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Nick Paulson-Ellis

By Nick Paulson-Ellis

Compression Leggings 101

(Get 15% off our men's 2XU and women's 2XU compression collections with code COMPRESSION15)

You've probably heard about compression wear before, if you're not already a compression convert. It's certainly  a topic we get a lot of questions from customers about, so here will we answer your most frequently asked questions regarding compression.

Read on to find out what compression is, how it works, and whether it is right for you.

What are compression leggings?

The term ‘compression’ gets used a lot in sportswear, yet the term is poorly defined. And whilst compression shorts have been worn by sprinters for years, and compression socks and leggings are increasingly popular amongst distance runners, there is still much debate and confusion around its true benefits.

More than just 'tight'

First up, what is the definition of ‘compression’ when applied to sportswear? Unfortunately many brands incorrectly apply the term to a wide variety of products, which can be quite misleading.  Often these products have no technical 'compression' attributes - they are simply a tight-fitting garment that may well be flattering and sculpting, to give you lift and support where you need it, but have no technical compression benefits.

That’s not to say the product aren't great, just be aware of what you’re buying if you're specifically looking for 'compression leggings'.

Technically advanced

At The Sports Edit, when we say ‘compression’ we're using the technical definition. A true compression garment will have a graduated level of compression (more compression further from the heart), which is meant to improve the circulation of oxygen in the blood, support muscle movements and reduce vibrations, and therefore minimise muscle fatigue and soreness, help recovery and (potentially) improve performance. 

Also used in medicine

Compression socks and sleeves have been used in medical contexts for years. They were first developed for treatment of swelling conditions such as lymphedema, and then also for vascular issues, with graduated compression socks now commonplace in hospitals for post-operative situations, helping to prevent blood clots in bed-ridden patients after surgery.

These socks have a controlled, graduated compression, where the compression is greatest at the ankle, and tapers off higher up the leg. The level of compression in medical applications is measured in the rather arcane sounding ‘millimeters of mercury’ (mmHg – essentially a measure of pressure), typically starting at 20 mmHg.

In recent years compression has migrated from medical applications into sportswear, becoming popular with athletes across a range of activities due to the perceived benefits in terms of reducing muscle soreness, improved recovery, and more controversially, enhancing power and endurance.  

Really Tight Leggings vs Compression Leggings

The key point to note when buying any compression wear is that if you are buying them for either prevention of DVT on a flight, or for sports recovery and performance benefits, then make sure that you are buying true compression garments that provide the following:

- Graduated compression throughout
- Appropriate levels of pressure (fit and size are important to this as we discuss later)
- A reputable track record, with tried-and-tested results to prove it will deliver true benefits 

At The Sports Edit, our compression brand of choice is 2XU, which we believe offers the best compression products on the market. 2XU has invested heavily in its R&D, and also gained external validation from credible bodies such as The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

So do compression tights really work?

Despite the popularity of compression wear with elite and recreational athletes, scientific research in this area is a mixed bag and any ‘proof’ of it working is somewhat elusive.

The problem is there is an enormous amount of variables to consider, such as:

- exercise type, duration and intensity
- measures of recovery and performance
- garment type, level of body coverage and how long it is worn for
- appropriateness of sizing worn and subsequent pressure applied

It is also difficult to element the placebo effect – the psychological impact whereby the belief that it is going to work is in itself a performance enhancer.

Despite the incongruous nature of some of the research, there is a consensus across a wide range of studies that compression wear DOES offer the following key benefits:

1) It reduces the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) 

2) It improves post-workout recovery by reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - the soreness you sometimes feel in your legs a couple days after a tough workout)

Best compression leggings

The importance of fit and size

Just how tight should compression leggings be? In a word: tight! They're not like a normal pair of leggings. They are trickier to pull on, and also harder to get off around the ankle and foot afterwards, given the lower leg is where the compression is greatest. 

Trying on compression for the first time

Often when people first try compression leggings on, they wrongly assume they need to move up a size. Whilst this may feel more comfortable and familiar, it will undermine the benefits of the compression. The size you choose should be based on your weight and height, not on typical sportswear measurements. 

For more info, check out our guide to choosing the right size in compression wear, or refer to the 'Fit & Size' tabs on each garment product page from our compression collection.

What Should You Use Compression Tights For?

The obvious sports are running and other high intensity activities. These are where you will see the greatest benefits. But increasingly people are also wearing compression for lower impact activities.

2XU now also offers leggings that are specifically tailored to different sports. For example the 2XU Run Shorts use MCS (Muscle Containment Stamping) technology, which adjusts the support depending on the dynamics of movement in different sports. While the 2XU Reflect Range simultaneously offers compression and strategic reflective panels; ideal for running in the dark or during poor visibility.

So: To Compress or Not?

Whilst there is still more work to do to validate all the claims made about compression there is now adequate evidence to prove that it protects muscles during and after activity.

2XU in particular is making some brilliant compression products that keep getting better each season. Their compression products will help you recover faster, and hence train harder.

Whilst technically great these products aren’t a cure-all solution, so don’t expect miracles... but nonetheless science has proved that there really is a place for compression garments in every athletes’ wardrobe.

Want to learn more? Take a closer look at the benefits of compression, and choose the right compression gear for your body type and activity in Compression Wear that Fits.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3! In the meantime, you can browse our compression offerings for women and men

Use code COMPRESSION15 to get 15% off all 2XU items!

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