Sunday, June 21, 2009

Compression tights and clothing - worth it? (2XU and Opedix reviews)

I’ve been experimenting with compression clothing for training and recovery over the last few months, and am coming to the conclusion that they are helpful in many cases. If others are finding the same thing, I suspect we’re going to see a lot more crazy compression products and outfits over the coming years. After trying a number of products, the 2XU compression calf guards and Opedix R1 compression tights both got my thumbs up and rotation of regular use.


Compression clothing has been around for decades, known to many as the “grandma socks” hosiery that people wear post-surgery to prevent pooling of blood in the legs (which can lead to venous thrombosis). The concept is that by applying pressure to the surface of the skin with elastic fibers, this compression (along with the muscular pump effect of the muscles in action) aids in the circulation of blood. Athletes and manufacturers looking for an edge found ways to apply this to improve both performance and recovery, and soon companies like Nike, Under Armour, and others turned it into a fashion play as well. In the last 5-6 years, it’s really exploded.

(Everybody is doing it these days!)

It’s hard not to be skeptical of a performance claim when products jump immediately to being “fashionable”. After all, the girdle-like form fitting is probably more than enough “performance” for most. ;-) But when I saw Torbjorn Sindballe use compression socks for his 3rd place overall finish at the 2007 Ironman World Championship (where he CRUSHED it), I knew he wouldn’t play around with this stuff just for fashion purposes. Then they started popping up everywhere at the pro levels, and some big ultrarunners like Todd Braje were telling me they do make a difference for longer runs (like on his record-setting 5hr 30min 50m finish at the 2009 Jed Smith). When I got three recommendations to wear them on the same day in April (to tackle my 50k and two marathons in one week), I figured it was time to test out some products. I bought a bunch of different kinds – socks, calf guards, tights, shirts, shorts, etc. – and give them all a test run.

For most products, the difference was subtle at best. I felt like the biggest difference was in recovery, particularly when I had a short window to recover for the next race. But a couple of products surprised me with their applicability in unadvertised areas.

2XU Compression Calf Guards – These are like sleeves for your calf, but extra tight. I was familiar with Australia-based 2XU because they provide the Inov-8 racing shirts (which are wonderful, like everything Mark Lundblad has picked out for us). Peter Virney from Sports Multiplied, the 2XU distributor for the US, outfitted me in a pair at the Boston Marathon Expo and I trained, raced, and recovered in them over the next two months. They definitely helped in recovering quickly, particularly when sitting on a plane (just like grandma told me!). Since they are not too bulky, they were easy to slip on under my jeans at work too. I like that they weren’t a full sock, because I like to wear Injinjis, but that does eliminate the foot compression available on other 2XU models.

(Sportin' the 2XU compression calf guards at the Big Sur Marathon)

I couldn’t tell if the compression was adding much to race day, but I certainly wasn’t having any issues with cramping. They were handy for other reasons at the rainy Miwok 100k – by providing added warmth and acting like a “shin guard” from my muddy treads, they definitely earned their keep by keeping my skin fresh. Conclusion - good lightweight protection, added warmth, and a nice recovery tool. These are definitely keepers.

Opedix R1 Running Tights – I call these “bionic tights”, because they took compression support to a whole new level. Unlike the fairly mild and universal compression provided by most tights I tried, the R1 tights use stronger materials around the knee to create their patented Knee Support System. The goal is to help “save the knees” by preventing the outward motion that causes wear and tear, in addition to the compression benefits for the whole leg. The resulting effect feels like a movable brace, giving the feeling of structured (but not limiting) support. The support is particularly strong just about the knee in the quad and hamstring area.


(Rear and front view - note the additional support around the knees)

Although I don’t have knee issues myself, I did notice that the additional knee support was comfortable and could see that it would be helpful. The recovery benefits were great, particularly after the quad-pounding Miwok 100k. I felt instant relief on my knees from putting them on. Conclusion – strong structural support, and surprisingly helpful in recovery. I’ll be keeping these too.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at the utility of compression products for racing and recovery. Most compression products are expensive (the 2XU calf guards were $62, and the Opedix R1’s are $170), but I’m game for anything that provides a little extra comfort or takes a day off my recovery path. There are certainly cheaper models out there, so try them out and see what works for you. I would love to hear from others who have tried compression products and what does/doesn’t work for you. Let’s learn from each other!

- SD

[In full disclosure, I paid for some of the products I tested and received some free test products from others. I paid full price for the 2XU Calf Guards, and received a tester for the Opedix R1 running tights. Since I’m now running in more 2XU gear than Sugoi gear, I’ve added their logo to my page and have a new pro deal with them through the Inov-8 Team.]

32 comments:

  1. Whenever I'm competing in the shot put or the discus, I always like as much compression gear as possible. I usually just wear an Underarmour (or knockoff brand) short-sleeve shirt and half-tight, so I wonder how much of the difference for me is just mental. Obviously, something like the 2XU or Opedix has some serious compression behind it, much more so than the Underarmour or Nike Profit gear.

    It would be interesting to compare the benefits for speed/power athletes vs. endurance athletes; I'm sure the different benefits to compression would be valued differently by the two groups.

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  2. those black socks are HOT.
    Meeee-yow.

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  3. Even Injinji has new compression travel socks!

    David - That would be a good comparison. Even to see which group gets the most "mental" benefit. ;-)

    SD

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  4. Here is an medical doctor and adventure racer / triathlete's thoughts on compression socks:
    http://bvickers.typepad.com/

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  5. I have worn Skinz recovery tights on long road trips from British Columbia to California twice now and although I know there are tighter recovery tights out there, these tights kept me from any stiffness with over 14 hours of driving/sitting. The night after a hard race I find it hard to sleep, sometimes because my legs are just so sore and throbbing- put these bad boys on and I am out like a light.

    I have worn the 2XU calf compression. I found that the top was too tight and made them uncomfortable, but if that part got loosened I think they would be great.

    Zoot compression socks are really tight and you work up a sweat putting them on. But, if you want them to actually work, they should be that tight...and they work!

    Sugoi compression socks are like leg warmers but are nowhere near tight enough to really do much at all.

    I work at a running store so I get to try out lots of our product.

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  6. Scott - I met you on Saturday at the top of Huddart / King's Mountain Road (you warned me about flying arrows coming from the archery range in Huddart). Got home and realized that was you (who else would be training for States in Huddart). Anyways, just wanted to introduce myself and thanks for the avoidance tip. Good luck and have a great time at Western States!

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  7. Hey Scott. Good luck this weekend!!

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  8. Realized I didn't leave an email - I live near and train in Huddart.

    Scott - I met you on Saturday at the top of Huddart / King's Mountain Road (you warned me about flying arrows coming from the archery range in Huddart). Got home and realized that was you (who else would be training for States in Huddart). Anyways, just wanted to introduce myself and thanks for the avoidance tip. Good luck and have a great time at Western States!

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  9. Thanks, Nicola! Sounds like you've tried them all. I agree with you on the Zoot and Sugoi compression products. Perhaps too much, too little?

    Mike N - Great to meet you! hope to see you on the trails again soon.

    SD

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  10. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the info! Compression socks do seem to be quite the hot topic these days - both of the articles we posted recently on the TrainingPeaks blog also generated a fair amount of discussion. Joe Friel found some mixed results, but Ben Greenfield seems to agree that yes, they can actually make you faster. Check out what they have to say if you like:

    http://blog.trainingpeaks.com/2008/11/can-your-socks-make-you-faster-by-joe-friel.html

    http://blog.trainingpeaks.com/2009/02/ask-the-experts-ben-greenfield-on-compression-socks.html

    Also, I wondered if you have ever checked out the inspirational ramblings of Rickey Gates, a trail runner from Aspen who spends his summers racing in Europe and winters earning enough to go back and do it again? He was recently featured on the cover of Trail Runner's Magazine and also as one of Outside Magazine's "Fittest Real Men" and is in general an awesome dude. Check out:

    http://www.mostlypaved.com/

    I'm so happy to have discovered your blog! Thanks,

    Beth

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  11. I've used CW-X compression tights during the night section of an ultra race and find that they really help. I suffered badly from an i.t issue last year and bought the ones specific to that injury. Would definitely recommend them.

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  12. I just ordered my first pair of thermal compression tights (pearl Isuzu). i am surprised by how little info on reviews I could find. I think I will be blogging about it when they arrive. Part of my ignorance is the purpose of some equipment. Is it for recovery, warmth, both?
    Check out my blog:

    http://runningfool-ootaynee.blogspot.com/

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  13. Scott,

    Thanks so much for this post.

    I just purchased a pair of Opedix R1 compression tights, and will be using them when I run a 100 miler in December.

    It could be somewhat cold during that race, even thoug it's SoCal, it is December, and that can mean cold anywhere.

    I'll let you know how they worked for me, after the race.

    Thanks again.

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  14. Scott,

    It's late but woke up after a few hours sleep and remembered that I have been meaning to post this all day and had forgotten.

    In my opinion, the Opedix R1s are worth it.

    They arrived at my doorstep on Friday afternoon, in time for a 35 mile training run on Saturday morning on some of the trails of the Coyote Two Moon 100 mile course.

    I wasn't breaking any speed records running an average pace of 12 minutes and 30 seconds a mile over the 35 mountain miles, but when I woke up early on Sunday morning and ran a 12 miler on the flats at about 9 minutes per mile, my legs honestly never felt so good on the day after a 30+ mile training run.

    It is no exaggeration that I found myself thinking, "Did I run even a mile on Saturday, let alone 35! My legs feel great!"

    The only concern I had with the R1s is that they were truly a little "tight" for my comfort around the lower hamstring, just above the back of the knee when I initially put them on and during the first part of my morning, but I found that during my run they seemed to loosen up a bit there and that "tourniquet type" feeling disappeared. That may sound worse than it was, but that fit did cause me to wonder...

    Did I buy a size too small for me? Well, I do not think so. They are mediums, which are supposed to fit waist sizes 31-34, and I am a 31. Maybe they are made for runners with slimmer upper legs, or maybe they are supposed to feel like that under the hammies.

    Not sure, but as I mentioned the problem pretty much went away as I ran.

    These things may not be for everyone, but I think I'll be wearing them on my final two training runs before the Chimera 100M, as well as during the race itself.

    I'll probably have to buy a fanny pack as well because I missed having the two pockets I normally utilize when running with the typical pair of shorts.

    Thanks again for the review that promted me to give them a try.

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  15. I'll just add a word or 2 about my compression experience. I'm a 54 year old (male) road biker and I became interested in speeding recovery after long hard rides. I went on an internet hunting trip and found interesting products from an italian mfg Solidea. I ordered a small assortment of their line for personal testing. I found them to be beneficial! Especially the full footed tights which some may call pantyhose. In the reviews there were many men who had used them (under their outerwear) for all manner of work and sport. I think they feel great and definitely speed up recovery. I wear them under my bike shorts or tights while riding during the cooler parts of the season. I got a few odd looks from my fellow clubmembers in the beginning! The ones I ordered have very much compression and are, as a result, a bit difficult to put on. I'd like to hear from others with similar experience.

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  16. I am very interested in Opedix R1 Running Tights because you can have great support, definitely seem "bionic tights", also gives me great security to know they are a creation of Knee Support System. Motivates me that the goal of Knee Support System is "save the knees."

    Andrea Mendez
    how to bowling

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  17. Hi Scott! Great blog! All these great photos of California are making me homesick! Although spring in New England is amazing! Went for a run in the rain this afternoon with all the flowers blooming and birds singing.
    All the Best,
    Bobbi

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  18. Hi Scott,
    Love your blog. I definately agree with the benefits of wearing compression. As a woman who gets a reaction from neoprene it was hard to find. For my fellow female runners out there that find some compression shorts don't fit right, try bio skin. They have male and female cut and are neoprene free. Very happy with them.

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  19. Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are helpful people who share information for the help of others, it must be helpful for other's. thanx and good job.

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  20. hi Scott! a friend of mine who is therapist recommended me to wear compression clothing for my recovery, I had a car accident and I got my left leg injured...and this technique helped me a lot!

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  21. I have been running 10k races since 2001, but it was not until I started to use compression tights such as the ones you present in this blog that my resuts improved a lot.

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  22. As a woman who gets a reaction from neoprene it was hard to find. For my fellow female runners out there that find some compression shorts don't fit right, try bio skin.

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  23. I have found a pair of the Opedix R1 running tights in size medium that I am considering purchasing. I have IT band issues. As another post mentioned,they are tight, and even though I fall into the 31-34 waist category. Are there any comments on what is too tight and possibly dangerous? Thanks. Josh

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  24. Scott:
    I wore Zoot Recovery tights after The NYC marathon and WOW. I tried on SKINS full tight yesterday and while they felt good, it didn't feel like a lot of support around the knee. I ordered CW-X by mail and then I'll give Opedix a shot as well.
    I'll report my findings to your blog next week
    Thanks
    Roscoe

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  25. Now I'm interested in the Opidex. I just got a pair of Orca Compression tights and 1/2 tights. and I feel sort of meh about them, sort of like I got a pair of tight tights. I dont have knee problems, but I have issues with my hips and adductors, and the compression was suggested by my PT. Hmmm. It's so hard to know whats going to work. Anyone have anything to say about the new Zensah shorts? (being a Florida Lady I like shorts.

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  26. Awesome blog. I however wonder if you tried other brands? I tried Sigvaris and liked them but have seen other brands also. I found them at http://www.sigvarisus.com but I am sure you know more about other brands and qualities, so that would be intersting for your followers, including me :)

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  27. Hi! Great Blog! I found it through this month's Runners World Magazine.

    I have been noticing many runners with the knee-high socks and thought it was just a fashion statement. You know, a throwback to the 80's. But, after reading your blog, it does make sense to have the compression socks to aide in the circulation. I would guess that it helps the most during recovery, especially if you have to fly back home as to prevent DVTs (Deep Vein Thrombosis) in the airplane and possibly a blood clot (my medical background!!).

    Anyways, I am going to get a pair of compression socks and see how it is on my recovery runs!

    Cheers!

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  28. Have any of you heard of a really great lace management system called the LaceLocker? See www.lacelocker.com

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  29. I have been trying out the 110% Juggler-Knickers for the past week or so and so far I love them. I have been able to increase my mileage to over 100 miles a week for the first time with an amazingly small amount of soreness. These tights also come with the added benefit of an icing system that allows you to drop ice packs into pockets around the hamstrings, quads, gluts and knees. I am looking for a lighter pair for racing and might have to give the Opedix R1's a try. travelingbyfoot.blogspot.com

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  30. Ladies , looking for some attractive long running pants. I recommend You this site http://www.gamisport.eu/pants/jogging-pants/p/women-long-running-pants-silvini-savuto-wp390-
    black/ , the site have variety of sports wear and accessories. Like this product: Women long
    cross-country pants Silvina Savuto WP390 black, my girlfriend ordered and she never complaint
    for running pants ever.

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  31. Intresting reading of a recent study :
    Compression stockings do not improve muscular performance during a half-ironman triathlon race
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24337671/

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  32. Good article Scott! It is a few years old though and many new companies have entered the arena of compression or big names have added a line. I am a runner and a golfer (and used to play soccer before I tore my ACL, never back after surgery….) and I am a big advocate of compression clothing. I am so convinced that they are in fact effective that I opened a store (www.compressionclothingstore.com) that sells activewear and compression garments manufactured by Lurbel (www.lurbel.net), a company based out of Spain. So for those that are skeptical, I have literally put my money where my mouth is. The issue with compression clothing is that there are a lot of new companies that I am not sure have done the R & D or technology to build a truly effective garment. Compression levels are to be carefully measured and optimized based on the muscle group targeted. Trust me when I say that many of the companies out there have no idea what they are doing. One needs to be careful when choosing a compression garment. First thing you should be asking or looking for is information about the level of compression being applied. This is measured in mmHg. The other thing to consider is the material used and the technology the garment has to offer. I don’t want to extend myself too much, so if you want to read a little about some of the benefits of compression, I wrote a short posting here: http://www.compressionclothingstore.com/blogs/news/11270865-complete-guide-to-compression-garments-part-1 . You may also read a little about Lurbel. It is not the only company that does good compression garments, but I assure you that they know what they are doing: thay have been in business for over 25 years now. I could have chosen a company out of USA, it would have been my life a lot easier, but I have built great trust in Lurbel thanks to their technologies and commitment to research… Cheers!! Luis C.

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