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COMPRESSION GARMENTS: THE EFFECTS ON PERFORMANCE
We previously looked at the history of compression garments and their effects on recovery, but what about the effects of these garments on a player’s on-field performance?
Often we see top-flight players sporting compression gear during training sessions and matches. We’re told it’s for performance, heat support and injury prevention. But we need to ask ourselves the hard question - is this true or just a gimmick?
Every weekend we see the biggest names in world football wearing some form of compression kit. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mo Salah – just a few of the stars of the game who can always be seen wearing some form of compression gear.
They comes in various colours, with different designs and made by numerous sports brands. But what is the science behind the “compression garments effect” on performance enhancement, the psychological aspect and the marketed benefits the companies push out? We’ll discuss all of these points in this post.
BACKGROUND ON COMPRESSION GARMENTS
As mentioned in one of our earlier posts, (Does Wearing Compression Clothing Really Help With Recovery?), compression garments are there to apply pressures to the body and muscles, but can only do so according to the mechanical properties of the materials used. Therefore, it is important that companies use good quality fabrics (which they generally do), but something players need to look more closely at, is that the player chooses the correct size, as this will determine the “effective life” of the garment. The correct size will also lead to the player experiencing the intended pressure the manufacturer wanted.
WHAT COMPANIES CLAIM
If you’re in the market for compression garments, such as compression shorts or tee’s, doing your research before buying your set is really important. Each company will give you a list of benefits for wearing the garments on their online store. Some of the listed benefits from such companies include:
When looking at this list, from a more scientific and performance angle, this is rather limited. However, if you’re at the peak of your career and wanting to gain that extra 0.5% edge in your performance, any advantage could be worth, it right? All these benefits aside, this a marketing platform, and a company can - to a certain extent - claim any benefit. So, what does the science say, and are these benefits the companies actually true?
THE “COMPRESSION GARMENT EFFECT” ON PERFORMANCE
There are two parts to the scientific research surrounding compression garments and sport performance: Pure Performance (subjective physical measures such as vertical jump height, 40 meter sprint time, etc.), and Physiological Parameters (elements which contribute to the ability to perform the vertical jump and sprint, such as improved blood flow and skin temperature).
In 2018, a review of all scientific studies assessing the effect of compression tights on performance measures was conducted (da Silva et al.,2018). The main performance measures tested throughout the years were:
Unfortunately for athletes using compression garments, once all the data was assessed, the compression garments were found to have no effect on these performance indicators. While there were some studies that found positive effects, the number of studies reporting no effect on performance outweighed these. But this was just for lower body compression garments. So what about the upper body?
There isn’t much scientific evidence out there to say that upper body compression garments have a solid effect on performance, and the minimal amount out there comes from cricketers (Duffield and Portus, 2007). Upper body performance measures such as ball throwing (which may apply to keepers), has shown little change when compression garments are added. Not only did they add no performance benefits, they also increased players’ skin temperatures when the temperatures were already over 28°C. Although this puts upper limb compression garments in a bad light, it must just be mentioned that all recovery measures performed in this study were associated with significant benefits, and so these need to be weighed up.
Goh et al. (2011) was one of the first to investigate the effects of compression garments on performance in hot (32°C) and cold (10°C) environments. Contrary to the claims made, they found no changes in skin or rectal temperature at hot conditions. However, in cold conditions, when wearing lower body compression garments, the players had a significantly increased skin temperature of 1.5°C. The time to exhaustion during a submaximal running test, however, did not increase when wearing the garments. Interestingly, their rate of perceived exertion (RPE) was significantly lower, indicating the psychological effect these garments have. Similar results in temperature changes have been found using upper body compression garments, however RPE remained unchanged.
Regarding further physiological changes using lower limb compression garments, Dascombe et al. (2011) investigated these changes at various speeds and during a time to exhaustion test. For the sake of application for soccer, looking at the changes at low-intensity speeds (8 – 10 km.h-1) versus those at higher intensity speeds (12 – 18 km.h-1) are important.
Interesting outcomes were that wearing compression garments decreased running economy at low-intensity speeds, indicating a harmful nature during these conditions, but a soccer player spends most of a match at an average speed of 14.5 km.h-1, so the higher speeds are of more importance. At these high speeds, compression garments have an association with the following changes:
Therefore this study found that compression garments had both positive and negative effects on the player, but most importantly, it found that when performing the time to exhaustion endurance test, there was no improvement on performance.
The increased blood flow will definitely be a benefit if the player is carrying an injury in that area, as the increased blood flow will help the muscle regenerate and speed up the healing process. However the decreased tissue oxygenation index might work against this. So whilst there were some physiological benefits, which could aid in muscle regeneration and recovery, immediate performance was not enhanced.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Every player will most definitely feel a difference when playing with compression garments on. Players often report feeling less fatigued when wearing various garments (as discussed earlier), as they feel more “supported”. This “support” has to do with the pressure applied by the garments but doesn’t mean that they will necessarily perform better. However, there is a lot of hidden power when you mentally feel better, which can make all the difference on the road to performing better.
From a scientific view point, compression garments are not seen as vital tools to enhance performance, but there are some physiological benefits. The evidence is low for both sides of the coin, but remember, if the garment works for you, then that is just as important. Also make sure to always test out new modalities at practice and a friendly match before the season begins to make sure compression garments work for you if you intend on using them in the future.
da Silva, C. A., Helal, L., da Silva, R. P., Belli, K. C., Umpierre, D., & Stein, R. (2018). Association of lower limb compression garments during high-intensity Exercise with performance and physiological responses: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 48(8), 1859-1873. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-0927-z
Dascombe, B. J., Hoare, T. K., Sear, J. A., Reaburn, P. R., & Scanlan, A. T. (2011). The effects of wearing undersized lower-body compression garments on endurance running performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 6(2), 160-173. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.6.2.160
Doan, B., Kwon, Y.-H., Newton, R., Shim, J., Popper, E. V. A., Rogers, R., . . . Kraemer, W. (2003). Evaluation of a lower-body compression garment. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21(8), 601-610. doi: 10.1080/0264041031000101971
Duffield, R., & Portus, M. (2007). Comparison of three types of full-body compression garments on throwing and repeat-sprint performance in cricket players. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(7), 409-414. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2006.033753
Goh, S. S., Laursen, P. B., Dascombe, B., & Nosaka, K. (2011). Effect of lower body compression garments on submaximal and maximal running performance in cold (10°C) and hot (32°C) environments. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(5), 819-826. doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1705-2