Sports Equipment: Compression Clothing and Recovery
We all seem to be a little more clued up these days on the benefits of wearing the right clothing for our chosen sports to keep us cool, warm, dry, aerodynamic and most importantly comfortable and give us that extra edge. But did you know that what you wear could actually boost your recovery between workouts?
By Susan Cass
How does compression clothing work to boost recovery?
A good way to understand compression clothing is to consider flight socks, designed to prevent deep vein thrombosis. They cover the foot and lower leg, up to the knee, and provide graduated compression to stimulate circulation while the wearer is sedentary. This concept of boosting circulation is also crucial to the recovery function of compression clothing in sport.
Complex knitting technology is used to manufacture a garment that applies graduated pressure on the body. This produces a massaging effect stimulating blood flow. With more blood flowing through muscles, the chemicals produced during exercise, such as lactate and lactic acid, can be removed from the bloodstream and recovery boosted in consequence. It’s the pooling of these body chemicals that can lead to muscle soreness and stiffness.
We have probably all experienced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), that tender ‘ouch to the touch’ sensation we get in our muscles after a very tough workout, or after doing an exercise for the first time, or after a long layoff. DOMS can last for up to 48 hours and, in severe cases, longer. During this period we will experience a reduction in muscle strength, reaction time, and spatial awareness (ie, we’ll be less coordinated).
How do you benefit from compression clothing?
By wearing a compression garment immediately after exercising, stiffness and soreness is reduced and the recovery process accelerated. This means that the athlete can resume intense training sooner.
Compression garments also reduce muscle oscillation (which causes fatigue and damage), so easing muscle soreness post-exercise.
Compression clothing as an alternative to other recovery treatments
You’ll probably have seen top athletes on TV, after training and matches, braving ice baths. These are designed to boost recovery and reduce training/match trauma. Other methods of recovery include ‘contrast bathing’ – where the athlete goes from warm to cold water conditions. The benefits of alternating hot and cold are an increase in blood flow to the working muscles, which then stimulates the removal of the chemical products of exercise, such as lactic acid.
More specifically, contrast bathing stimulates the circulatory and nervous systems, by vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) and vasodilatation (widening of blood vessels). With increased heat, the temperature change will have four main effects - pain relief, muscle relaxation, blood vessel alterations, and beneficial relaxant effects on connective tissue (ligaments and tendons). Pain sensations are then inhibited by the cold application. This causes a constriction of small arteries and veins. The benefits include a decrease in the flow of blood and a reduction in swelling within the injured or over-exerted muscle tissues.
The availability of contrast bathing facilities or ice baths is often limited at the everyday sports performer’s level. This is where compression clothing can be particularly beneficial, as it can be easily packed in your sports bag. And it can be worn while resting/sleeping to stimulate recovery.
Other benefits of compression clothing
- Moisture transportation technology, which actively wicks sweat away from the body into the air, keeping you cool
- The garments are designed to keep you warm in cold climates or cool in hot climates
- The fabrics include an anti-bacterial agent to keep clothes smelling fresh.
What is ionisation?
A negative ion is an atom that has gained electrons. This process is called ionisation. Negative ions provide us with a sense of wellbeing. An example of a natural ionisation process would be the atmosphere at a waterfall, where the water crashes downs and, as the water atoms hit the rocks, they gain electrons and become charged with negative ions.
What does iIonisation do to aid the process of performance and recovery?
The micro electrical field created by wearing an ionised garment next to the skin stimulates the body’s bioelectrical system, stimulating blood flow and increasing the transfer of oxygen to the muscle tissue. Ionisation helps to dilate the blood vessels, to improve blood flow.