Compression tights are a hot product in the world of fitness, and many runners, convinced the tights increase their performance by decreasing muscle fatigue, wouldn’t hit pavement without them. While they might be pretty good at wicking away sweat, blocking those UV rays, protecting against chaffing, and keeping you cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather—basically, keeping you more comfortable as you run—one thing compression tights don’t do is increase performance.
The previously assumed logic seems sound enough: compression tights decrease muscle vibration; therefore, they must decrease muscle fatigue thereby enhancing performance. It would certainly be fantastic if we could just slip on a pair of magical tights that would give us the superpowers to run farther and faster, but the truth is, the assumed logic about compression tights and performance crumbled under the weight of a new study.
Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center presented its study on compression tights and performance earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. The study consisted of 10 subjects who ran at least 30 minutes at least three times each week. Using precise parameters to assure the runners were able to reach the typical point of muscle fatigue, on the first day the 10 runners wore compression tights while completing a treadmill run for 30 minutes. The runners were outfitted with reflector motion sensors on their legs to measure muscle vibration and other key motions. Findings were recorded, and the same runners completed the exact same exercises the next day without wearing compression tights.
The result? The runners’ performance was the same on both days. The compression tights did indeed decrease muscle vibration; however, decreased muscle vibration was not shown to be a factor in muscle fatigue. In other words, decreased muscle vibration did not result in reduced muscle fatigue and, therefore, the compression tights did not increase performance. Researchers plan to continue to study compression tights to learn more about their effect on the body.
Runners come in all ages and at all fitness levels, from the master triathlete or fiftysomething ultra marathoner to the weekend trail runner or lifelong runner to the lunch-break one-miler a few times a week. While it seems like all you might need are a good pair of shoes, some running shorts, and the drive to do it, that’s just for starters. People who love running can absorb a lot of time and money into it—think Fitbits and smartphone apps, music gadgets, and races, and, of course, whatever latest and greatest running trend hits the market.
Compression tights are just the latest in a long line of “hot” running trends. Whether it’s a new product or technique or even crazy new races making the rounds, it seems we’re always exploring ways to enhance a good run. The “minimalistic footwear” approach hit the scene a few years ago, and trendy runners were jumping on the barefoot, or “foot glove,” wagon. Have you seen the thin foot glove thingies with the rubber toes? Runners either love them or hate them, and from a research standpoint, we’ve soon both a good side and a bad side to these barefoot running shoes. One study completed on these foot gloves found that this product increased the forces to the feet and legs when running by a whopping 300%. Another study, however, showed that barefoot running shoes decreased the forces on the knee joint.
The upshot? If compression tights aren’t increasing performance, are they really worth it? That depends. If you’re only wearing them for what you thought was their superpower effect—that ability to run faster and farther—it’d probably be best to apply your compression-tights budget to something else. However, if you’re not concerned about the compression tights and performance claims and you’re wearing them for their numerous comfort benefits, high-quality compression tights can be a great asset to your running routine.
About the Author
Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…