Whether you’re in the gym or on the running trails, you’re more than likely to spot someone sporting some sort of compression gear. From socks to sleeves and coming in any color to match your workout outfit, they come with a reputation that promises support, better circulation, and an overall performance enhancement.

Although studies have shown that compression gear can help improve exercise energy expenditure and quicken recovery efforts, how you use them is just as, if not more, important. “Not all compression is created equal,” says Fred Hernandez with PRO Compression. It’s important to understand how to size your gear, and know the proper times to wear them. To reap the most benefits possible, here is everything you need to know about compression wear.

The Flow of Benefits

Why do people choose to wear compression gear? The reasons vary from adding muscular and joint support during a training session to easing post-workout soreness. And if you’ve ever experienced DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) then you know firsthand how intense soreness can be.

The increase in circulatory efficiency by the manipulation of your arteries is what drives all of the benefits you see from this supportive wear. “The great thing about compression gear is anyone can use them and experience the benefits,” says Robin Hodges, exercise physiologist, LMT at 89 & Ivy Massge Therapy in Bentonville, AR. And with regular use comes better performance in the gym and faster recovery; even reducing the amount of lactic acid buildup. Reduced swelling and pain, as well as improved circulation, are critical in helping people recover from hard training efforts, standing or sitting all day, injuries, and conditions that affect lower legs.

Wearing compressions during exercise increases blood flow to the specific limb, which then feeds your muscles during your workout, and helps filter lactic acid out of your muscles. This increased volume helps the filtration process, and therefore produces faster recovery. Not to mention, compression sleeves for legs can also act as a barrier against skin abrasions when performing certain lower-body moves such as the deadlift.

Not surprisingly, the benefits go beyond the gym and into the workforce where people are on their feet all day long. “Compression socks and sleeves are very popular among the medical community including nurses, doctors, therapists, and technicians that often work shifts of 12 to 14 hours or more,” says Hernandez. The added support from compression socks helps reduce swelling in the legs and feet, aids in joint support, and helps fight against varicose veins.

The Perfect Fit: How to Size Your Sleeves

When it comes to choosing your compression gear, size matters. According to Hodges, the compression sleeves are made to be snug but stretchy. “They do not need to be uncomfortably tight, as this can cut off the proper blood flow,” she says. You want to feel supported but be able to have a full range of motion during exercising.

Most compression brands come with a recommended size chart, either on their website or on its packaging. When choosing the right size for compression gear, simply measure the body part you wish to support and select the recommended size for your sleeve.

For example, for an arm sleeve, you will need to measure your bicep, and for a compression sock, you will need to measure the widest part of your calf and your shoe size. Keep this simple rule in mind: If you are not able to move comfortably in it, it’s not the right fit and you may need to size up. Once you have the best-fitting compression for you, get ready to reap all the benefits!

When to Compress

Timing is everything. For the best performance results, Hernandez suggests the most optimal times to wear compression gear are both during your training and in your post-workout recovery.

During training, compression gear brings oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, which is filled with nutrients and hydration. It also reduces vibration, which can improve muscle efficiency and mechanics. In the recovery period, the constant compression helps decrease inflammation and swelling, as well as aid in flushing out the lactic acid promoting faster (and less painful) healing.

Wearing compression during these two important times will complement each other and bring forth many benefits.

Try It: Graduated Compression

Once you have your measurements, the next step is making sure you have high-quality material is imperative. “When choosing the compression sleeve, it is important to get one that is good quality and not a cheap material,” says Hodge. After all, you are investing in your body and you need the best quality you can get. This is where graduated compression stands above the rest.

What is it? Graduated compression gear puts pressure in just the right spots to increase blood flow and help repair broken-down soft tissue. PRO Compression explains, “The further away from your heart, the more compression you feel; promoting optimal circulation.” The point is to better help circulate your blood back up to your heart when you’re upright running or sitting in a business meeting.

So, if you’re in the market for a new compression sleeve or looking to try one for the first time, remember: Size, quality, and timing will make your compression-wearing experience the most effective it can be!

The Big Squeeze: Compression Gear

The Big Squeeze: Compression Gear

Improve blood flow, reduce soreness, and combat inflammation.

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