Workout Recovery

Pain and weakness during and after a workout can be one of the most frustrating parts of any athlete’s experience. It can hold you back from reaching a personal record in speed or weight lifting and can discourage you from sticking with a consistent exercise program. 

Recovery typically falls into two categories: short term strength recovery during a workout, and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following a workout.

To help you start enjoying these benefits, we’ve constructed a list of all the best compression gear for recovery. Explore this guide or jump ahead to our full lists of the best compression gear in each category of men’s and women’s clothing.

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Short-Term Strength Recovery

The first type of recovery deals with the muscle fatigue athletes experience throughout a workout. 

This can be described as the burn you feel at the end of a strength training set or the middle of a run. This pain is typically short-lived and fades within a few minutes of stopping the activity. 

While not debilitating, muscle burn can stall a work out and keep you from reaching your goals. This type of pain is caused by the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. While there is a lot of complicated science behind why this happens, the most basic explanation revolves around energy production.

Under normal circumstances, we generate energy by pumping oxygen throughout our bodies. During a strenuous workout, however, we tend to burn through energy faster than our bodies can deliver the required oxygen to our muscles. To keep us moving, our muscles produce lactate, or lactic acid, to keep the energy flowing while our oxygen catches up. 

To prevent serious muscle damage, this secondary energy production only works for a few minutes before we’re forced to take a break. While lactic acid can keep you moving through those last few reps, the side effect is increased acidity of the muscle cells, causing the familiar burn we feel upon overexertion. Once we slow down or stop, oxygen replaces lactate and the pain subsides.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

The second and more debilitating type of muscle pain is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the all too familiar pain that comes on one or two days after a new or difficult workout and can last as many as five days. 

While many blame lactic acid build up for this type of pain as well, it’s actually not the culprit. Instead, DOMS is caused by swelling in the muscles. During a difficult workout, our muscles often experience microscopic tears. 

These tears are thought to be a catalyst in muscle growth and strengthening, but in the short term they can cause a great deal of pain. Following this type of damage, white blood cells, nutrients, and other anti-inflammatory agents rush to the muscles to repair them. Over the first few days after a workout, this influx causes swelling that results in sore, stiff muscles. 

There are several different options when it comes to treating or preventing muscle pain during or after workouts. Many swear by proper stretching, warmups, and cooldowns. Others use pain relievers like NSAIDs before or after a workout to limit inflammation. Runners and other athletes often use ice baths right after workouts to prevent swelling, while still others get regular massages. In recent years, a simple, inexpensive, and effective method of preventing muscle fatigue and pain has gained in popularity: compression.

The Role of Compression in Workout Recovery

The cornerstone of compression is the way it affects blood circulation. 

Graduated compression is used in the medical community to help keep blood flowing effectively from the limbs back to the heart. This can reduce swelling, treat varicose veins, and prevent blood clots. Because exercise and physical exertion require fast and efficient blood flow to keep muscles oxygenated and promote healing, compression gear has exploded in the world of athleticwear. 

Athleticwear companies and the athletes they outfit make strong claims about the benefits of compression gear in both performance and recovery. However, only one of these claims has science to back it up. When it comes to workout recovery, evidence continues to mount regarding the benefits of compression

These benefits apply to both muscle pain and weakness caused by lactic acid build up during workouts and delayed onset muscle soreness and weakness in the post-workout period. 

In terms of lactic acid reduction, several studies have observed this phenomenon:

  • As early as 1987, a study of several highly fit men wearing compression stockings following a bicycle ergometer test showed significantly reduced blood lactate levels as compared to those in the control group.
  • This study was repeated in 2004 with 12 older men. Each completely two five minute sessions in which they exerted maximum effort on a bicycle ergometer. After the first session, one group wore compression stockings during an 80-minute recovery period. While both groups showed a decrease in maximum power during the second session, the compression group’s decrease was significantly less and their lactate levels were significantly lower than the control group.
  • A 2014 study found that participants wearing compression gear had lower blood lactate levels at the one-minute recovery mark than those not wearing compression.

Beyond this specific benefit, studies have also been conducted to observe the benefits of compression in preserving muscle strength during workouts and reducing DOMS during longer-term recovery:

  • A 2007 study conducted in New Zealand observed that a test group who wore compression tights to complete a 10 km road run experienced less muscle soreness in the post-run period than the control group who did not wear compression gear during their run.
  • A 2011 study found that among a group of runners wearing varying levels of compression, those who wore medium and low compression socks during a 10km run were able to preserve their explosive muscle power during the run as compared to those without compression.
  • A 2019 study discovered that when compression tights were worn on a consistent, prescribed schedule over 96 hours following lower extremity resistance training, participants experienced a noticeably faster return of muscle strength compared to the group who did not use compression.

It is clear that the recovery benefits of compression clothing are significant. Beyond feeling better, the ability to retain muscle strength and reduce pain can easily translate into improved performance, particularly for athletes who need to perform at high levels on a regular basis. 

From Olympic runners to NBA players, the use of compression gear to consistently keep their bodies strong can have a big impact on their performance over time. The same benefits can be enjoyed by a novice runner training for a 5k or a first-time gym-goer who experiences less pain and is, thus, more encouraged to keep showing up for workouts.

Recovery Compression Gear Guide

Best Men’s Recovery Gear

Best Men’s Compression Pants: Zensah Recovery Tights

Zensah’s recovery tights offer both targeted and graduated compression to ensure your muscles get exactly the support they need to recover faster. Their pin-point compression targets quads, glutes, hamstrings, and knees, while graduated ankle to hip compression promotes circulation to speed recovery. No matter when, where, or how you ride, these recovery tights are the perfect end to a great workout.

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Best Men’s Compression Shorts: Copper Compression Recovery Shorts

While the effectiveness of copper infused compression products has not been proven, many people swear by the benefits. Regardless of the copper content, though, these compression shorts are a great deal. They offer high quality, comfortable compression that supports sore muscles and joints and helps you recover faster. The fabric is breathable and durable, maintaining its shape and strength, no matter how many times you wear or wash your shorts.  What’s more, Copper Compression offers a 100% money back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied with the results of their product.

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Best Men’s Compression Shirt:  Compression Z Men’s Long Sleeve Compression Shirt

CompressionZ is a reliable name in compression gear and their long sleeve compression shirt does not disappoint. This shirt is highly versatile and can be used during workouts of all kinds, serve as a rash guard for both contact sports and swimming, and work as an excellent recovery shirt after working out. It provides graduated compression in all the right places to boost circulation and help muscles heal faster. The shirt is flexible and breathable making it perfect for everyday wear.

See All of the Best Shirts for Men

Best Men’s Compression Socks: 2XU Compression Socks for Recovery

These compression socks are a fantastic pick for anyone in need of effective compression socks, but those looking for recovery socks will find them especially useful. These socks offer graduated compression across the length of the sock, arch, heel, and achilles support, and structured left and right foot beds for the best possible fit. These socks are comfortable and stylish. They can be worn daily and even replace your dress socks for a full day of recovery benefits after your morning workout.

See All of the Best Socks for Men

Best Women’s Recovery Gear

Best Women’s Compression Shorts: Zensah Recovery Compression Short

Zensah is one of the few companies that focuses specifically on recovery compression gear. These shorts, while also great for running and other activities, show the best results when worn following your workout. Their 3D compression design targets the quads to support your upper legs, keep the blood flowing to your muscles, and allow for faster and more efficient healing after a hard workout.

See All of the Best Shorts for Women

Best Women’s Compression Pants: 2XU Women’s Elite Power Recovery Compression Tights

With strong graduated compression (25-30 mmHg), these recovery tights are designed specifically to promote muscle recovery following running, weightlifting, cycling, yoga, and a wide variety of other physical activities. They also feature flatlock seams to prevent chafing and moisture-wicking and antibacterial fabric to keep you dry and fight odor. Sizes range from XXS to XL, including tall sizes.

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Best Women’s Compression Shirt: 2XU Refresh Recovery Compression Long Sleeve

2XU’s recovery compression shirt is one of the more expensive items we’ve recommended here. But, the results are worth the price. With compression throughout the torso, wearing this shirt will give you the core support you need to help your muscles recover faster while also giving you greater postural awareness when standing and sitting to reduce back pain and protect against future pain and injury. This shirt is designed to be worn all day, so you can wear it during workouts, after workouts, or even as a base layer on off days to reap the benefits of its compression and support wherever you go. 

See All of the Best Shirts for Women

Best Women’s Compression Socks: 2XU Compression Socks for Recovery

These compression socks are a fantastic pick for anyone in need of effective compression socks, but those looking for recovery socks will find them especially useful. These socks offer graduated compression across the length of the sock, arch, heel, and achilles support, and structured left and right foot beds for the best possible fit. These socks are comfortable and stylish. They can be worn daily and even replace your dress socks for a full day of recovery benefits after your morning workout.

See All of the Best Socks for Women

What is Compression Gear?

At the most basic level, compression gear is a category of clothing and other accessories designed to fit tightly around the skin. 

Compression gear has a wide variety of applications including, medical, fitness, and personal uses such as fashion and travel, and continues to grow in popularity as athletes, doctors, patients, and regular people find more creative ways to benefit from these products.

Read our What is Compression Gear? article to get a bigger picture of the role compression gear plays in Fitness, Health, Travel, Fashion, how compression works, and what its benefits are.

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