How Compression Sportswear Affects Your Running Performance

Young woman is stretching after running.

Nowadays, you can find a wide range of shirts, pants, jackets or socks for your training in every sports store. Sometimes, the selection can be a bit overwhelming. And the names, too. For example, have you ever wondered what the terms functional wear or compression wear refer to? And whether they can help you improve your performance? In this blog post, running expert Sascha Wingenfeld takes a closer look at compression sportswear and considers the benefits for runners.

You don’t really need a lot of gear to go running. When you are starting out, all you need is a pair of running shoes, a T-shirt and a pair of running pants. Or at least you would think so,” says running coach Sascha Wingenfeld. Those who run year-round know the benefits of functional fitness wear. Have you ever gone running in a cotton shirt? Then you know that it soaks up moisture – from sweat or rain – like a sponge. The wet clothing clings to your body and cools it down. “The seams chafe your skin and as your muscles cool, they can start to cramp,” warns the expert. He points out that “special functional wear is designed to continuously wick the moisture away from your body to the outer layer of your clothing where it can evaporate.”

Young man is running.

Better performance thanks to functional wear?
Proper clothing keeps your body and muscles warm and thus ready to perform. Especially during the cold time of the year, the “onion” method is the way to go. “The layers of clothing, one on top of the other, wick the sweat away from your skin and thus allow you to work out for long periods of time outdoors even when it is wet and cold,” explains Sascha. This is why many runners have started wearing more functional fitness wear over the last few years. Many even rely on compression sportswear these days. The manufacturers promise that the pressure of the fabric on your muscles will improve your performance, but among runners there are a lot of different opinions on these products. So what is the story behind compression wear?

Use in medicine
Compression stockings have been used in medicine for many years to prevent blood clots from forming in the legs. The targeted use of external pressure stimulates blood flow and in particular the flow of blood back to the heart. They are especially helpful for people with soft tissue and vein problems. As far as their effect on physical performance, they are said to speed up the supply of oxygen to the muscles. This would mean that you get more performance for the same effort. This claim has been the subject of many studies and tests over the last few years. Many of them have reported an increase in performance of one to four percent. However, the studies have been conducted using a wide variety of methods, which makes it very difficult to draw any general conclusions from them. “But one thing is certain: Less-conditioned participants benefited the most because the extra pressure applied externally helped reduce vibrations in their soft tissue,” emphasizes Sascha. The compression guarantees a better distribution of heat to the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, which helps prevent sports-related joint problems. “Plus, there is evidence showing that compression wear, on account of its stabilizing effect, gives people an advantage in those sports that require precise execution like golf, basketball or shooting,” says the expert.

Close up of legs of a young woman during running.

Maximum effect in endurance sports
The general assumption is that the biggest performance gains can be achieved in endurance sports involving long periods of muscular activity, like competing in a marathon, ultramarathon or an Iron Man. Why? On account of increased blood flow in the muscles and the pain relief resulting from this. According to studies, wearing compression sportswear can speed the recovery process. Since the blood circulates more easily, the body can rid itself more quickly of the waste products produced by intense metabolic activity. This would also mean that the body is ready to perform again faster. The participants in the studies who wore compression sportswear to aid their recovery felt less fatigue one day after intense workouts and achieved better results in several maximal and explosive strength tests than those not wearing compression sportswear.

Bottom line: Compression sportswear – yay or nay?
Increased wearing comfort and damping of soft tissue vibrations can have a positive influence on physical performance. This means that basically everyone can benefit from wearing compression sportswear. Because the quicker you recover from your training, the sooner you can work out again and make performance gains. “Plus, you should not underestimate the psychological effect. If it makes you feel faster, you are more likely to run faster. Thus, compression sportswear does help you improve your performance, even if only in certain areas and with very individual degrees of success. In the end, the most important piece of running gear is and remains your running shoes”, says Sascha Wingenfeld, summing up.



Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld