Compression shorts provide a plethora of performance benefits to enjoy before, during and after your training sessions, so it should come as no surprise to hear that these super-tight garments usually come with a much higher price tag than your regular, looser training shorts. But it is with good reason.
According to Jamie Hunt, ex-triathlete and founder of compression clothing brand PRESSIO, "compression wear does so many amazing things. It prevents muscle tears and over-use injuries, helps support muscles, lowers your heart rate to increase your anaerobic threshold, and improves blood flow to remove toxins. People who have worn true compression products will know these benefits and know what I’m talking about."
Sounds great, right? But if you still need convincing to splash the extra cash, read on to hear more about the science behind compression shorts and how they can do wonders for your workouts. Then, head on over to our round-up of the best compression shorts so you can choose the right ones for you and reap the benefits for yourself.
Benefit #1: Improved performance
The main benefit of compression wear is its ability to improve blood flow to the target muscles groups - the quads and hamstrings in the case of compressions shorts - which can help to improve your performance. ‘This increased flow of oxidised blood is caused by the compression garment exerting pressure on certain muscle groups, helping to reduce the diameter of major veins and hence increase the pressure, volume and velocity of venous return to the heart,’ explains professional triathlete and CEP compression clothing ambassador Kimberley Morrison.
‘This increased blood flow means that more oxygen ends up reaching muscle tissues, helping them heal in order to reduce muscle fatigue so athletes feel fresher and lighter between sets and workouts - great for making performance gains.’
Benefit #2: Faster recovery
Remember that increased blood flow? Well, it also helps to reduce your recovery time between workouts. Because when you wear compression clothing after exercise, you help to increase blood pressure in the area so the process of rebuilding your muscles is speeded up, thus helping to heal broken muscle tissue and rebuild your muscles faster.
A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance noted that "researchers [on compression wear] consistently report reductions in perceived muscle soreness and improved perceptions of recovery when compression garments are worn after exercise, whether it be cycling, team sport activity or distance running", and these findings were also supported in their own research.
Additionally, an increase in fresh oxygen being pumped around the body is said to help flush out toxins and aid blood lactate removal which can help to reduce DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness) or stop it from happening at all. Oh, and studies have shown that compression clothing can also help to limit inflammation of the limbs and ease swelling thanks to the external pressure that’s applied by the super-tight fabric
‘Just remember, if being used for recovery, be sure to use compression as soon as you can after a workout to truly maximise the benefits,’ adds Morrison. ‘And equally, only wear compression garments for short periods of time, between 2-4 hours, especially as your body gets used to its presence.’
Benefit #3: Greater muscle stability
The impact of running and jumping during physical activity can send shocks and vibrations through the body, leading to muscle fatigue and risk of injury. But research shows the tightening force of compression clothing can help to better support and stabilise certain body parts as you train, like the quads and knees, to take some of the strain and even improve performance.
A 2020 study concluded that "lower limb compression garments are effective in reducing muscle displacement, soft tissue vibrations, and muscle activation associated with the impact forces experienced during running."
Furthermore, a 2021 study showed that compression shorts "reduced the vibration and muscle activation of the quadriceps femoris and hamstrings during drop jumps…without compromising neuromuscular performance", and concluded that external compression can also be used to "reduce energy consumption and potentially enhance sports performance during strenuous activities that involve exposure to impact-induced oscillations."
While there’s not a ton of research to support the theory that compression clothing can reduce the risk of injury, one 2019 study involving male football players found that compression shorts helped to reduce groin pain. And there’s little doubt that a thicker, well-structured pair of compression shorts can lend support to the hips and knees during load-bearing workouts.
Indeed, many powerlifters are huge fans of compression clothing, including Dave Tate, strength and conditioning expert and founder of Elitefts, who is known for wearing full-coverage compression bodysuits when he lifts, which only helps to strengthen the idea that compression wear really does provide support in all the right places.