Take a look at any professional football game, basketball game, or race starting line, and you’re bound to see them: compression garments. Tight sleeves, knee-high socks, full-length leggings in neon colors that seem to be on nearly every competitor.
The claims are impressive: Manufacturers say compression garments can speed recovery, increase blood flow, and therefore, improve athletic performance. But what does the science say? And what’s the best choice for a recreational gym-goer?
Compression clothing—most often made of a blend of spandex and nylon and engineered to be stretchable while maintaining a specific structure—has been used in the medical field for years. The garments apply pressure to the desired body part, compressing the tissue and helping to promote blood flow and prevent edema.1
“Stockings were made so there is more pressure lower [on the leg], and less farther up,” says Robert Gotlin, M.D., the director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “They can push blood along for those with vascular disease or circulation problems.”
From there, the thinking emerged: If the garments increase blood flow, maybe they could help athletes perform better, Gotlin says. A quick anatomy lesson: Our muscles need oxygen in order to perform. They get that oxygen via our blood flow. So, in theory, increase blood flow equals increase oxygen equals better athletic performance… ri…