Runners don’t typically use a lot of gear, so the sleeves you see on their arms might seem odd. But just why do runners wear sleeves on their arms?
The flashy sleeves you see on a runner’s arms aren’t (usually) a fashion statement. Instead, they offer several health benefits like improved blood flow and temperature regulation.
If you’re a runner considering whether to buy arm sleeves, I can tell you from experience that it’s made a difference in my running comfort.
Why Do Runners Wear Sleeves on Their Arms? 7 Main Reasons
Arm sleeves are a relatively new invention, getting their start in 2001 when basketball player Allen Iverson had bursitis in his elbow. His trainer created a make-shift arm sleeve compression using a tube bandage.
And, well, the rest is history.
Since then, arm sleeves have become a must-have tool in every serious runner’s kit. But the reason people use arm sleeves varies. If you’re like me, you likely use them for several reasons; let’s explore them.
1. Improved Circulation
It wouldn’t be right to list why runners wear sleeves without starting with their original purpose—to increase blood circulation. Just as you’ve likely seen compression socks and leggings, arm sleeves offer similar circulatory benefits.
By improving the circulation in your arms, you’ll decrease the chance of inflammation during and after a run. Arm sleeves also ensure oxygen reaches all parts of your body and improves brain function.
If you haven't tried compression socks yet check out our article why wear compression socks when running.
2. Faster Recovery
You may recover faster after running if you wear arm sleeves after your workout. That’s because compression helps remove lactic acid from your muscles.
Lactic acid is a primary contributor to soreness. So, rocking a pair of arm sleeves can help you recover quicker, allowing you to try to beat your time on your next run.
3. Physical Barrier
No matter how much running experience you have, the moment will come when you trip and fall. By wearing arm sleeves, you could reduce the amount or severity of scrapes you get. Or, at the very least, you don’t have to worry about the unpleasant experience of sweat mixing with dirt.
Arm sleeves also create a physical barrier from the sun beating on your skin. I know I’m not the only one who balks at the thought of slathering on sunscreen to what will soon become my sweating arms.
If you plan on using arm sleeves for sun protection, it’s best to buy a brand that includes an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Otherwise, ultraviolet rays can make their way through fabric fibers.
4. Nighttime Safety
If you run on the side of the road in the dark, wearing arm sleeves with reflectors is an excellent way to alert drivers of your presence.
I also recommend wearing reflectors on your shirt and pants for added safety. If you really want to go all out, you can buy some calf sleeves with reflectors.
If you like running in the winter you are going to need to protect your hands, check out our article on the best running gloves.
5. Injury Prevention
If you’ve ever witnessed a race on a hot day, you might wonder, “Why do runners wear sleeves on their arms if they’re not injured?”
It’s because arm sleeves can serve as a way to prevent injuries. When exercising, you’ve likely seen people use braces or bandages to protect specific joints or muscles. Arm sleeves offer similar benefits by providing support to the elbows.
Of course, Allen Iverson’s trainer genuinely did use arm sleeves to help him manage his bursitis. However, I strongly advise you against using arm sleeves for medical reasons unless you have a doctor’s approval.
6. Keep You Warm
If you want to save money on long-sleeved shirts for running in cool weather, consider buying a pair of arm sleeves. That way, you can toss on a t-shirt and then bundle up your arms.
You can take these sleeves off while running if you get too hot, and they pack away better than a full-blown long-sleeve shirt. That said, I recommend using arm sleeves for weather that’s cool enough that you’ll want to keep them on for the duration of your run.
Otherwise, you’re likely better off buying arm warmers. These will be easier to take off while running than compression sleeves, which squeeze tightly on the skin.
7. Keep You Cool
I know it sounds contradictory, but arm sleeves can keep you cool too. They do this by creating an airconditioning-like effect as you move your arms when you run.
Plus, since they keep the sun from reaching your skin, they work similarly to sheep’s wool because they block out the heat. Since many styles of arm sleeves exist on the market, I recommend looking for a kind that specifies it has cooling effects if this is one of the main benefits you are looking for.