Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Compression Socks

If you watched Kona online, on TV, or even saw photos, you noticed a big presence of compression socks at the event, especially among the elites. I was a little skeptical about these, but I am always one to embrace new ideas, technologies, and anything which may give me an advantage or help me go faster.

The need for compression socks became very clear to me in my Ironman Florida experiences. First, in leading up to the race my coach at the time, Peter Reid, warned me that I needed to wear shoes which would normally be a half-size too big, because I could expect my feet to swell during the race. Honestly, I never recalled my legs or feet swelling, and the pictures don't show it either, but apparently this may be an issue for some, especially if Peter Reid is suggesting it.

The other time was actually after arriving home from Ironman Florida and seeing my lower legs so swollen from the flight, I was literally SCARED! After it happened again, I ordered a pair and began wearing them on every flight for a race, or post-race. I have not had any swelling issues since during travels.

Joe Friel actually wrote a post on his blog about compression socks, and cited some research:

I was contacted during the off-season from a person associated with SLS Tri, to give their socks a "tri". They did not have any larges in stock, so he sent me a pair of mediums.

The first time I tried the socks was on a 2 hour run, in which I wasn't feeling great to begin with, (poor dinner choices the night before affecting my stomach), and the socks didn't provide any magical solution to that. Not fair to expect that of them though.

After the run, I was on the bike for 3.5 hours, and decided to continue wearing them for the ride. (They did nicely double as leg warmers!) I ran into the gentleman who sent me the socks, and he noticed the mediums were too small. The socks had started just below my knee, but during the run and ride they fell down to the top of the meaty part of my calf. I asked him if the larges would have a looser fit, and he explained no, the length is the only difference, not the width of the socks. This was good to hear.

The socks actually felt great on the ride, and I was really beginning to wonder if they were good for the bike ride too? I since learned that Popovich was wearing some last year, but was getting in trouble with the UCI for wearing them in competition. Not sure why, but the UCI is weird.

I gave the socks another try on a run, and tried to focus on the claim of the company, "Compression mechanics strengthen and stabilize muscles, tendons, joints, and help recovery." As I understood this statement, it says the socks will provide support during running. So I thought about this while I ran, and I seemed to go back and forth between thinking they support my lower leg, and that they also restrict it. Honestly, it all depended on how I was feeling at the moment. If my legs felt light and the pace was quick and easy, I felt the socks helped support me. When I felt sluggish and slow, the socks were easy to blame and think they restricted me.

Certainly, the compression seems to be a hindrance in the ankle joint movement, but really not much.

The company cites some research at their site, but the one issue is that the research they use to proclaim the benefits of their product with, is actually for compression of the forearms, not the lower legs.

It seems next to impossible to fully provide data which will say the socks make a difference in performance, if worn in the race. I even wondered how many seconds would be lost due to the time required to put them on, but with a little bit of practice I seemed to have them on fairly quickly.

I certainly believe compression socks are an invaluable recovery tool though.

With this, I will ask and answer the 4 big questions:

1. What need does this product serve?
The need it definitely serves is in recovery, be it from travels, or just for day to day training. If you work at a desk all day, or on your feet all day, and notice any swelling of the lower leg, this product certainly will help your need for better recovery and blood flow.

The need it tries to serve is in performance. The verdict is still out on this, and I will continue to experiment with the socks before I give a judgement one way or the other. I think having a pair that is the right size would help.

2. How well does the product do what it says it does?
The compression socks definitely provide excellent compression, making them great for recovery. Whether or not this product helps in race performance still requires more research, as well as more anecdotal evidence. (The main anecdotes that matter to me are coming from me!)

3. What is the cost-benefit value of this product? (For what the product does, is it worth the cost?)
The socks I tried retail at $57.95. If you're having swelling issues, either during training, or from being on your feet or at a desk all day, these will certainly be worth the cost.

4. How could this product be improved?
I am unsure about improvements, and don't feel I've made an accurate assessment on it yet, since I probably need a size L, instead of the mediums. I am pleased to see the company offers a regular sock, a cooling sock, and UV protection sock. This is a good start.

Hope this helps, and feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

Jim Vance


D a v e P said...

Hey Jim, I have compression tights and wear them for recovery only (under jeans or freely in the privacy of my own home). I'd probably wear the socks or "shin guards" out on a run if we had the option to buy them in different "skin tone" colors.
Even though I know they're good for decreasing fatigue, they still look pretty goofy out there on the streets!

Matthew said...


That's an experiment on compression socks (on calves) on the performance during running. Shows to be beneficial.

trigrl5 said...

Love the post. There's so little about compression on the internet. Found another good one that has some different brands. http://www.triedge.net/triedge-articles/running/item/31-the-effectiveness-of-compression