Back in the day – about two decades or so ago – people went to a health club or gym wearing exercise clothing that could only be described as ‘comfortable’. In fact, their workout attire was a little too comfortable – it was loose, baggy and mostly oversized.
There were loose sweatpants and oversized tees everywhere. Those clothes weren’t just comfy; they also cleverly hid the unflattering parts of the body that people were working at slimming down or toning.
But sometime in the early 2000s, compression activewear gained popularity. This was all thanks to a 1987 study in the American Journal of Physical Medicine conducted by doctors Michael J Berry and Robert G McMurray. Their study showed that athletes who wore compression stockings recovered significantly faster than those who did not.
What Is Compression Clothing?
To most people, the term ‘compression clothing’ denotes tight athletic garments that are both difficult to put on and remove. But for the sake of clarity, let’s focus on defining what ‘compression clothing’ really means.
A Closer Look at Compression Clothing
Compression clothing refers to pieces of garments that are snug or fit tightly around the skin. The goal of sports compression is to provide external compression to specific body parts, like the legs, knees, calves, arms, waist, etc.
The level of compression provided by a garment depends on specific elements, like the fabric structure or material, and size. The wearer’s individual size and shape could also affect the fit of the compression clothing.
There’s compression sportswear for almost every body part, including socks, tights, calf guards, skull caps, hoods, vests, shirts, arm sleeves and long-sleeve tops.
In medicine, compression wear is intended to provide support to those who spend a lot of time standing for extended periods. Medical compression is also recommended for people who suffer from poor circulation.
There are different levels of compression, and gear or garments with a high degree of compression are usually doctor prescribed. For example, there are compression garments at-risk frequent travellers could wear to reduce leg swelling and prevent deep vein thrombosis.
Another use of compression in medicine involves post-surgery applications – usually to facilitate or help with the process of healing. The level of compression and the duration of wear generally varies with every patient, although the requirement to wear compression clothing could last for up to a year.
Benefits of Compression Clothing
Whilst compression clothing is usually portrayed as being super tight and super revealing, and sometimes appearing in the form hilariously coloured clothing worn by celebrity wrestlers, genuine compression wear does offer certain advantages.
1. It helps relieve pain.
One of the benefits of compression clothing for weight training and similar sports involves pain relief. For example, wearing a compression shirt can reduce or eliminate any pain you may be feeling in your arms due to exertion.
The reason for this is that the act of compression helps to dilate the artery walls in the compressed areas, thereby improving blood circulation and reducing pain, fatigue, soreness and swelling during and after workouts.
2. It boosts muscle oxygenation and athletic performance.
The muscles require oxygen to function optimally, especially during periods of strenuous activity. Since compression garments promote better blood flow throughout the body, they also enhance the functioning of the heart and lungs. This means these organs are able to pump oxygen more quickly and efficiently, thereby resulting in more energy and better athletic performance.
3. It provides better support and comfort, and promotes muscle stabilisation.
Since compression clothing is exceptionally tight, it can provide significant support and comfort. During exercise, you can actually feel the garments exerting varying degrees of pressure on your muscles, giving them just the right amount of support.
The snug fit of compression clothing also reduces friction between your skin and clothes, thereby helping prevent chafing and blistering.
The compression these garments provide also helps stabilise the muscles, so unnecessary muscle movements are restricted and injury is prevented. Moreover, the tight fit of compression activewear ‘hugs’ the muscles, keeping them close to the bone so the ligaments are also able to rest.
Compression also increases self-awareness or proprioception which, in turn, aids in fine tuning your posture and movements, and ultimately helping in injury prevention.
4. It aids in muscle recovery.
Aside from helping in the management of pain, compression sportswear also hastens muscle recovery post-workout.
For example, athletes typically acquire micro injuries or trauma during activities of great physical exertion, such as jumping, cycling or running. These movements not only cause fatigue and soreness but also strain the muscles through repetitive vibrations.
When you wear compressive clothing, these vibrations are minimised as your muscles are held close to your body. Also, compression technology helps the body adjust more easily to temperature changes, such as when your muscles tighten up and contract when it’s cold, or when you experience heat cramps during a marathon. This, again, helps facilitate faster muscle recovery
5. It provides better sun protection.
Compression gear typically has a higher SPF factor when compared to ordinary athletic apparel. Thus, if you engage in outdoor athletic activities like cycling, running and hiking, you’re sure to get optimum sun protection if you opt for compression activewear.
On top of this, compression garments are also sweat wicking as they are mostly fabricated from performance fabrics containing polyester or nylon materials. This means you dry faster after you sweat – something you would want if you engage in strenuous workouts regularly.
Does Compression Wear Work?
Our short answer to the question ‘Does compression wear work?’ is a resounding yes!
The fact that fitness enthusiasts and athletes continue to wear compressive clothing attests to how effective it is in providing the benefits cited here, with muscle recovery, support and injury prevention being the foremost advantages associated with compression attire.
When to Wear Compression Clothing
Compression clothing is highly recommended for strenuous sports activities and ones where muscle injury is quite likely. Athletes who play certain sports like running, basketball, football and cricket, as well as yoga and Pilates practitioners can benefit greatly from wearing compressive gear.
Aside from providing support and protection, compression wear is also useful in injury recovery. It is also recommended during pregnancy for better blood circulation, reducing swelling, providing pain relief and preventing cramps. Some women who have given birth are also advised to wear compression clothing for post-natal support in areas most affected by pregnancy, and to improve posture.
How to Choose the Best Compression Wear
Similar to shopping for conventional fitness attire, there are also some important considerations you need to make when choosing the best compression wear.
- Quality: Make sure you purchase high-quality, durable compression clothing from reputable manufacturers or brands. Think of it as an investment as compression gear does more than just make you look sleek and toned, and improve your posture.
- Fabric or material: Choose garments made from performance or technical fabrics that are not only compressive but also sweat wicking, and which provide adequate sun protection. Of course, you should also consider compression clothing made from the best sportswear material that’s designed to last you several years of wear without sacrificing compressive fit.
- Price: Whilst compression activewear usually comes with a higher price tag than typical fitness and gym attire, the benefits to be had from wearing it more than make up for its cost.
- Compression strength: To get the most out of compressive gear, it’s essential to choose a product with the right amount of compression power. Ideally, you need to wear the smallest pair of compression clothing you can fit into comfortably to get the optimum enhanced rate of blood circulation. Compression levels are indicated by using a range of numbers like 30 to 40 mmHg. In this example, the amount of pressure provided won’t fall below 30 mmHg and won’t be more than 40 mmHg. mmHg (millimetres of mercury) is the unit of measure for pressure – the same unit used to refer to blood pressure. The standard compression strength or levels vary depending on the product. So, recommended or standard compression strengths for socks may not be the same as those that apply to tights and shirts. Also, if you need a precise compression level for your condition, it’s best to get the recommendation of a medical professional.
- Comfort: The best compression wear for you should ultimately be comfortable enough so as not to restrict movement or prevent you from performing optimally in the sport or activity you engage in.
- Type of physical activity: Aside from compression gear you can use for everyday activities or training, there are also specific compressive products designed to support specific sports like distance running, football, triathlons and basketball.
- Training environment: There’s thermal compression gear for cold-weather climes and cooling compression wear for training in warm climates. If you train at night or early in the morning, you can purchase reflective compression attire for added safety and visibility.
Best Compression Clothing Brands
Fans of compressive gear today are very fortunate to have access to a range of high-quality compression clothing brands. These include Skins Compression, Base Compression, Supacore and 2XU.
- SKINS Compression: SKINS was the first brand to make compression a popular technology in activewear, aside from making a name for itself in medical compression. SKINS compression wear (non-mesh) is proven to provide 50+ UV protection.
- Base Compression: Base is a leading Australian manufacturer of compression activewear and sports clothing that’s designed to provide all the benefits of wearing compressive pieces. The fabrics and materials they use are knitted to keep their shape and remain optimally compressive for up to 5 years, as long as recommended care instructions are followed.
- Supacore: Supacore makes use of seamless compression technology to assist with injury recovery and prevention. They use their patented CORETECH™ technology in making compressive activewear for the prevention of common lower body injuries, as well as to stabilise the core muscles and speed up muscle recovery.
- 2XU: 2XU originally started making compressive activewear specifically intended for triathletes. Today, they have an extensive range of compression gear for various types of fitness enthusiasts and athletes. They introduced the so-called muscle containment stamping (MCS) fabric support system that protects major muscle groups against fatigue and strain during intense exercise sessions.
Compression Clothing by Body Part and Use Case
Compression wear has steadily gained a level of patronage through the years, which is probably why there’s a corresponding compression gear for nearly every body part.
Here, we go over the various compression clothing based on the body part they are designed to support and protect.
‘Do compression tights work?’, you might wonder.
Wearing compression pants for gym use or otherwise ensures the waist, hips and legs get the support needed to prevent muscle fatigue and injury during intense training. They can also help reduce the impacts of acceleration in sports like running and basketball, as well as protect the legs from damage if you are lifting heavy weights.
Shopping for the best compression leggings or pants?
➜ Check out this best seller from Skins Compression or explore our full range of compression tights for women
Skins Series 1 – Women’s 7/8 Tights – Sky Blue
Enjoy definitive muscular support, improvement and comfort during your performances.
- Medium compression
- Fast pre-workout muscle warm-ups
- Focused compression for increased performance and precision
- Firm support for the glutes, quads and hamstrings
- 77% Polyester, 23% Elastane
What are compression shorts good for and do compression shorts work? These are just some of the questions people ask when shopping for compression shorts.
Compression shorts work by compressing the muscles underneath the fabric without limiting their range of motion. This helps boost athletic performance and aids in muscle recovery. These shorts are also quite versatile as they can be worn as underwear or as outerwear.
If you’re in the market for these, make sure you check out our compression shorts for women. We’ve got the best brands on the block in our collection.
➜ Or check out these amazing compression shorts from Supacore.
Women’s Coretech Shorts – Blue
Featuring medical grade compression level assisting blood flow circulation and speeding up your injury or post-partum recovery process.
- Patented waistband technology built in (knitted) sacroiliac joint belt to provide compression to the pelvis and core
- High compression
- High medical grade compression level ensuring improved blood flow to the muscles
- Ribtech body mapped ribbing over glutes , hamstring, hip ,tensor fasciae latae and quadriceps providing micro massaging ( mimicking kinesiology)
Body compression shirts are among the most popular compressive gear among fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Some compression shirt benefits include pain relief, muscle support and recovery, and the promotion of proper posture.
Why not get a feel of these benefits yourself by shopping at activewearX?
Take your pick from our collection of compression tops for women, and experience the compressive difference.
➜ Have you seen this compression shirt from Base yet?
BASE Women’s Long Sleeve Compression Tee – White
Stays cooler than with most conventional fabrics. Chest, back and arm muscular support, reduced chafing with flat-lock seams, reduced muscle fatigue and risk of injury are just some benefits of this garment.
- Exclusive high-quality Nylon and Lycra fabrication
- Mesh panel on the back for breathability
- Sleeves have added thumbholes
- Breathability, durability, and body temperature regulation
One of the most common questions people usually ask is: What are compression sleeves for?
The main goals of wearing compression sleeves are to protect and support muscles and joints, as well as reduce swelling and improve blood circulation in the area (usually the arms or calves).
Although more recent entrants in the sports industry, compression sleeves have been shown to reduce swelling effectively, or wherever they are worn. This is especially true for calf compression sleeves as they offer protective benefits to those who spend a lot of time standing. They can also alleviate minor aches and pains in the arms and legs.
What are compression socks and what do compression socks do?
Compression socks and stockings are among the oldest compression gear ever to be used for medical and athletic purposes. They provide a range of benefits, including the following:
- Preventing deep vein thrombosis
- Providing consistent pressure (along with the leg movement) to encourage blood flow upward toward your heart
- Treatment of varicose and spider veins and venous insufficiency
- Supporting edema treatment
- Improving leg health during pregnancy
- Boosting athletic performance and reducing muscle recovery after training
Get Your Compression Wear On!
The benefits provided by compressive clothing have been extensively studied and are widely acknowledged in the world of medicine and athletics.
So if you’re looking to protect your body from the aches, pains and injuries that could result from intense workouts and training, you should seriously consider wearing compression activewear.
And with the availability of different types of compression gear and so many trusted brands to choose from, there’s no reason why you can’t take advantage of the support and protection compression sportswear is known to provide.
Not sure where to start?
Shop around at Be Activewear – we have a large collection of compression athletic wear ready for you to explore.