What is Compression Gear?

woman in compression shorts sitting down to tie her shoes

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.

Benefits of Compression Gear

In medical settings, compression clothing has been used for decades to reduce swelling and improve blood flow. Some of the medical problems compression gear is used to treat include:

  • Swelling and vein problems caused by pregnancy
  • Varicose or spider veins
  • Lymphedema or edema
  • Swelling, pain, or blood clots in the lower legs
  • Poor circulation from sitting for long periods
  • Post-surgical treatment

Those in the fitness world have seen these results and adapted compression gear to harness these benefits for athletes. In terms of fitness use, compression gear, in the form of activewear, typically boasts the following benefits:

  • Reduction or prevention of muscle cramps
  • Improved stability and posture
  • Improved speed and performance
  • Faster recovery times

Types of Compression Gear

There are two main types of compression gear:

  1. Graduated compression gear is designed to be tighter as it gets closer to the extremities. This helps promote blood flow towards the heart and is useful for both athletic performance and treating vascular issues.
  2. Compartmental compression creates pressure in specific locations. These products are typically tailored to individual sports.

The amount of compression in each item is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There are four main levels:

  • Mild compression: 8-15 mmHg
  • Medium compression: 15-20 mmHg
  • Firm compression: 20-30 mmHg
  • Extra Firm Compression: 30-40mmHg

The firm and extra firm compression levels are typically reserved for medically prescribed products, while the first two are typical for personal use. For the most severe medical cases, 40-50mmHg is also available by prescription.

Varieties of Compression Gear

There is a huge variety of compression gear for both the lower and upper body. In addition to individual sleeves designed for both arms and legs, the following items are available.

  1. For the lower body, you can find compression socks or stockings, full and ¾ length leggings, shorts, and tights.
  2. For the upper body, there are long-sleeved, short-sleeve, and sleeveless shirts.

Will Compression Gear Really Work for me?

When it comes to its medical applications, compression gear has a long history as an effective treatment for a number of problems.

For athletic use, however, many wonder if it can really produce the many benefits it claims to provide, with the most common benefits referenced being increased performance and faster recovery time. Only limited studies have been conducted to investigate these claims, but there is some scientific and anecdotal evidence that wearing the right items can produce positive results in these areas.

The most significant benefits of compression gear for performance, though, seem to be psychological. Scientists and fitness experts have observed that athletes who wear compression gear to stabilize muscles and increase endurance are likely to perform better because they feel better when they wear these items. Since athletic performance can be just as mental as it is physical, this benefit is significant.

In terms of recovery time, there is more concrete evidence to support these claims. Studies have shown that wearing compression gear both during and after a workout can help decrease recovery time. Because compression gear can aid in clearing lactic acid from your muscles, it can reduce post-workout soreness.

Wrapping Up

In the end, many people get a lot out of wearing compression gear. Runners, football players, strength trainers, and medical patients have enjoyed the benefits and comfort of compression gear to perfect their performance, recover faster, and help treat their health conditions.

While heavy compression gear should be used under the supervision of a doctor, there are no negatives to trying out commercial products to find the ones that work best for your personal and fitness needs.

Other Compression Gear Resources