MR talks to SKINS expert Nick Morgan about the benefits of compression clothing and just why runners should be wearing it
How has technology moved on in compression wear?
Fabric properties continue to improve in terms of quality, durability, stretch-recovery, whilst additional thermoregulatory properties added to the fabrics have also moved on. Integration of wearable technology is slowly looking at compression as a vehicle or partner and some garments have looked at sensors that might help measure physiological variables related to performance. How practical these garments are remains to be seen. Perhaps the most interesting technology is the integration of different fabrics linked to strapping and therefore creating more injury prevention products and/or more “stability” (exo-skeleton) related products. Ultimately, all of this is exciting but perhaps one of the most important aspects of any compression garment is quality of fit – if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t work and therefore all of this “new” stuff brings complexity to design and in doing so it is paramount that manufacturers continue to do the basics right in level of compression, and quality of compression over time.
Has this changed the key benefits? And what are these?
Not really, or certainly not beyond the evolution of compression from traditional blood flow related benefits to more support, structure, stability, proprioception. Compression has always been known to influence these variables but they are perhaps more interesting to more (or new) exercisers given the types of exercise they do or maybe even more specifically, their “goals”. For example, many people are new to exercise, or returning, or only exercise a few times a week so feel like they need extra support and stability – so the benefits are more about continuing to exercise, supporting exercise than truly “performance” (lower PB). I think as compression improves its relevance, structure and support is more relevant
Is compression wear pre, during or post exercise? Where would runners feel the most benefit?
It supports all three, such as helping to support a good quality warm up and skin temp before, energy expenditure, stability and rate of blood flow during, plus reduced DOMS and markers of damage post. Realistically most people don’t buy three garments, nor hygiene wise would they wear throughout the whole process, or maybe not after. The majority of research is actually in recovery and perhaps where many will say the strongest benefits are. But there is good evidence to wear during and if you include the psycho-physiological benefits, “during” would be the primary time point.
In a nutshell, what’s the theory behind the science?
There is a number of key papers that discuss blood flow and more recently reduction of energy expenditure. There are, of course, papers that don’t find a response but very few if any that report anything negative. The force applied to the skin/muscle by compression though is key for support, structure and stability and the influence on proprioception can be quite profound, so that is quite strong. The difficulty is not necessarily in the benefit, but the long-term consistency in the research in terms of the breadth of end variables measured, the different subject groups and the variation in garments used and pressures applied. Compression has good evidence but it needs to be credibly communicated to ensure that the best evidence is well reflected.
How can compression evolve? What are manufacturers looking at in terms of future proofing garments?
I think there remains more work to be done on education so more people appreciate the role they can play. I think integrated strapping is interesting, whilst more choice of fabrics lends itself to more distinct products for different environments or physical demands. I also think there is a huge occupational need for compression and there is more research evolving in this area. Running specifically, I believe more people just need more opportunities to try compression to appreciate the support it provides. Most of us (me included) love to exercise (run) and want to keep doing it without the frustration of niggles. This is where I benefit most and believe many more people can so should it be niche or elitest – on the contrary, it has probably more impact on the non-elite but these are the exercisers perhaps most cynical
Runners are a cynical breed – what’s the elevator pitch that will get them to change their minds on compression wear?
Good question – I’m the scientist not the copywriter, but if we could better communicate the benefits to injury, support, running efficiency rather than just “performance” it would help. Whilst runners love to talk “times” not many are necessarily trying to shave of seconds. The benefits of compression are important to those with prior injuries, current injuries or even the paranoia of running.