If you’re like me, when you first heard of compression running tights, you thought of the support stockings doctors recommend for individuals with bulging varicose veins. Compression running types are similar to support stockings in that they both provide better blood circulation and prevent blood clots by exerting graduated pressure from the foot up. The difference is that compression tights provide a pressure of 20mmhg or above and support hose, at or below 20mmhg. Mmhg is the same unit of measure used in determining blood pressure.
Support stockings are prescribed for the amelioration of medical issues such as varicose veins, diabetes, lymphedema, and chronic venous insufficiency while compression tights are designed to increase the amount of oxygen available to the muscles, improve the rate of venous return, and speed up the removal of the waste product lactic acid from the muscles.
What Do Compression Running Tights Do For Runners?
Compression running tights, in most cases made of a combination of 80% nylon and 20% spandex to conform snuggly to the body. This allows them to provide extra support to the muscles that reduce muscle oscillation and vibration, either of which can cause soft tissue damage that results in pain both during the run and afterward.
They also exert controlled hugging pressure on the quads, the gluteus, and the calf muscles, serving to speed up both the rate at which oxygenated blood reaches the muscles and the deoxygenated blood returns to the lungs and heart for replenishment and return. This cyclical process also reduces the amount of lactic acid in the muscles, a chemical byproduct of energy production that if allowed to build up can produce a burning sensation.
You might also be interested in our explainer on what are strides in running.
Oxygen, Muscles, Energy, and Running
All the body’s cells require oxygen, no matter what function they serve. Muscle cells depend on oxygen for the energy needed for movement. However, its delivery amounts to a chicken or egg type scenario involving the chemical energy molecule Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). While ATP supplies the muscle cells’ with energy, oxygen is needed for the production of ATP. The more vigorously the muscles move when running, the more oxygen they need. But first, they need to produce more ATP and that requires more oxygen.
Run Now, Benefit Later
Professional athletes, as well as everyday runners who consider compression running tights as part of their regular running gear, do so for a number of reasons. There’s the stability and control that helps them run longer, more efficiently, and with less effort on daily runs. But what they especially appreciate is that this day-in and day-out efficient training allows them to expend less energy on race day, even when running at their maximum speed.
And because compression tights minimize soft tissue damage they also aid post-race recovery and next-day muscle soreness. In fact, an Australian study found that runners who wore compression tights during a run were not only pain-free but ran better the next day
Fringe Benefits of Wearing Compression Running Pantyhose
Even if you are a casual or weekend runner, you’ll benefit from wearing compression running tights. First, there’s the fit they provide, tight without being so tight that they distract you or cause discomfort while you run. And since they move with your body, they don’t become stretched out or lose their shape as ordinary running tights do.
You’ll also appreciate the temperature control factor that comes from the technology that goes into the various materials from which they are made. Some keep you warm on those cold winter runs. Others keep you cool. But all wick moisture away from your skin, preventing post-run chills.
FAQs About What Are Compression Running Tights
Will compression running tights make me a faster runner? Sadly no. The extra pressure they exert on your legs will make them feel more comfortable and perhaps warmer. And they may allow you to run longer. But only adhering to a regular training regimen will make you a faster runner.
Will compression running tights feel uncomfortable? Compression running tights are meant to fit like a second skin. This is not inheritably uncomfortable, but it may take a bit of getting used to. However, as you can see from the above article, this snug fit is at the heart of all the benefits that come from wearing them.
Can I wear underwear with compression running tights? There’s no reason why not. But it’s up to you. Just do whatever you would do with any type of running tights.