Compression Gear Shown to Improve Athletic Performance

You see a lot of people wearing compression gear, for both recovery and performance reasons…but does it work? New research shows the gear does indeed have an impact on performance.

Athletes often use some form of external compression to improve performance. Studies have shown evidence that compression may enhance exercise performance by altering muscle force, muscle power, or muscle contraction efficiency. Another factor that influences exercise performance is the availability of oxygen to the muscles. Muscles need oxygen to perform optimally; therefore increasing muscle tissue oxygenation would be advantageous to an athlete. A recent study was done to determine the effects of external compression on the gastrocnemius medialis (calf) muscle energy use during short-term activity, and to determine the effects compression has on muscle tissue oxygenation of the same muscle.1

The study consisted of sixteen male participants who were healthy, physically fit individuals. Each subject performed 80 repetitions per trial, with 10 minutes rest between the two trials. For the arterial occlusion, a pressure cuff was placed randomly on either the right or left thigh and was inflated rapidly to 300mmHg before exercise. Each participant stood on a flat platform with their feet an equal distance apart. Each participant was asked to perform calf raises – starting from a normal and rising onto their toes by lifting their heel to a max height. They then returned to normal stance and performed this exercise 40 times per minute. The members of the study were standing relaxed for two minutes to allow for quantifying steady-state, pretest blood flow and oxygenation; this was how muscle energy use was determined. The datasets where steady-state was not achieved were rejected.2

The compression application consisted of using an elastic, custom-made sleeve to compress the gastrocnemius muscle. Each session consisted of two trials: one without the compression, and one with compression on both legs. The circumference of the calf was measured at the widest section for each subject wearing the compression sleeve.3

The results of the study showed the mean short-term Tissue Oxygen Index was 24% higher for the compression condition compared to that of the legs that were not compressed. From this data, it can be concluded that compression plays a significant role on tissue oxygenation during exercise. While compression positively benefited muscle oxygenation, it did not significantly affect energy use; the data showed that muscle energy used was not significantly affected by compression.4

Consequently, it can be concluded from these results that compression induced changes in tissue blood flow and perfusion appear to result in improved oxygenation during short-term exercise. Assuming increased muscle oxygenation yields better performance, compression of muscles could be very beneficial. Powerlifters and bodybuilders already use forms of compression in training and/or competition, and many others sports, especially those that require repeated short bouts of exercise, could possibly benefit from some form of external compression as well.5