This weekend, I bought myself a really spiffy new pair of compression pants for running. As I was trotting around the house enjoying their snugness and warmth on my way to the gym, my confused boyfriend posed a question that I feel a lot of people probably have: “What?”
When my beloved asked “what is compression clothing?”, what he was actually asking was “what is the point of compression clothing?” Which is, it seems, actually a fairly common question, in that I took an informal poll among friends and none of them knew. Then, I asked the sales clerks at Old Navy and the Nike Store here in Seattle, and they couldn’t give me a straight answer either, aside from the fact that “men like them because it’s better than a cup, I think.”
So what is the benefit of tight-fitting compression sportswear, which is made by athletic apparel companies like Under Armour and Easton? Apparently, there are numerous–and they’re all pretty legitimate.
Aside from the junk-cuddling aspect (which is valid–a lot of men have swapped tight-fitting shorts for jock straps), athletes and competitive runners swear by these spanex-y tights, shirts, bras, and shorts, mostly for reasons having to do with comfort, which is certainly the main factor in my purchasing of sportswear. Because compression apparel is so snug, it doesn’t hike up or shift when running, biking, or playing sports. Instead, it moves with you, which means you’re spending less time tugging at your vaguely-stretchy clothing (I’m looking at you, yoga pants), and more time, you know, being active.
Compression pants and tops are also, to many, more visually appealing than baggy shorts, over-sized t-shirts, and other alternative apparel choices. Which is not to say that looking cute is anywhere near necessary when you’re performing endurance sports…but for some of us, it is an added bonus.
This style of apparel is also popular among those whose athletics take them outdoors. Many football players, as well as all-weather cyclists, triathletes, and even climbers prefer to have one of these moisture-wicking layers beneath whatever else they may be wearing for added dryness, warmth, and insulation.
But, apparently the close-fitting fabric, which not only keeps athletes feeling toasty against the elements, also works to keep their muscles warmer, which protects them from injury and helps them remain flexible during a workout. The compression action has also been shown to lead to a decrease in creatine build-up, which can cause muscle soreness.
What compression clothing doesn’t do, however, is improve your athletic ability, according to a much-hyped study back in June. But, of course, most athletes don’t actually believe that what they wear can give them super-powers that they don’t already have.
Take note, Nike Store girl: it seems that even those of us (ahem, myself) who prefer the climate-controlled comfort of a treadmill at a gym can reap the many benefits of these wicking wonders. Compression pants are more than a fashion statement–they’re functional, too.