Do Compression Pants Really Work?

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Worn by runners and athletes, compression pants are a new wave of apparel technology that boast improved performance and reduced muscle soreness.

World-renowned athletes are the faces of brands that promote compression technology, and the market for this type of apparel has skyrocketed.

But the question remains: do these articles of clothing really work, or is it all just another marketing ploy from the fitness industry?

Credit: Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A new study says that compression pants do not cause a person to run farther or faster. In a study of 20 healthy males, no difference in athletic performance was found. The study was led by Ajit Chaudhari, lead author of the study and associate professor of Physical Therapy at Ohio State University, and examined the movements of the subjects down to the millimeter. The findings were presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting.

The 20 individuals that participated in the study ran on a treadmill on two separate days. The first day was measured while the man was wearing normal clothing that did not contain compression technology. On the second day, they wore the compression shorts and were given the same 30-minute task of running on the treadmill. According to the results, there was no real difference in performance on either day.

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The main premise of compression technology is to reduce vibration of the muscles, causing them to fatigue at a slower rate. Chaudhari and his team did find this to be true, as the vibration of muscles in the runners did decrease while wearing the compression pants.

“So, if that’s happening, over the course of a long run, that extra activation ought to lead to greater fatigue, because it basically takes more energy to be more active,” Chaudhari said. “By that theory, reducing vibration ought to reduce the amount of energy the muscle is using to do the work it’s trying to do, and so therefore you would end up with less fatigue overall.”

Unfortunately, such was not the case. Even in high-compression pants, the runner’s fatigue levels did not change during their workouts.

These findings are substantiated by past research, including a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. A study from New Zealand and Australia showed that the performance of athletes in a 400-meter sprint did not improve when they were wearing compression pants, as opposed to wearing non-compression clothing.

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However, what they did find was that the athletes maintained a perception that the compression clothing did make a difference. The athletes in this study generally perceived their performance as requiring less effort when they wore compression pants or leg sleeves, and that is why some doctors do not discourage their patients from these products.

Sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl says, “I generally tell my patients that compression shorts and compression gear falls into the ‘can’t hurt’ category of medicine, meaning some people like the way it feels. The fact that it…psychologically makes people feel like they’re running faster or more supported…it doesn’t really matter. They certainly don’t do any harm. And if people feel like they’re helping them, they’re helping them.”

Marissa DiPietro

Marissa is a health and fitness writer from the Tampa Bay area. In addition to researching the latest trending topics, she enjoys instructing kickboxing classes and posting incessantly to her Instagram account.