About 3 years ago I started to see people running in funny, knee high black socks. They looked like 70 year old men wearing their black dress socks with shorts. One day a good friend of mine showed up to a run in a pair of the very same socks. After making fun of her for a few minutes, I just had to ask what the deal was with the funky socks. She explained to me that they were compression socks, which were beneficial for both performance and recovery. They achieved these results by helping to improve blood flow.
About a month later I was lucky enough to get a free pair of these very same socks. I received them from the manufacturer CEP, thru a sponsorship deal with my triathlon team (@empiretriclub). I didn’t use them right away, they just seemed too weird. Then one day I came back from a 2 hour run, and my legs were more fatigued than usual, and I decided to give the socks a try.
First off, let me say that putting them on is like stuffing 7 lbs of ground beef into a 5 lbs sausage casing. That being said, I did eventually get them on, and quickly discovered that they were surprisingly comfortable. Wearing them gave me the sensation of having my calves gently squeezed. I wore them until I went to bed that night. Upon taking them off, I had two observations. The first was that my legs felt more comfortable when I had them on. The second was that my legs felt better the next day, as compared to other post run days when I did not wear the compression socks.
I tried this a few more times, and I was quickly convinced that they were helping with my recovery.
I did some research so I could understand the principle behind the socks, and I discovered that they truly did work, and it was not all in my mind. It turns out that compression socks have been prescribed by doctors for years. They are ideal for patients that need to increase blood flow to their legs. The socks cause this to happen by applying graduated pressure to your legs, which compresses your surface veins, arteries, and muscles. This in turn causes your circulating blood to be forced through narrower channels. This increases your arterial pressure, which causes more blood to flow to your legs. University studies have shown that this increased blood flow has the effect of speeding your recovery time after exercise. Simply put, high blood flow is good for tired, overworked muscles. It helps them heal faster, which will leave you better prepared for future workouts. In regards to recovery, there is no question about the positive value of compression socks.
Do compression socks enhance performance? There are a number of compression sock companies that claim that their products offer performance benefits during your workouts. I am not convinced. I have spent some time reading reports done on this subject. What I discovered was that no clear link has been shown between wearing compression socks during exercise, and an increase in performance.
So is it worth it to add them to your running gear? It depends. If you regularly go for runs of 30 minutes or longer, and are looking to speed up your post run recovery, I would definitely consider getting a pair. They make your legs feel great, and help optimize your recovery. On the other hand, if you are buying them exclusively in the hopes of a performance gain by wearing them during a run, I would definitely take a pass.
One last thing, if you do decided to get a pair, follow the manufactures sizing guidelines. These socks need to fit perfectly to do their job well. Measure your legs as instructed, and buy the right size if you want to get the full benefit from your new compression socks.