What can men be seen wearing in the gym and other sports arena’s that is a cross between skin-tight bike shorts and a girdle?
The answer is compression shorts.
The shorts also can come with matching tops. They are generally 15% smaller than the wearer and have bands that squeeze the buttocks, thighs, calves, and muscles. These shorts usually come in mid-thigh size and fit comfortably under regular shorts.
But what are the benefits of compression shorts? Most marketers claim that wearing the garments will improve the athletes overall performance in their workout or sport. Also that they will speed recovery from an injury and prevent the soreness that comes after a good workout. Furthermore, marketers claim that many injuries can be prevented by wearing the shorts as they warm the muscles and joints, are more supportive than regular shorts, and they increase blood flow to muscles, all of which can contribute to and enhanced an athlete’s performance.
But are these benefits of compression shorts accurate or just great marketing? Recently no large studies have put these claims to a real test. However, some smaller studies have been carried out. In 2011, an Australian study’s results were that the compression shorts did improve blood flow and oxygen consumption in runners. However, they did not improve the runners or triathletes performance in the race itself. Another Australian study that same year also had mixed results. It found that rugby players, while on a treadmill, showed lower heart rates and less of the discomfort of lactic acid while wearing compression shorts.
When we place the studies aside, there are many athletes that say the claims are real. For instance, The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade says that his knee and armbands help keep him free of any injuries; Meb Keflezighi, a U.S. marathoner believes his compression socks diminish soreness and tightness after a race; Robert Griffin III, of the Washington Redskins, says the gear gives him a competitive edge particularly with his increased speed. “When I put it on,” he says, “I feel faster.”
Although, a pause is needed when we remember that a lot of these claims of more speed and extra strength comes alongside lucrative endorsement deals. Ben Greenfield, a trainer and Ironman triathlete, states that many of theses claims need further testing in a lab. However, Greenfield, is willing to accept some facts that have been proven to him, he states, “I’m flying over to race in Japan tomorrow, and I’ll wear compression tights the whole time,” he says. “They keep my blood flowing when I can’t make it flow myself.”
However, there is mounting evidence that the benefits of compression shorts and other such gear do have some real physiological effects. When a person believes something will help them it will definitely help them. But there is real physical evidence that compression gear is very helpful. All athletes know that a massage after a workout can reduce inflammation and soreness. The compression shorts can act like a second skin that will squeeze blood back to the heart, slowing fatigue. Bryan Scott, an NFL linebacker says he always wears compression shorts. “I sleep in my recovery skins during training camp,” says Scott. “By week two or three, when the other guys are dragging, I come out like it’s my first day.”
Some other evidence does support the marketers claims of performance enhancement. According to a 2003 study, the hamstrings of sprinters were aided by the increased elasticity in compression shorts. The tight spandex-type material appears to control leg movement near the end of the swing phase. Thus, the garments provided increased flexion and torque at the end range of the required motions.
It has also been found that compression shorts aid in cooling the body’s temperature during workouts. This is accomplished by dispelling sweat from the body and allowing it to disperse quicker. So the body is cooler during exercise and sports which can lead to increased performance. When your body temperature increases it will result in decreased performance.
None of the evidence thus far has proven that compression shorts are the Holy Grail of increased sports performance. Although some tests have proven they can enhance an athlete’s overall performance, more research is definitely warranted. However, whether compression shorts prove the cure or placebo is up to the opinion of the wearer.