 2014; Trenell et. al 2006). However, there is highly conflicting evidence on whether there is an improvement on endurance of the muscles. Most articles suggest compression does not enhance overall performance, but some suggest there is improved muscle economy (Mac Rae et. al 2011) . Simply put there are mixed reviews!

Overall though, the evidence is clear that from a recovery point of view compression is key. Currently many many brands out there do compression. Key players in the current market? 2XU, whose leggings and socks really are in a field of their own. Below I have just put some simple reasons why compression could help you 🙂


– Help reduce muscle fatigue and thus long term overuse injuries.
– Increase Blood flow
– Reduce swelling
– Keep muscles aligned and reduce muscle oscillation (movement of muscle as say foot hits the ground). Therefore reduces trauma and excessive vibration to muscles.
– Decrease muscle soreness (DOMS)



MacRae BA, Cotter JD & Laing RM, Sports Medicine, 2011; 41(10) 815-43.

Trenell MI, Rooney KB, Sue CM, Thompson CH, J Sports Sci Med.2006; 5(1): 106-14.

Valle X, Lluis T, Drobnic F, Turmo A, Montoro JB, Valero O, Artells R, Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2013 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 295-302.


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