”Real men” might not use them but turn up at any ultra or adventure race and you'll see compression clothing everywhere. Once the preserve of pro athletes and triathletes, they're increasingly being used by adventure athletes. So should you get a pair?
Compression technology has been around for a while and is medically proven. Pro athletes used to wrap their legs to reduce lactic acid, which enabled them to train harder. It's also prohibited by the UCI in cycling — and they probably know a thing or two about performance enhancers.
As adventurers take more serious approaches to training, it makes sense to consider compression, which increases the blood flow by 40% during performance and 30% during rest. (Wearing them as a recovery aid is one of the main reasons for them — and many athletes will sleep in them.) Compression also softens the ”shock-wave” effect on muscles, veins and joints, thus reducing muscle damage.
There are broadly two types of compression socks: those made from the elastic material known as elastan and the more firmly weaved products. The downside with elastan is that it doesn’t breathe that well, and for some people elastan can cause skin irritatation.
It's generally advised to use more loose compression during activity and more firm compression when you’re recovering. You will notice the biggest difference in the beginning but as you get accustomed you will need tighter compression to get the same effect.
Among the top compression brands are CEP, who have manufactured compression socks for 100 years.
Swiss brand Compressport have several different compression gear. Their material and weave is quite different — much more stiff and less flexible. It’s lightweight, thin, breathable and dries quickly, making it a favourite among many athletes.
However thare are many differant types of compression clothing and not all will work the way you want. Some can be thick and warm (Skins). Others lack the perfect fit or enough compression (Salomon). Some materials like lycra lose their compression properties and original size after a while.
Another question is whether to go for the sock or the sleeve. The sock offers some ankle support but this can be a disadvantage. Sleeves will dry quicker. You can also get sleeves for the quads, which are ideal for mountain running.
One last warning: Size is very important. If your compression clothing is too small, it can work against you. But pick the right pair and you'll find you're able to go harder and recover more quickly whatever your adventure.
The only question that remains is what colour to go for. But maybe that's not something for real men either.
Fredrick Olmqvist is a Swedish ultra runner and blogger who writes about trail running here: /fredrikolmqvist.wordpress.com/