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The Best Way to Use Compression Gear

Tons of pro athletes are wearing compression gear and using compression machines to improve their performance and speed up their recovery. But do they really work?

By
Brock Armstrong,
Episode #383

What does Science Say about Peristaltic Pulse Dynamic Compression?

Again, I won’t bore you with going through each of the studies with a fine-tooth comb but once again, here are the highlights:

  1. We conclude that PPDC is a promising means of accelerating and enhancing recovery after the normal aggressive training that occurs in Olympic and aspiring-Olympic athletes.
  2. An acute bout of PPCD transiently upregulates PGC-1α mRNA (related to cellular metabolism), while also upregulating eNOS protein and NOx concentrations in vastus lateralis biopsy samples.
  3. PPDC provides a means of rapidly enhancing acute ROM requiring less discomfort and time.
  4. Acutely, whole limb, lower pressure PPCD improves conduit artery endothelial function systemically and improves RH blood flow locally (i.e., compressed limbs).

Based on what I read and saw, if you can justify the dough (these devices are not cheap) and recovery time is a significant factor for you, the PPDC machines are clearly the way to go. 

How Tight is Tight Enough?

Compression is meant to be tight but not restrictive and certainly tight enough that you feel compressed.

One study, in particular, looked at the effect of three different sizes of compressing gear: normal clothing, compression garment fitted to the manufacturer’s instructions, and one size smaller than was recommended by the manufacturer. The researchers found that the one-size-too-small compression garment caused a drop in performance for both power and strength in tests when compared to the properly fitted compression garment. But both sizes were better than the control, so there is clearly an optimal fit but also this shows that any compression was better than no compression, at least in this study.

An interesting theory that was proposed for the performance benefits during the previous test is the increased stiffness at the joints that the athletes experienced when wearing compression garments. If we take this theory a step further, it might suggest that the tighter the compression, the better the performance. But that was not the case in the study so even when taking that into account, it seems there is indeed either an optimal stiffness for compression gear or there is a more subtle interplay of many different factors going on.

In any case, a good rule of thumb when you are choosing your gear is that compression is meant to be tight but not restrictive and certainly tight enough that you feel compressed. And as with the previous study, following the recommendations of the manufacturer will likely yield the best results.

Should You Wear Compression?

After looking at all the studies, it is clear that compression is no panacea. It is not going to fix your running form, increase your vertical leap, or eliminate muscle soreness from your athletic life. But I do see enough beneficial evidence to warrant giving it a try if you are interested or can find some on sale at your local sporting goods store.

Keep in mind that your legs are the largest muscle group in your body and wearing compression there will likely return the best and most noticeable recovery results. But a compression top can also help to support your chest, abdomen, and arms and can give you a feeling of comfortable tightness. If that extra support helps you to get out the door for your workout, helps you last longer during your workout, and perhaps helps you feel ready for your next workout sooner, well then I think we have ourselves a winner. But no matter how much all that spandex makes you feel like a superhero, please don’t try to outrun a locomotive. 

For more tight info, spandex tips, and to join the compression conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy. Also don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or via RSS.

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