Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Do Compression Garments Enhance Active Recovery?

A new study out of Australia believes that they do! 

Lovell, DI, Mason, DG, Delphinus, EM, and McLellan, CP. Do compression garments enhance the active recovery process after high-intensity running? J Strength Cond Res 25(12): 3264-3268, 2011-This study examined the effect of wearing waist-to-ankle compression garments (CGs) on active recovery after moderate- and high-intensity submaximal treadmill running. Twenty-five male semiprofessional rugby league players performed two 30-minute treadmill runs comprising of six 5-minute stages at 6 km·h, 10 km·h, approximately 85% VO(2)max, 6 km·h as a recovery stage followed by approximately 85% VO(2)max and 6 km·h wearing either CGs or regular running shorts in a randomized counterbalanced order with each person acting as his own control. All stages were followed by 30 seconds of rest during which a blood sample was collected to determine blood pH and blood lactate concentration [La]. Expired gases and heart rate (HR) were measured during the submaximal treadmill tests to determine metabolic variables with the average of the last 2 minutes used for data analysis. The HR and [La] were lower (p ≤ 0.05) after the first and second 6 km·h recovery bouts when wearing CGs compared with when wearing running shorts. The respiratory exchange ratio (RER) was higher and [La] lower (p ≤ 0.05) after the 10 km·h stage, and only RER was higher after both 85% VO(2)max stages when wearing CGs compared with when wearing running shorts. There was no difference in blood pH at any exercise stage when wearing the CGs and running shorts. The results of this study indicate that the wearing of CGs may augment the active recovery process in reducing [La] and HR after high-intensity exercise but not effect blood pH. The ability to reduce [La] and HR has important consequences for many sports that are intermittent in nature and consist of repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of low-intensity exercise or recovery.

If you watch any professional sports, you may have noticed a rise in athletes using compression garments during competition. For years, many athletes would use these pieces of clothing to help either return from injury or try and prevent injury, although more and more studies are now showing their potential benefits.

The link that I posted above, details a study that was done testing rugby players and their recovery abilities from submaximal running. The key role that the compression garments play, is that they assist in recovery, which can be of great interest to athletes, especially those that participate in sports that are high-intensity interval work in nature.

Researchers believe that the compression garments aid recovery in two different ways, which were tested for, and found to be true, during their study. Firstly, by keeping your limbs (legs were used in this study) under constant compression, it increases or maintains venous blood pressure, allowing for a more efficient blood return to the heart. This allows for a more efficient removal of cellular waste products such as lactate, as well as helping sustain blood pH levels. Secondly, although related to the first point, since the venous blood return is kept under consistent pressure throughout the limbs, the heart does not need to work as hard during recovery processes.

Just a quick biology lesson for those of you who may not know, your blood is pumped to your muscles carrying a wide variety of essential materials and nutrients via your heart through your arteries. Once the blood reaches its cellular destination, and completes its nutrient exchange, it then needs to return to the heart to complete the process all over again, not to mention expel the waste products. The blood returns to the hearts through your veins, although this is not always a passive process. What I mean by that, is that your muscles actually need to assist the blood to return in many cases, especially in your lower limbs.

Think of the blood that has traveled all the way down to your calves for example, each one of those blood cells then needs to combat gravity in order to return back to your heart. Muscle contractions by your calves, for example, help 'squeeze' the blood back up through the veins and back to the heart.

By wearing compression clothing, this process can become much more efficient and the blood is returned to the heart in a quicker, more efficient manner. And the more blood your heart is pumping, and has access to, the more you will be able to 'push' during a workout or competition.

I have used compression shorts for years while playing soccer and running, but it has been more of a *ahem* support issue, and I have used a compression shirt from time to time during upper body workouts, but this study will definitely lead me to want to use them both more often, especially for competitions.

Photo - http://boristerzic.blogspot.ca/2012/03/skins-compression-clothing.html