I arrived home after Ironman Western Australia thinking about compression. Compression socks and tights both for during competition and recovery. It was something that seemed to be gaining in popularity now.
This year's Ironman World Championships in Kona saw Torbjorn Sindballe wearing an all white outfit. It looked rather funky but apparently was a product of research that showed the white outfit would reflect heat and keep him extra cool in Kona. He had on one white glove, into which he puts ice cubes, and knee high white compression socks. He sure looked unusual, but he did get second place so there must be something to that outfit. To hell with fashion!
At Ironman WA, there were people also wearing compression socks. Afterwards, a number of competitors wore compression tights for recovery, as I saw them lounging around in them. I vowed to get some as soon as I got home.
My first order was for some traditional compression socks at Magellans. These socks are made for more mature people, who potentially have the danger of deep vein thrombosis (clotting in deep blood vessels which can lead to stroke) and developing varicose veins. Research has shown that compression socks can help prevent these very serious conditions from happening, especially while sitting for a long time in these awful plane seats on extended trips.
I wore these for a while and they worked pretty darn good at keeping the blood from pooling in my legs and making them swell. Plane seats are notoriously bad for me. They are often too high and put extra pressure on the back of my legs, causing numbness and the swelling as circulation is prevented. Wearing compression socks really helped this and virtually eliminated the swollen feeling in my lower legs and feet. What bothered me a bit about these socks were that they were full socks, and that I had to wash them every time I wore them so that they wouldn't become smelly.
I switched to Zensah compression socks, which allowed me to wear a pair of normal socks while wearing these socks. Zensah socks aren't really full socks; they only cover your lower leg from your ankle up to your knee. I find that I don't have to wash these every time because they aren't covering my feet. Since I fly so much, I wear these every time and have fallen in love with them! (By the way, getting up in a plane and walking around every hour works wonders as well.)
You might think that wearing knee-high socks could work just as well. Apparently, they don't have the same effect. Compression socks are made to have a graduated compression effect upwards from the ankle to the knee. Regular knee high socks aren't made for that. Sorry, you can't go to Target and just buy some athletic tube socks!
Will they help performance or recovery? The jury is still out but promising in the areas of formal research. Informally, it seems that their popularity does say something about their effectiveness. So I find this post is really Part I in my own experiences with compression. I now know that Zensah compression socks are required equipment for flying and keeping my legs fresh on both short and long flights. I bought a pair of 2XU compression tights to see what happens when I wear them after a long, hard workout. I will test this later on this year as I build for Ironman Florida. Also, I am considering wearing my Zensah compression socks during the run of Ironman Florida. Silly looking? Potentially. Gain a few minutes or more...not bad! Avoiding cramps during the run...priceless!
Both the Zensah socks and 2XU tights I bought at my favorite online tri-shop, Trisports.com.
If you want to find out more at this stage, Joe Friel has a great post on compression and tried to find some current research on the topic. I expect there will be more formal research released as the year goes on.