There are so many things these days that can offer athletes a competitive advantage over their opponents. However, as you reach an elite level of any sport, these advantages become more and more difficult to find and are often incorporated into the athlete’s training regime. This is where elite athletes may differ quite drastically from each other. They may all have similar gear and generally similar training programs, but the many little aspects that they practice daily that affect their training are all dependent on the actual person, their sport, medical history, diet restrictions, etc.
One somewhat recent development has been the use of compression apparel in athletic training, particularly track and field. Specifically, compression socks are arguably the most common item, and can now be found on the shelves of any running store or sports store. In this article, we would like to cover some of the pros and cons of using compression socks for your training.
You may have noticed that long distance runners are often the ones to sport compression socks, especially during training when they’re preparing for the Trials or another event. This is more to do with the recovery than the actual training itself. For example, one of the most well-documented effects of compression socks are their ability to increase circulation in the feet and lower legs, thus promoting venous return and a more efficient elimination of lactic acid. Being able to more effectively eliminate the lactic acid buildup in your muscles can speed your recovery, especially after prolonged training sessions.
Ok, so what about performance? In a nutshell, the evidence of any link between compression socks and performance is actually quite minimal. There may be some benefit, but for all intents and purposes, it’s best to consider compression socks to be a post-workout recovery tool, but worn during the training as well!
For disciplines that require more power and sprint-style exercises, there have been almost no documented benefits of wearing compression socks, at least on performance. Again, many athletes in these sports still wear them for recovery purposes, but many find they are still more useful for distance athletes.
Who Else Wears Compression Socks?
It’s easy to believe that compression socks were designed for athletes from the beginning, but in reality, these types of socks have been around for a really long time. Diabetic patients have used these for decades as a method to improve circulation in their feet and legs, as well as airline pilots and those flying on long-haul flights.
Then, compression apparel started to become incorporated into more functional activities. For instance, lots of nurses wear compression socks to prevent aches and pains, varicose veins, DVT, and more, as their shifts usually have them standing on their feet for about 12 hours straight. Nightly Nurse has a lot more information on how these socks can actually prevent medical conditions, but we won’t go too much more into that in this article.
Now going back to the athletes – elite athletes are not the only ones who benefit from compression socks. Recreational athletes also find huge benefits, as their recovery regimes may not be as comprehensive as other athletes, and it’s not uncommon for the weekend warrior to feel significantly sore after a long run!
Lastly, even if you find compression socks don’t provide you with much of an advantage compared to regular socks, having good form-fitting socks is always necessary for long distance running. Furthermore, a mental placebo effect can occur, whereby your mood is naturally heightened due to knowing that you’re wearing something that promotes post-workout recovery.
Who Should Wear Compression Socks?
In summary, long distance runners will benefit the most from a pair of compression socks. Recreational and elite runners will benefit similarly, and while you may not notice a difference in your time, you should notice a difference in your recovery time and how you feel in general compared to your normal post-workout time frame. If you’re a sprint athlete, you may not benefit as much, but if you like the feel of them and simply want to have any potential advantage you can, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wearing compression socks during your training. Again, the main thing to remember is that your performance likely won’t be affected directly, but rather, that you recovery will be more efficient and you should be better prepared for the subsequent workout. Good luck!