FITNESS

Compression Shorts: Do They Really Improve Performance And Recovery?

  • Wait, So What Is Compression Wear?
    1 / 7 Wait, So What Is Compression Wear?

    Compression wear is the name given to garments woven with spandex-type fibers. The clothing is skin tight. Tighter, actually. The idea is that it compresses your muscles to keep them supported and contained, and improves circulation by squeezing blood back toward the heart.

    We’ll get back to the physical benefits in a minute. But there’s another reason it caught on: it looks and feels sporty AF.

    “It’s not only about what it gives you in terms of performance benefit, moisture management, support, and comfort,” says Dan Leraris, Under Armour’s VP of Apparel for Men’s Training, Basketball, Golf and Youth. “It’s also about the psychological benefit of how you put it on and lock in.”

    Led by Under Armour, athletic brands stoked the trend—selling compression tights, sleeves, socks, and more. But there’s one kind of gear you see everywhere: compression shorts.

    Related: Are Compression Suits Worth It?

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  • Are They Shorts? Or Underwear?
    2 / 7 Are They Shorts? Or Underwear?

    Easy answer: underwear. You glimpse compression shorts squeezing the thighs of athletes, peeking out from under basketball shorts or running shorts. Steph Curry takes the layered look a step further, wearing his uniform shorts over three-quarter length compression tights.

    Of course, you do have runners who want to be aerodynamic, and you see them dash by in only compression shorts. That’s an option, too.

    There’s a type of compression short for every activity. But, for modesty’s sake, read the label. Your shorts will tell you if they’re designed as a base layer, or if they’re appropriate for showing to the world.

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  • Why Spend The Money?
    3 / 7 Why Spend The Money?

    Sure, standard issue boxer briefs could get you through your workout. And maybe they used to. Back when all you did was bench press and sit around between sets.

    Now, with things like interval training, CrossFit, and workout classes, the needs have changed. “With the dynamic movements people are doing, you’re in a way more active setting in the gym,” says Leraris.

    Just ask Aaron Prosser, founder of Oregon-based compression wear brand Pacterra Athletics. While playing Division I lacrosse for Drexel, he would train 20 hours a week off the field—so he had plenty of time to notice when shorts rubbed him the wrong way.

    One area of concern? The pouch. “The front gusset is where a man’s junk sits,” says Prosser. “And that’s the place to innovate. It’s pretty simple, but if you just expand those seams out, you create more room for the package.”

    Couple that with soft-to-the-touch fabric, a stays-in-place waist band, and a phone pocket, and you have shorts that retail for $40. For reference, Under Armour’s base layers go from the mid-$20s up to $90, while brands like Nike and Hanes can be had for $18-$25.

    The options can get pricey, sure. But working out in something that doesn’t chafe your junk: that’s priceless.

    Related: MH Picks: Skins A400 Compression Wear

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  • Does It Improve Performance?
    4 / 7 Does It Improve Performance?

    Compression gear promises to boost circulation, decrease soreness, and even prevent injury.

    So does it? Yes and no. “In terms of science, there’s no clear evidence that it will decrease injury risk,” says Dr. Gerardo Miranda-Comas, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine.

    However, a 2016 study concluded compression clothing could improve endurance—extending the time to exhaustion in runners by increasing muscle economy.

    “It can help with biomechanics,” says Miranda-Comas, “and personally that’s why I recommend it at times. … Compression helps recruit muscle adequately and give you more synchronized movement.”

    But those circulation claims? Take them with a grain of salt. While compression does aid circulation, you need just the right amount of squeeze, in just the right places. So unless your gear is designed for you, you may not get the full benefit.

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  • Can Compression Help After A Workout?
    6 / 7 Can Compression Help After A Workout?

    Remember R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)? Compression has always been part of treating injuries such as sprains. And some athletes swear by wearing compression clothing after training or play.

    “Recovery is something that people are grossly undervaluing at this point,” says Leraris of Under Armour. The brand’s Charged Compression gear was designed to promote muscle tissue repair.

    Here’s the thing: some recent studies have indicated that to get the full repair benefit, you’d have to wear compression shorts—whatever the brand—for hours. However, we do know compression gear can help clear lactic acid from muscles, which helps with soreness. Also, wearing it during your workout may help you feel better after, especially if you want to keep your form tight following an injury.

    “For me it makes sense to use during exercise if you’re looking for better muscle recruitment,” says Miranda-Comas, the sports physician. “For instance, if you had a hamstring injury and during recovery you want to use it while training.”

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  • Where Do We Go From Here?
    7 / 7 Where Do We Go From Here?

    Okay, so people like compression shorts. What’s next? How about clothing that uses nitinol—an alloy of nickel and titanium—to massage muscles while you move?

    Matt Wyatt is the CEO of Recovery Force, a startup that is figuring out how to weave nitinol fibers into garments. He got the idea after his father had knee-replacement surgery and the hospital put his leg in a clunky piece of equipment called a Sequential Compression Device, or SCD.

    “When I saw these SCD’s, these wraps had all kinds of hoses and pumps plugged into the wall at the hospital,” he says. “I thought, there has to be a better way.”

    Recovery Force is about to go live with crowdfunding of a nitinol-infused back pain relief wrap. When the metal fibers are activated by a battery, they physically contract, compressing muscles in a programmed sequence. The company plans to start shipping devices in January.

    And down the road? Nitinol-infused workout gear could be a thing.

    “You see triathletes—or Lebron James—you see these guys after long physical events in a recliner with a sleeve that plugs into a pump,” says Greg Downey, Recovery Force’s VP of Marketing. “The problem with that technology is it’s not mobile. … We want to offer compression with no pumps, no noise, no wires, so you can hide it under your clothes.”

    By Patrick Huguenin

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