What are compression garments?
While they may look very similar to the lycra tights that aerobics instructors wore in the 80’s, or the bike pants commonly worn by cyclists, that’s where the similarities end. Unlike lycra pants compression garments are not just tight pants. The difference is that compression garments have graded compression. Put simply this means that compression garments are slightly tighter at the bottom of the garment than they are at the top. What this does is help the body pump blood from the deep veins back to the heart. You may have seen people wearing skin colored compression garments after having surgery. Compression garments have been used by the medical community for many decades. It is only recently that “Targeted Compression” performance enhancing capabilities in the athletic environment have been discovered.
What is this new targeted compression technology?
- Patent pending design target muscle groups by the panels and seams so compression is applied to individual targeted muscle groups
- Allows the garment to move with the targeted muscle groups in flexion and extension.
- Garment encloses each region like a muscle sheath, strengthening and providing support to the targeted muscle groups
Can I wear my team shorts over the top of my compression garments during a match?
Compression garments are not designed to be a fashion statement and running out onto the field looking like an aerobics instructor probably won’t do you any favors! The good news is that wearing shorts over the top of compression garments won’t negatively effect the compression and you can therefore gain all the benefits without anyone even knowing you are wearing them.
Can compression garments really enhance my performance on the field?
Field sports are extremely demanding on the body and require a high degree of fitness. Players will generally run many kilometers in a match and this will generally be done in a series of short sprints with brief recoveries. Anyone that plays field sports knows that these repeated sprints cause a large buildup of lactic acid and at times it can feel like your legs weigh a ton and are literally on fire! Often compression garments are only worn after matches and training. However this approach does not guarantee you the most from your compression garment. When compression garments are worn during exercise they have been shown to reduce blood lactate concentrations (1) and reduce muscle pain (2). You wouldn’t leave your boots in the dressing room so why leave your compression garments in there!
I want my on field performance to be more explosive, could compression garments help?
Explosive power has become a prerequisite to success in field based sports. Much of the pre-season training for field sports such as Rugby Union, Rugby League and AFL are dedicated to increasing the size, strength and power of the players. In fact it is often the players that are the most explosive that make it to the top. One of the measures commonly used to measure explosive power is the vertical jump. Often athletes will train intensely for months just to increase their vertical jump by a couple of centimeters. Interestingly research has shown that simply wearing compression garments can increase vertical jump height by 2.4cm (3). This is not a one off finding and other research has shown that average force and power production during vertical jump testing is higher when wearing compression garments (5).
Wont compression garments restrict my movement during a game?
This is a common concern amoung athletes but it need not be. In fact research in athletes has shown that athletic technique is not restricted by wearing compression garments (3).
Some athletes fear that compression garments being so tight may increase fatigue by making it harder to move. However in a recent scientific study compression garments did not add any significant resistance to hip and thigh movements and consequently did not contribute to excess fatigue or negatively impair performance (7).
So basically the research is showing increased power and endurance with no adverse effects on movement. It’s all good news for the field athlete!
Compression garments feel like they give support to the muscles, could this reduce injuries?
Obviously in contact based field sports compression garments are going to do very little to protect against contact injuries. However many non contact injuries occur because joints are pushed into inappropriate positions. Within your skin, muscles and joints you have tiny little receptors that provide feedback to your brain as to the position of a joint. Say you are running down the sideline and you go to side step around another player. As you side step your knee may approach a position that may place it at risk of an injury such as a ligament tear. The proprioceptors job is to relay that information back to your brain so that your brain can tell your muscles to contract in a manner that stops the joint ending up in that position. If proprioception is poor, the message that the knee joint is approaching a dangerous position does not get through in time and you might sustain a season ending knee injury.
There is no research at this point in time regarding how compression garments may reduce non contact injuries. However preliminary research has shown that compression garments can enhance proprioception (7).
Other research has also shown that compression garments reduce what is termed muscle oscillation. Basically muscles are attached to bones but they are still able to move, wobble and shake a bit. Impacts such as those experiences when the foot strikes the ground during running send vibrations through the muscle much like the ripples caused by dropping a rock into a pond. These oscillations can interfere with optimal muscle contraction and as such may impair performance. Reducing these oscillations may therefore enhance performance and reduce the chances of injury.
I currently use hot and cold baths as part of my post match recovery, how could I incorporate compression garments?
Interestingly compression garments have been shown to be just as beneficial in terms of post match recovery from muscle damage as hot and cold baths (4). If you want the best of both worlds you can do both but if you are playing an away from home game and don’t have access to your standard facilities simply wearing compression garments following your post match warm down and showers will accelerate your recovery.
If you want to use the contrast baths as well as compression garments you can use the following research proven protocol after your post match warm down:
Contrast baths: Alternate between one minute in cold water (8-10°C) and two minutes in hot water (40-42°C) for approximately nine minutes.
Following the contrast baths wear full length compression garments overnight or for approximately 12 hours.