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Paddle Healthy | Dispelling Debate on Compression Clothing

Compression clothing is popular among athletes like standup paddlers and runners because of its alleged athletic advantages, which claim to be similar to the effects of a massage. Brands selling compression clothing attest that wearing the apparel provides a variety of other benefits, including increasing performance, improving recovery, and even preventing injury. However, there is a lot of controversy over whether compression clothing is actually effective, or just another trend. In this edition of Paddle Healthy, we're dispelling the confusion and giving you the real facts on compression clothing.

We see top athletes like Annabel Anderson, Georges Cronsteadt, Brennan Rose, and Candice Appleby wearing compression clothing during races. While these hardworking athletes train and prepare, we can’t help but wonder if their apparel assists their performance. Early studies found that athletes wearing compression clothing while exercising at their maximum level experienced a reduction in blood lactate concentration, and were positively-influenced psychologically. While both a reduction in blood lactate concentration and a positive psychological mindset can help improve performance, it is unclear as to what degree the compression clothing affects those factors.

Another study found that muscle oscillation is reduced in athletes wearing compression clothing. This suggests it also helps reduce injury during exercise or explosive-based movements because it improves proprioception, which is an individual's sense of body position. Thus, the assumption is that compression clothing should promote an increase in muscle and movement efficiency, and a decrease in energy consumption. Yet another study on individuals wearing compression clothing (specifically on their lower-legs) during activity found that responses varied greatly depending on the individual.

The claims for benefits of compression clothing extend beyond performance; other studies report that when compression clothing was worn post-exercise during recovery, some athletes saw a reduction in muscle swelling, and experienced an increase in blood lactate removal. Body temperature also increased and perceived muscle pain diminished when athletes wore compression clothing during recovery, both of which could be due to increased circulation.

When it comes to staving off soreness, studies suggest that symptoms related to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) were also reduced when compression clothing was worn during recovery. Another study found it supports the recovery of maximal strength and power as well.

The bottom line: While scientific studies do suggest compression clothing has many benefits for athletes' performance and recovery, in most cases, we found that further research is needed to understand just how effective it really is. As always, it is best to consult your personal physician and do your own research before making any drastic changes to your lifestyle.

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