Friday, March 11, 2011

Compression & Interview with Andy Potts

So ya know how I was asking about compression recently? Well, the reason: I just got finished writing an article on the topic for Triathlete Magazine, which should hit stands in June I believe. I wanted to reach out to various athletes and experts to get an idea of peoples' perception of compression; maybe even find some quote-worthy material for my article (which I did) :)

From all the people I talked to (beyond just the blog world), my unscientific conclusion is that more people trust and believe in compression than those who don't. Not life-shattering news, but it's still interesting to see that even though compression garments aren't 100% proven to be effective, people are still willing to pay quite a bit for them and make quite a fashion statement when wearing them around town.

Last night I wore these when teaching my fitness class at Sport Performance Institute... um, only a few perplexed looks lol. Talk about Zoot'd-out in pink! The crazier the better I say!

I also dug into my grad-school research I've done on compression to guide my article (my lit review was my BFF) and interviewed some experts and pros, including Joe Friel and Andy Potts. My talk with Joe inspired this blog, I even sent him my bibliography on compression so hopefully some of the studies he mentions were thanks to me ;)

I want to talk more about compression, starting with my interview with Andy and share the stuff we discussed (not all of what's below made it into the article, so I guess you can say this it a TriTawn exclusive lol). As a side note, Andy is a great guy; I've met him a couple times in Kona and even though I don't know him that well, talking to him on the phone was like talking to an old friend. I could have written a whole article on our talk alone.


Andy is sponsored by CEP, but he started wearing compression even before that for recovery reasons. He eventually wore out the one pair of compression socks he had, which prompted the sponsorship. He now wears compression during big workouts and competition, too. He's a believer!

He believes compression works for recovery: "After a tough workout, I throw them on and elevate the feet; I pay more attention to getting blood flow back to the heart. One of the properties that turned me on was no issues with tweaking tendonds, ligaments and muscles [after a workout]; the socks help keep everything in place. I relax and focus [on recovery], and I don't have to worry about being so gentle to the lower body... The socks are part of the [recovery] process. It's one of the triggers to relax and gets that exhale effect going."

Andy now wears compression during big training sessions and racing, too, and believes they have a significant effect even if it doesn't necessarily make him go faster: "In terms of training and competition, compression keeps everything together. It helps with rebounding in the muscles and you're not as violent on the muscles. It reduces muscle [oscillation]. When you have so much fatigue, it's easy for the muscles to just quit, but with CEP compression, muscles are kept in place so they can fire properly. It may not add to physical performance, but it makes a difference to have compression keeping everything in place, especially over longer durations.

He's willing to take a few extra seconds to put the socks on in T2: "It takes time to put them on, it's a technique. I sit down to do it. I fold the socks into quarters then fold them down and have them waiting in the proper shoe. First it goes on over the toe box then over the heel then up the calf. It probably takes 7 seconds longer than putting on regular socks, or 20 seconds longer than if you were to put no socks on in T2."

Compression also helps Andy's temperature perception. "I play a game with myself; I tell myself the socks are keeping me cooler in a place like Kona and warmer in a place like Coeur D'Alene when it's cold there."

As a side note, there are some claims that compression could aid in thermoregulation (maintaining the right body temp), and while this hasn't been proven in studies, there's still the potential, even if it's placebo, which seems to be the issue in Andy's case.... whatever works!

Lastly, Andy was excited to talk about what CEP will be offering in the near future: "CEP, which provides the medical-grade compression, has a new product out called the Clone, which is over-the-hip pants and everyone gets a custom fit for them. The rep takes [a bunch of] measurements and then custom makes their Clone; it takes about 10 days to get it."


Some of my thoughts on compression in brief (I could go on for hours)....

1. I do believe compression works for recovery. Personally, I notice significantly less swelling in my feet and ankles if I wear compression post-exercise, no matter if the workout was moderate or major. That makes a difference the next day and so on because compression helps get the blood flowing and shuttle out all the "gunk," aka bodily fluids, that could cause DOMS (muscle soreness) and other delays in recovery. I also have circulation issues to begin with, so my feet/lower legs love compression.

2. I don't think compression will work for enhancing performance significantly, i.e. don't expect compression to be the key to setting new PRs, etc. However, I think it's worth putting on during exercise/competition for the reasons Andy stated (enhanced perception, muscle "comfort," etc) and beyond. There is some research to show that it can help physiological mechanisms and even enhance efficiency, but more so compression increases comfort for a lot of people. Even if you can't measure the data to show a faster race or better circulation, if it's more comfortable for you, then why not wear it?! Plus, wearing compression during exercise can begin the process of faster recovery--you don't have to wait until after the workout or race to throw them on.

3. I have some skepticism about the "grade" and mmHG of commercial compression garments, and socks in particular. In most studies I read, they use some heavy-duty compression, the real medical-grade stuff, and I'm not sure that all athletic compression companies offer the same level of compression. Not to mention, some of these studies get custom-fit compression for the subjects, which makes benefts more likely (we are not a one-size-fits-all world!).

Compression is measured in mmHG, which implies how much pressure it exerts. The best kind of lower-leg compression is graded (differnt pressures), with mmHG that ranges from 20-40 mmHG, which promotes the upward flow of fluids to prevent stagnation. For any compression used in the athletic arena, it's safe to say anything below 15 mmHG is probably pointless. My Zoot stuff has some numbers: says it's 18-30 mmHG, which is pretty decent and personally I think it's enough to get some results recovery-wise. I don't know about the other brands.

4. Compression for body parts beyond the lower legs is a little sketchy. If you're on a budget, stick to the socks, which help shuttle out the by-products of working out, help the calf-muscle pumps works efficiently. Plus, they're great for traveling, for those overcoming injury, for people who work on their feet a lot, and helpful in clinical situations (i.e. DVT -- Serena Williams anyone?), and so on...On the flip side, compression tops might help with posture ever-so-slightly and shorts or leggings might help with muscle response (studies show it can increase jump height but do triathletes care about that?), while any extra garment might keep you warmer and more comfortable, but overall, I don't think those garments will do much to help circulation and blood flow or enhance recovery like the socks do. The socks are meant to flush the gunk up and out, so I don't get how that works with compression on other areas, not to mention compression sleeves (??). If it's a comfort thing or about compressing the muscle to "keep everything in place," like Andy said, that's one thing, but that might be where it ends. Hm.

*If you want to anything more about compression or have any specific questions for me, let me know, I'd be happy to discuss the subject further.

PS - Because I might have gotten your hopes up about a potential reward for telling me about your compression habits or lack thereof, I feel bad and am therefore going to do a little giveaway on here in the coming days in which a male and female will benefit... I just have to think of a good contest.


  1. I love your Zoot tri shoes! Do you race in those? Do you love them?

    I'll have to get a good pair of compression socks, I only have the tights and capris right now.

  2. "The crazier the better." That's kind of a triathlete's all around motto, isn't it? haha

    I've read a lot about compression wear and it does seem that most studies find very little if any performance benefits while individuals will swear their lives on the products. With so many people hooked on it, it's either a very good placebo or science simply hasn't found the significance yet. I still haven't tried it, but I'm very curious. It's nice to hear from someone like Andy that they are a part of the craze as well.

    I had a couple questions.

    First, thinking along the lines of general public marketing and use, I have always wondered whether the potential benefits of compression wear are tipped away from leaner athletes; those with smaller, leaner muscles and lower body fat than those with either much larger muscles or higher body fat. You mentioned above that one of the functions of compression wear during a race is to hold muscles in place. In your opinion would you think that athletes who have more to ‘hold in place’ would have a significantly great chance of seeing a benefit?

    Second, given that compression wear works in another primary function to maintain blood flow and keep blood from collecting in the extremities, it makes sense that compression socks would offer more benefit to most any athlete than compression arm sleeves. Aside from the function of holding muscles in place, would you see any benefit of compression sleeves over cooling sleeves for an endurance race?

  3. Great blog! I am a Physician Assistant and work in the Operating room...sometimes 10+hours and I wear the medical issued knee high/thigh high (and when they are in the wash I'll use my 2xu or "triathlon" socks). I can tell a HUGE difference at the end of the day if I've worn the compression garment or not.....legs become achy and tired as the day progresses and my ankles even swell.

    I really and truly can't live without them at work and I can even notice that my workout after the work day doesn't suffer as much when I've worn the socks all day. I would recommend them to athletes to wear at work and see if they notice a difference in their afternoon/evening workout!

  4. Great post, thanks. I just bought compression calf sleeves and have been debating on compression shorts... mainly because I typically have hamstring problems. If the point of compression is blood flow then they probably wouldn't do much... but if it's providing some structure/support for muscles prone to injury, then maybe? Interested in your thoughts. thanks!

  5. Super informative post, Tawn! Compression has definitely been getting a lot of attention lately.

    I looked into the research before "splurging" on a pair of Zoot socks. Generally, there was no significant difference in recovery (inflammation markers) and performance (time trials) with socks vs. no socks, but the group who wore them reported a lower RPE. I happen to love my socks but only use them for recovery. My legs feel less fatigued and a little more springy after having them on for a while. Placebo effect? Maybe. But if I think it works, who cares! I might just get another pair for training :)

  6. I have those same socks! I love them -- after my calf injury last summer, once I started running again I have been diligent about putting the socks on after most of my runs. I also have another pair from a different company that I feel don't work as well, but I often wear them to work where I'm on my feet all day.
    I definitely feel like they have helped with the recovery from my injury, and the movement forward to get my leg strong again.

  7. I'm glad you're skeptical of the above the waist compression. When I was saw that, I was like seriously? Triathletes will buy ANYTHING.

  8. I haven't done half of the research that you have (I remember those hours of lit review!), but my understanding is that the compression wear increases venous return. This would have a more significant effect on lower extremities (ankles, calves) where gravity plays a larger role, but wouldn't it still increase return from the quads? This would certainly aid in recovery via increased oxygen and nutrients to muscles and lactate "flushing".

    In a similar vein (tee-hee), if the compression wear can increase venous return then it could also increase the capacity of the lactate shuttle. This would increase TTE and potentially increase the amount of energy we could produce by converting lactate to pyruvate. Even if it's minimal, that extra push could mean a harder sprint to the finish and a few less seconds on the clock.

    Either way, they feel fantastic and make you look like a BAMF during a race. So yeah, I think they are worth wearing in training, recovery, and competition.

  9. This is definitely a topic that's close to me so Im happy that you wrote about it. I'm also happy that you did the subject some justice. Not only do you know a great deal about it, you know how to present in a way that people will want to read more. Im so happy to know someone like you exists on the web.
    Compression socks