Do compression pants work? Or are they just for show? Which ones are the best?
If you spend time at the gym or go out running, you may have noticed that both men and women alike are wearing some form of compression clothing.
Most commonly it’s compression pants, although compression socks and shirts have also become popular lately.
Compression pants made by Nike, 2XU, Under Armour and others claim to improve performance and recovery from training. But do they really work?
According to research, it depends what you’re using them for. We’ll get into that, but first let’s take a look at how compression clothing is supposed to work.
Performance and Recovery
In theory, Compression clothing provides several benefits that can improve physical performance (strength, endurance, power), as well as recovery. Compression pants are claimed to:
Improve blood flow by wrapping the muscle with tight, mechanical pressure. This helps with performance, as well as recovery.. clearing metabolites from intense exercise out of the body.
Compression holds the muscle in place and prevents muscle oscillation, thus reducing damage (micro-tears) to the muscle.
Improve proprioception: our perception and awareness of body movement and balance. Also knows as kinesthetic sense.
Reduce Swelling and inflammation. (Reduced Soreness)
Increase Endurance and Power output.
Does Compression Clothing Work?
The effectiveness of compression clothing is a hotly debated topic. Many athletes swear by it, while many researchers have found little evidence to support the claims. After reviewing research on compression clothing, as well as using them myself for several years, I’ve come to some conclusions.
Compression is less effective for improving performance in endurance athletes.
A study funded by Nike examined the effects of wearing compression tights by distance runners. The study found that the compression pants did reduce muscle oscillation. However, no improvements in strength or running performance were observed. Another study from 2015 similarly found no improvements in distance running performance with lower limb compression.
Studies have found that some of the claims made by makers of compression pants are true. Improved oxygenation and reduced muscle oscillation have both been observed. It simply didn’t lead to improved performance in distance running.
It appears that compression clothing can be more effective when used during activities with more power and explosiveness. A 2013 review of more than 30 studies found that “compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations.” The situations referred to were sports like basketball or Crossfit, that involve a lot of sprinting and dynamic movements. Weight lifting would be included in this list as well.
Recovery and Soreness
The real upside to wearing compression pants, according to research, appears to be their ability to promote recovery. A 2017 study found that compression garments improved strength recovery, recovery from metabolic exercise and next day performance. Compression pants can also reduce swelling and soreness caused by delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
It’s important to note that studies have found that to get the full benefit of enhanced recovery and reduced soreness from compression pants, they should be worn after exercise. That’s not to say that wearing them during exercise wouldn’t be beneficial for recovery. Just that research says wearing them after may offer the greatest benefit.
Issues I have with these studies
Having worn several different brands of compression pants, I have some issues with the studies. My main issue is in the quality of the compression pants worn during the studies.
I’ve owned Nike, Under Armour and 2XU compression pants, and the levels of compression and quality of the material is vastly different between brands. In particular, 2XU (pronounced, two-times-you), are the only ones that felt like real compression. 2XU compression pants are dramatically better quality compression garments than any of the others.
If you want to check out the 2XU’s, here they are below. I’ve included the link because through my own experience, I know they are by far the best brand and well worth the money. (*This is an affiliate link). I only affiliate with brands and products I’ve used and Know.
My experience using compression pants
In my own personal experience, I’ve found compression gear to be a huge benefit, both for performance and recovery. Regardless of the activity, I just like how the compression feels on my legs. I pretty much only work out these days wearing my 2XU’s, and the other’s I’ll wear on occasion.
Without a doubt, they help with recovering from my more intense workouts. After a tough leg day, I’m far less sore and my legs feel ready to work out again sooner. I also feel stronger wearing them.. and whether that’s psychological or not, it’s still a real thing. I just feel more like an athlete with them on, like all of my movements are more fluid and precise.
While research points in different directions and the debate on compression clothing remains alive, there seems to be plenty of evidence they have a lot of value. Regardless of what any study finds, plenty of athletes and weekend warriors alike swear by their compression gear, and I am one of those people. I’ve found them to be one of my most valued possessions when it comes to working out. Check out the 2XU website (not an affiliate link, it’s just an awesome site.)
The only way to know if they work for you is to try them out. Even if the advantage they give you is small, it’s still an advantage, and that little edge might just be enough to help you get a little closer to that best version of you.
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
Workout Recovery is a cutting edge niche in the world of fitness right now. Learning how to recover faster from your workouts can be a huge game-changer for your progress in the gym.
Learning how to speed up workout recovery time can mean bigger gains and increased fitness levels over time.
Here is a list of 10 ways you can boost your workout recovery abilities and take your training to the next level.
Note: This article contains affiliate links to products I believe in and use. They come at no additional cost to you.
#1 Plan Workout Recovery Sessions into Your Weekly Split
In my article on Recovery Training, I explained how to implement this method for faster workout recovery. Check it out if you want a more detailed look.
Basically, recovery training entails utilizing low intensity cardiovascular exercise and low volume strength movements, along with foam rolling and stretching.
These sessions should take place the day after a high intensity training day. The lower intensity session pushes blood flow into damaged muscles and other tissues. As a result, the tissues recover faster.
The goal of a recovery workout is to stimulate recovery without incurring any additional stress on the body to have to recover from. Keep the lifting to a few sets of 5-8 reps at around 80% of your max.
End the session with 5 minutes of very light cardio and a good 10 minutes of relaxing stretching and foam rolling. Go home feeling good!
The High-Low Method
The High-Low Method is an excellent way to set up your training, regardless of what your goals might be. It’s pretty simple.. You do a high intensity training day at the gym and follow it up the next day with a low intensity workout. This can speed up your workout recovery and help you improve faster.
#2 Pre Workout Nutrition Can Help You Recover Faster
While most people focus on post-workout nutrition, little thought is often given to what we put into our bodies before we work out.
However, the absence of amino acids and carbohydrate in the body during intense exercise can put the body into a deeper state of stress. This will cause you to accumulate more recovery debt and will take longer to enter a parasympathetic recovery state.
According to one study, consuming protein and carbohydrate before your workout can be more effective at building muscle than eating it afterwards.
Having a high protein meal within 1-2 hours of your workout can help the body maintain muscle tissue during intense training. The amino acid levels in your blood will peak around 90 minutes after you eat, so eating 1-2 hours before you work out will leave you in a great physiological state for building muscle and speeding up recovery.
#3 Wear Compression Clothing
Studies have shown that wearing Compression clothing can enhance workout recovery to damaged muscle tissue and reduce muscle soreness after working out.
One study in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that compression garments are effective at enhancing workout recovery from muscle damage.
Compression garments promote blood flow and oxygenation of muscle tissue during and after exercise. They can also improve kinesthetic sense: basically our sense of body awareness and movement through space.
For true compression, a higher grade fabric is necessary. 2XU Compression Pants are definitely the best brand if you want real compression and are willing to pay about $100 (well worth it in my opinion). I own 3 pair and do notice a big difference in both performance and recovery.
Everyone knows massages are relaxing.. but do they really help us recover faster?
According to a 2018 study in Frontiers of Physiology, massage was found to be the most powerful method for recovering from Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and fatigue.
Massage Therapy can push us into a deep state of relaxation, inducing a parasympathetic recovery state in the body. Deep tissue massage also helps promote blood flow into deep muscle tissue, helping the body clear out metabolites left over from previous workouts. The result is faster workout recovery.
Massage can get expensive, but there are other options, like a deep tissue massage gun, that may offer the same benefit anytime you want.
#5 Cold Treatment and Cryotherapy
The ancient Egyptians used ice to treat injuries over 4,000 years ago. We still do it today, but we’ve developed some pretty interesting new methods. Enter cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy has become mainstream in recent years, with clinics popping up in every major city.
It’s well established that using cold therapy can reduce inflammation, and current research says that cryotherapy can do the same thing.. in the whole body.
It’s hard to train with a sore body, and so reducing some of that inflammation can lead to improved workout recovery and your ability to train harder. The only way to know if it works for you is to try it for yourself.
#6 Get More Sleep
We all know that sleep is important for workout recovery.. but are you aware of just how important it really is? Getting more sleep (at least 8 hours) can:
Increase Growth Hormone production
Increase Testosterone levels
Decrease injury risk
Decrease perceived exertion/fatigue during your workouts
Numerous studies show that getting better sleep can improve recovery from exercise. If you’re researching how to recover faster from your workouts, getting enough sleep should be #1 on your to-do list.
According to Sleep.org, sleep is vital for helping the body retain improvements in body movements, muscle repair and muscle growth. All of which lead to improved performance.
Tips on Getting Better Sleep
These are some things that have worked for me and I highly recommend.
Stop using your phone an hour before bedtime. Stop watching the TV. Do something else, read, listen to music or take a shower and relax.
Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Blackout shades work wonders.
Studies have shown that a temperature between 66-68 degrees are optimal for falling asleep faster and sleeping deeper.
White noise, such as from a fan, can help the brain fall into a deeper sleep, faster.
Get new pillows, or even a new bed if you don’t feel comfortable. You spend a third of your life there.. why not invest in your sleep?
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the small time intervals between heart beats, measured in milliseconds. With a simple heart rate monitor like the Polar H10, and a free app on your phone, you can take an HRV measurement when you wake up in the morning in about 3 minutes.
HRV gives you a snapshot into your body’s current state. It can tell you how you’re responding to stress, and is essentially a measure of how stressed your body is. High HRV means you are resilient, and properly recovering from stress.
With HRV, you can track how well you’re recovering from your workouts and from all the stress you encounter in your daily life. Free apps like Elite HRV will give you a “readiness score,” which can help you know if you’re recovering or not, and can help you know how hard to train and when to back off.
HRV is being used by elite athletes, and is a simple and affordable way for you to gain vast insight into your health and fitness.
#8 HIIT Can Hurt Your Workout Recovery.
HIIT, or high intensity interval training, has become one of the most popular workout methods available. The problem is that too often, we rely on higher intensity training, which can have a lot of negative consequences.
More is NOT always better.. and it’s not correct that training harder is always going to make you better…
Working out at high intensities: Max effort and any conditioning where you’re training at a heart rate of greater than 90% of your max HR, are very stressful on the body. This stress causes a flood of catabolic hormones to be released, and puts a strain on your body’s recovery ability.
Repeating these workouts frequently causes a recovery debt to accumulate. Eventually it will reach a point where something will give.
Systems like the immune system will suffer, and injury risk becomes greater. The most likely scenario is that you’ll burn yourself out and progress will go backwards.
Studies have shown that 2 days per week of high intensity training is optimal for all but the most elite athletes. Plan your training carefully and be sure to manage high intensity training with a healthy respect for it’s power.
You can only benefit from what you can recover from. Recovery = Adaptation. And adaptation is the real purpose for working out in the first place.
#9 Use Supplements That Help Your Body Recover
Using the right supplements can definitely help you recover faster from your workouts. They can help reduce soreness and allow you to train more frequently, leading to bigger gains over time.
An article by Precision Nutrition looked at 2 studies examining the effects of Vitamins C and E on workout recovery. The studies found that after three days without supplementation, free radicals had more than doubled.
Free radicals are chemicals that damage our cells and cause inflammation in the body. After 3 days of working out AND supplementing with Vitamins C and E, free radicals didn’t increase at all!
Which Supplements Help us Recover Faster?
Using the right supplements can definitely help you recover faster and be less sore from your workouts. The following list is a good place to start for supplements that actually have plenty of research showing they work:
Creatine: increase lean mass, speed up glycogen resynthesis and speed up protein synthesis. Creatine has also been shown to improve cognitive function, as it is stored both in muscle tissue and in the brain.
Tart Cherry Juice/Turmeric: Both potent antioxidants, they can reduce inflammation.. causing less soreness from training and faster recovery of muscle damaged muscle tissues. Use only after higher intensity days so you don’t hurt your body’s own natural abilities.
BCAA’s: Help your body spare muscle tissue while you work out. Can make fatigue take longer to set in, and can help the body recover faster after your workout.
Protein Supplementation: Additional protein can help keep the body in an anabolic state, repairing and building muscle throughout the day and while you sleep.
I prefer to get my supplements from Bulk Supplements. It’s cheaper, you get more, and the supplements are pure, with no added fillers or harmful chemicals.
#10 Use a Cool-Down After Every Workout to Recover Faster
Especially after higher intensity sessions, your body is ramped up and in a sympathetic, stress-driven state. While this may feel good, it is not conducive to recovery. Take a few minutes after every workout to perform a proper cool-down to help push your body into a faster recovery state.
Perform 5 minutes of low intensity cardiovascular exercise
Perform light, relaxing stretching. Use foam rolling if you have the time and the means.
Assume a relaxing pose, such as the child’s pose in Yoga
Breathe and relax. Try to force your heart rate down as low as possible
A cool down can help you get into a recovery mode faster, leading to faster recovery before your next workout. These small differences each time you work out can have big effects over time. Don’t walk out of the gym amped up. The workout is over, and now it’s time to refuel and recover.
The art of workout recovery should be important to anyone seeking to improve their physical abilities. The faster you can recover from your workouts, the sooner you can get back in the gym and actually reap the benefits of your efforts.
Implement these 10 strategies and you will have given yourself a huge boost, and will no doubt reap many benefits for a long time to come. Recover faster from your workouts and get to the next level of you!
Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.
Recovery Training should be performed the day after a high intensity session. Learning How to recover faster can be a game changer.
Prioritizing recovery will speed up your gains and reduce injuries.
Purposefully using recovery training can improve your strength, endurance and resilience to stress.
“No Pain, No gain…”
“The harder you train, the more you gain…”
This is the common logic used by most of us who are passionate about our training. But the logic is wrong, and it’s costing you. Best case it will simply cost you progress in your training. Worst case, it’ll take an injury or two, or three, to make you realize the importance of properly programming recovery into your training.
I used the train-all-out-every-day method for a long time. I was stuck in a cycle of driving myself into the ground. I always wondered why I wasn’t much better with all the effort I put in. Recovery was the missing link.
What is Recovery Training?
Recovery Training is a specific type of training you can implement to speed up recovery from more intense sessions. Recovery training will allow your body to adapt to training faster, i.e., you can get bigger, stronger, better.. in less time, with less risk for injury.
Why You Need It
Training with high intensity more than once or twice a week should be reserved for elite level athletes. Even they keep it to no more than 3 high intensity sessions per week. This is because the body simply cannot recover from (and adapt to) that much intensity. Training too hard, too often will lead to negative results 100% of the time. Get it out of your head that progress = max effort every time you train. Research clearly tells us that this is false. Check out my article on the dangers of too much High Intensity Training Here: Is HIIT sabotaging your fitness?
How to Implement Recovery Training to Recover Faster
A Recovery Session can be broken down into 5 parts. The total length of the session shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes or so.
Assume a quadruped position (on all fours) on the floor, or just lay flat on your back. Take in 5 deep breaths through the nose, and out through the mouth. This isn’t meditation. You’re simply preparing the mind and body for the upcoming session. Take note of any soreness or fatigue you feel in the body.
2. Foam Rolling and Light Stretching
Perform about 5 minutes of light, dynamic stretching and foam rolling. This isn’t the time to do static stretching (holding for prolonged periods). Check out the video below by TrainHeroic (an amazing app if you’re looking for training programs and great coaches). The “Agile 8” is a great warmup.
Video by TrainHeroic. Check their App out for awesome programming
3. 30 Minutes of Light Cardiovascular Training
This is best accomplished with a heart rate monitor. You should aim to keep the heart rate between 120-135 beats per minute. You can use any method you want… treadmill, elliptical, swimming, light shadow boxing or drills, or a mixture of implements. I like to spend 10 minutes on 3 different activities.
4. 1-2 Strength Movements
Perform 1-2 strength movements, preferably full body compound movements like the Deadlift or Olympic lifts. Perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps at no more than 85-90% of your max. Aim a little low if you’re in doubt. We want to stimulate recovery in the body and nervous system, not incur more stress to recover from.
5. Cool Down, Stretching, Breathing
Spend the last 10 minutes or so with a cool down. Perform 5 minutes of very light cardio, and really try to drive the heart rate as low as possible. Spend another 5 minutes or so doing some longer, static stretching. Continue to focus on being relaxed. End the session the same way you started. Take some deep, relaxing breaths. Drive the heart rate as low as you can. You should walk out of the gym feeling good.
The Benefits of The Recovery Session
This light training will allow your body to remove waste products built up from previous, higher intensity workouts. It will push blood flow into the joints, ligaments and tendons, which can be slower to recover. Blood flow will also be pushed into damaged muscle tissue, speeding up recovery.
Most importantly, the low intensity cardiovascular work trains the heart to pump more blood per beat (cardiac output). The low intensity work is essential for a strong foundation of aerobic fitness. A strong aerobic base allows the body to recover faster… You see where this is going?
By prioritizing recovery, your high intensity sessions, once or twice a week, can become even more intense and productive, and your progress will certainly become more rapid. You’ll be less likely to get injured, more resilient, and healthier overall. Learning how to recover faster has dramatically improved my overall fitness and conditioning, and I know it will do the same for you. Let me know what you think!
“Train smart at all times and do your best to avoid injury. Training Smart is more important than training hard.”
-Georges St. Pierre
No matter how great you think your conditioning is, the water can be extremely humbling. It is unforgiving, but offers big rewards to those who smartly choose to incorporate some pool workouts into their training. This is as true for combat and tactical athletes as for any other sport requiring a high level of aerobic fitness.
As a Combat or Tactical Athlete, you no doubt put yourself through some brutal training. The high intensity training you perform puts a lot of stress on the joints, as well as on the nervous system which is constantly trying to recover from these sessions.
Swimming offers 4 invaluable benefits that will be highly complimentary to your training and performance, all while being low impact on the joints. I’ll also list a few workouts you can incorporate right away to get started.
One of the most beneficial attributes for a combat athlete (or most athletes), is strength-endurance. It’s great to be strong and powerful, but if you cannot continue to express your strength beyond the first round, then it is essentially useless. Swimming offers a constant resistance, as you must continue moving against the resistance of the water or you will go under. Build up to Swimming 1000 meters at a nice slow pace, then work on doing it faster or add distance.
Performing low to moderate intensity training can help push the body into a parasympathetic recovery state. Instead of hammering away at your body when you’re already in a recovery-debt, try doing some long, slow distance (LSD) training in the pool. This can be done as one long session (30-45 mins), or in intervals. low intensity cardiovascular training helps the body get rid of waste products created during high intensity training, and pushes blood flow into the joints and muscles.The result is faster recovery between sessions.
If you’ve never worked out in the water before, the first challenge you’ll encounter is keeping control of your breathing and fatigue level. You cannot breathe under the water, and so cannot take a breath whenever you need to. You need to establish a rhythm and learn to be comfortable with limited breaths. This can have a dramatic effect on your ability, as you may quickly reach exhaustion and panic as you feel you are reaching exhaustion and cannot breathe. Obviously, controlling your breathing and energy output are critical skills for any athlete, none more so than a fighter. Lose your breathing in the ring, and you are in big trouble. Learn to slow down and stay in control, breathe, move, relax… Drive your heart rate down.. You can control your fatigue while still moving. This is known as “Dynamic Energy Control,” and is a mandatory skill for an athlete to possess.
Focus Under Fatigue/Mental Toughness
Swimming will force you to constantly be focused as you must continue to breathe and move under constant exertion. This can be immensely beneficial to an athlete, as you will enhance the ability to control your breathing and energy output without panicking. Training sprints in the pool can enhance this quality even further. You WILL want to stop moving as you accumulate fatigue and your lungs are begging for more air. Being able to overcome this can have a dramatic effect on your lung capacity and your mental toughness under fatigue.
Some Workout Examples/lessons on how to swim
LSD (long-slow-distance) swim – Swim at a low intensity constantly for 20-30 minutes.
LSD swim – Swim 1000 meters at a low intensity, gradually build up to and beyond 1000 meters.
Sprints – Try Swimming some 100 meter sprints, with rest between sprints equal to the duration it took to complete the 100m. (1:1 work/rest). Gradually add more volume to the sessions and work on moving faster.
Mixed Sessions – Do 10-20 pushups outside of the pool, jump in and swim 50 meters, repeat. Try 3-5 sets of 3 reps of this to start, with 1:1 work to rest ratio. Gradually increase the volume of the sessions over time.
It’s best to use a mixture of these methods, as swimming likely isn’t your primary sport and you are using it as a low impact recovery/conditioning method. Once a week would be fine in this scenario.
Which Stroke should you use?
I personally love the Combat Side Stroke. I learned it by watching videos on youtube, and you can too. You can also use a freestyle stroke. Be patient if it’s new.. You will get it!
Remember. If you’re using swimming as a method of enhancing recovery.. keep the intensity low to moderate for longer durations. If you want some higher intensity conditioning without the added stress to the joints, use sprints and work on decreasing the rest periods between reps.
Hope this was helpful, leave a comment and let me know!