Compression garments for weight training
Sports scientists are constantly discovering new ways to take human athletic performance to the next level. The use of compression clothing, such as elastic undergarments and tights, is showing more popularity among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Since a few years, compression and their use in sport and weight training have increased exponentially. As with most new products, injury prevention and improved performance is purported to be a benefit from using such garments. Compression garments represent a way of safely and legally manipulating human physiology to produce an internal environment that is more conducive to high performance and faster recovery.
There are so many open questions on this subject. Is it bad for your muscles if you lift weights in compression shirts? Does it decrease blood flow, and thus prevent proper nutrient delivery? Also, does it weaken your gains by assisting the weight up for you, due to the elasticity of the fabric? This article gives you all the answers you’ll ever need.
What are compression garments?
Compression garments are tight, compressive forms of clothing, often made out of high-quality materials (usually spandex), which are designed to enhance recovery. They give you a feeling of being supported and “held in”.
These clothes come in the form of shorts, leggings, sleeves, socks, underwear as well as long sleeved shirts. They can be worn beneath your regular gym outfit.
The underlying mechanism is attributed to enhanced blood flow to muscle, which is similar to the effect of active recovery. Improvements in microcirculation may prevail whilst wearing compression garments. Manufacturers claim that special tight-fitting compression clothing increases circulation (making it easier for your muscles to get oxygen) and decrease muscle vibration, which can make the legs tire out.
Possible benefits of compression garments for weight training and bodybuilding
Varying claims have arisen about the possible performance and health benefits of exercising in such garments. These claims range from increasing sport performance to speeding post-exercise recovery by promoting increased blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
- Reduces muscle fatigue
- Strain prevention
- A lower risk of muscle soreness
- Improved perceived exertion
- Increased power
- Better jumping ability
- Better muscle oxygenation
- Increased blood flow
- Increased lymphatic drainage
- Improved strength recovery
- Better recovery after strenuous exercise
- Groin support
Is there any scientific evidence to support these claims?
Potential benefits of these garments are multifaceted, including mechanical, physiological, and psychological enhancements. However, neither the advantages of wearing compression garments nor the mechanisms through which these purported benefits may occur are well documented.
Compression garments provide external pressure at the body surface and have the capacity to stabilize underlying tissues. Many of the studies that have evaluated the effects of compression garments have not been well controlled. For example, these studies have:
- used a wide variety of garment types with different pressures exerted on the body;
- incorporated different modes, durations, and intensities of exercise;
- tested subjects across vastly different training statuses (elite vs recreationally active athletes); and
- measured many different markers of performance and recovery
In general, very few exercise performance studies have demonstrated an ergogenic benefit of wearing compression garments. The exception may be in jumping performance tasks, especially as athletes near fatigue. During repeated jumping, compression shorts may minimize muscle movements or oscillations and improve joint awareness or proprioception. Despite these potential improvements in jumping, there are no measurable performance benefits in other burst-type activities including sprinting. The same goes for weight training and bodybuilding.
Compression clothing and weight loss
Compression garments can only give the illusion of weight loss. It doesn’t burn more calories and it won’t magically boost your metabolism. No workout gear can do that. But if compression garments can make you feel more comfortable when you move, then it might help you to make your workouts longer or to exercise more often. If that is the case, then compression gear is a worthwhile investment.
Some manufacturers of compression clothes claim to accelerate weight loss through sweating. This is true and false. Like all tight clothing, compression garments will make you perspire more in the area where you’re wearing them. Sweating does mean that you are losing weight. Unfortunately, this type of weight loss is only temporary. As soon as you eat or drink water, the weight returns to your body. To achieve permanent weight loss, your body must burn fat through exercise.
Closing thoughts: Is compression gear worth the expense?
Clothing designed to compress muscle groups such as the thigh and calf muscles has been developed to aid muscle function in training and competition. The premise is that the right amount of compression can improve blood flow through the muscles, stabilize muscle groups, and perhaps add an element of elasticity to augment jumping, sprinting, and other explosive movements. Research on sport compression clothing has produced mixed results, with most studies reporting no benefits to performance or recovery. However, no one has ever been harmed by sport compression clothing. Therefore, if the garment feels good to wear, that alone might be enough of a benefit to justify the cost of the clothing.