If you’ve looked around the starting line at a race recently, you’ve probably noticed at least a few people running around in what appear to be funny-looking knee-socks. These are not merely runner-fashionistas. No! They are runner-fashionistas with very practical, performance-enhancing, recovery-aiding, compression tights.
Apparently compression technology in clothing has been around for quite some time. This was news to me, as I had never heard of it until last year. The idea that a piece of clothing could aid in recovery from an athletic event seemed laughable to me. A number of my friends and family are in the medical field though, and they all met the concept of compression clothing as a well-known fact.
“Yes,” said one doctor, “a little vaso-return could certainly help your muscles recover.”
Vaso-return? What the heck was that? So, I decided a little more investigation was called for.
The system of veins, valves and muscles in your calf and foot are sometimes referred to as the “second heart.” They work together to return de-oxygenated blood to the heart and lungs. As the muscles contract, the veins are squeezed and blood is pumped upward. The valves prevent the blood from going back down toward the foot. I actually found all of this to be quite fascinating.
Compression tights have what is called graduated compression. They are tighter at the bottom, on the foot and ankle, and gradually looser as they go up the leg. The tights act similarly to the muscles, compressing veins even while the legs are at rest, and helping to return blood to the heart and lungs.
As my friends indicated, and a little internet research immediately confirmed, compression tights/hose have been at use in the medical industry for years. They are recommended for minor to serious leg swelling in order to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. They are worn by post-op patients, pregnant women and many people who just spend a lot of time on their feet. Hmm, time on their feet? The benefits to the ultrarunner were becoming quite obvious to me at this point.
I thought of it this way: What do we do when treating minor injuries? RICE, right? (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) And don’t we do these things as well to aid recovery, even if uninjured? I know I’m a fan of putting my feet up the wall for 20 minutes or more after a long run. If I was smart, I’d climb into a bathtub full of ice after a pounding workout, like many of you do. (I do this occasionally, but it takes WAY more self-discipline than I normally have.) And I’ve certainly been known to engage in the “rest” portion of the equation quite happily. So why not compression as a recovery aid too, right?
Elevation + Compression = Recovery!The RecoFIT (which stands for Recovery Fitness) line was developed by Bolder, CO runner Susan Eastman Walton as an answer to her own shin splints and aches endured from running. As she puts it, “RecoFIT Compression Components are the result of whining, and I’m the whiner!” They offer calf sleeves and arm sleeves, and I was lucky enough to test out a pair of the calf sleeves.
The calf tights feature a gradient compression and Resistex carbon yarn. I had to look up Resistex myself to find out what that was all about, and the product website gave some intriguing information. Resistex carbon yarn is a continuous filament made of conductive material based on active carbon and textile fibers. The fibers have an antistatic and dissipative effect and protect from electrical interference. Is this helpful for an athlete or a person in general? I’m really not sure. But, here’s where it gets really interesting: The Resistex site also claims results from athlete-testing with the fabric show a lower temperature variation in the body, a decreased oxygen need, lower respiratory rate, lower heart rate, and decreased lactic acid concentration. So, there you go.
Miracle fabrics or not, I found that I loved my RecoFit calf sleeves! They have a wide range of sizes so that you can get an accurate fit. They are left and right specific for maximum compression benefit, and the flatlock seams don’t rub.
I mostly wore them after long runs or races to aid in recovery. I found they were so comfortable that I not only enjoyed wearing them, but I happily slept in them at night. (My husband thought this was weird, but I’ve long since gotten used to his quizzical responses to my behavior.) It sounds silly, I know, but I sort of felt like I was getting a gentle hug on my legs. Very comforting.
I finally decided to wear them in a race when it was time to hit the roads. I hadn’t done much road running all season, so I put these on for the Lake Tahoe Marathon in hopes of staving off some of the pounding that roads always put on my legs. They turned out to be the subject of much conversation during the race. (So, ladies, if you’re looking for an excuse to talk to the cute runner next to you, you might consider wearing some of these to your next race.) It seemed like everyone had a comment or question about them! The best feedback I could give fellow runners during the race was that they made me feel “springy.” And in case you’re unsure, I can tell you that springy is great way to feel in a road marathon!
I definitely felt good in these both during and after the race. I couldn’t really come up with any scientific way to determine how much they aided in recovery, but I can tell you that I loved wearing them and I definitely felt like they helped ease some of the seemingly-permanent knots in my calves. I didn’t have any soreness after the marathon. I also wore them during the Helen Klein 50M (which is all paved), and a number of days following the race in order to help recovery.
Crossing the line in RecoFITs at Helen Klein 50
Something else I found to be impressive was the versatility of the fabric. They added warmth on cold days, but they never made me feel overheated while running on hot days. They fit well, and since they were sleeves instead of socks, I could wear my preferred socks while running.
As you may have realized, I have become a compression clothing convert. I think the calf sleeves probably offer the most versatility (over compression socks or full-length tights), but I see the benefits of all these components for runners or other athletes. Since they aid in recovery, I can especially see the benefit for stage-races, or anyone doing multiple races close together. If you haven’t tried compression sleeves yet, I strongly suggest giving them a shot!
Product generously provided by Wilderness Running Company