Are Compression Garments Good For Running? (The Facts)

Compression shorts, tops, and socks are popular sportswear across different sports. Athletes swear by its effectiveness in improving their athletic performance and recovery. Since running is a sport that thrives on wearing less and being free, it’s reasonable to ask: do runners benefit from wearing compression garments?

In general, compression garments help improve running performance and recovery. They decrease muscle oscillation, lower the rate of perceived exertion, and improve blood circulation when running. On top of that, they’re the most effective way to prevent chafing in the thigh area. 

Ahead, we will look at the different facts regarding the use of compression garments and how to use them to your advantage. We will also look at the benefits of the different kinds of compression garments. Lastly, I will give you some recommendations on what compression garments to buy.

A woman wearing compression tights.

Fact #1: It Improves Endurance

A slight improvement in endurance can mean a lot of things for runners. It could mean being able to run farther or being able to hold a faster pace longer. Training endurance is hard. But what if you can slightly improve your endurance slightly just by wearing compression tights?

2006 study did a controlled clinical trial on 6 trained runners to evaluate the effects of compression garments compared to elastic tights and conventional running shorts.

The 6 trained runners ran a constant running pace at 80% of their VO2max for 15 mins in a 200-m indoor track. In the first part of their trial, researchers evaluated the aerobic energy cost at different running speeds. In the second part, they evaluated the increase in energy cost over time.

In part 1, researchers found a decrease in aerobic energy cost at 12 km/h when runners wore compression and elastic tights compared to the conventional running shorts.

In part 2, researchers found that wearing compression tights significantly decreased the VO2 slow component by 26 and 36% when compared to elastic tights and conventional shorts—a decrease in VO2 slow component is linked to better endurance.

separate original research assessed the effects of compression clothing (socks, calf sleeves, shorts, and tights) on running performance and recovery.

They concluded that wearing compression garments is linked to improvement in endurance due to the improvement in running economy, biomechanical variables, perception, and muscle temperature.

However, a 2009 study that researched 15 well-trained endurance athletes found no performance benefits when wearing compression garments. This might be because well-trained athletes will gain very little advantage in improving their running economy because they already have a good running economy in the first place.

These studies indicate that wearing compression tights has a positive effect on endurance. However, the improvements seem to be indirect. That means, wearing compression tights will give you no physiological advantage—in other words, it will not make you “fitter”. 

How to use this to your advantage:

If you’re joining a long-distance race and your running form still has a lot to improve, wearing compression shorts may help improve your running economy and, therefore, your endurance.

Fact #2: It Improves Recovery

A study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested the effects of wearing compression garments compared with wearing noncompressive garments in Rugby union players.

The participants then completed a series of exercise circuits designed to simulate a game of rugby followed by 40-m repeated sprint tests and a 3-km run 24 hours later.

The participants were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to wear ankle-to-waist compression tights for 24 hours after exercise while the other wore non-compressive garments.

1 week later, researchers reversed the garments worn by the groups and did the same exercises.

The researchers found that wearing compression garments for 24 hours during after the series of exercise circuits (the recovery period) resulted in better performance in the 40-m repeated sprint tests and 3-km run the following day.

similar study was conducted in 2015 where a group of researchers evaluated the effects of below-the-knee compression socks on recovery following a marathon race. They found that wearing compression socks for 48 hours after running a marathon improved functional recovery two weeks after the event.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that wearing compression garments post-exercise can improve recovery which can lead to better performance the following day by improving the rate of recovery.

How to use this to your advantage: 

For those who are increasing their weekly mileage or implementing sprints and HIIT exercises to their program, your performance following a hard session may likely suffer due to fatigue.

That said, you can use the boost in recovery to your advantage by wearing compression garments AFTER your exercise. This improvement in recovery will allow you to train better the following day.

Another practical use of compression garments related to recovery is post-marathon recovery. Recovering from a marathon is notoriously long. Wearing compression garments following a marathon race will speed up that process and will allow you to, at least, do easy runs sooner.

Fact #3: It Lowers Rate Of Perceived Exertion

The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a subjective rating that indicates the intensity level of a physical activity. Since the mental game is a very large part of running performance, it’s safe to assume that a lower rate of perceived exertion can translate to better running performance in terms of speed and endurance.

study published in 2010 aimed to investigate the effect of compression garments on running performance in the heat compared to the conventional loose running shorts. They hypothesized that compression garments would affect running performance negatively.

However, after testing the effects of compression garments on running performance in different temperatures, they concluded that wearing compression garments have no negative effects on running performance in the heat.

Contrary to their hypothesis, the researchers found that runners that wore compression garments had a lower rate of perceived exertion (RPE) at 32°C.

How to use this to your advantage: 

Since compression garments lower the rate of perceived exertion during submaximal running, you can use that to your advantage by wearing compression shorts in tempo runs or 5-10km races where you will likely run a submaximal pace.

Furthermore, wearing compression garments allows you to either train at a higher intensity or volume because you”perceive” the exercises to be easier. Meaning you could theoretically push yourself more during training.

Fact #4: It Maintains Your Lower Limb Power Output After Endurance Running

Lower limb power output, in running, translates to that oomph in your run. Or that last sprint to the finish. Problem is, during endurance running, the power output of your lower leg decreases the further you go. But turns out, wearing compression shorts helps maintain your lower limb power output after endurance running.

A group of researchers conducted a study in 2013 to find out if graduated compression tights help improve or maintain anaerobic leg power.

14 competitive runners ran 15 mins on a treadmill and were asked to perform 3 countermovement jumps pre and post-exercise. The difference of the countermovement jumps when wearing compression tights and running shorts was noted.

Countermovement jump is a popular test that correlates to anaerobic leg power.

The researchers found that the post-run countermovement jump height of those who wore graduated tights was significantly higher than those who only wear loose running shorts.

This indicates that using graduated compression tights can maintain lower limb muscle power after submaximal endurance running.

An great example of a graduated compression shorts is the 2XU MCS Run Compression Shorts.

separate article came up with a similar result. The researchers wanted to know the influence of compression garments on repetitive power output production after different types of fatigue.

Researchers observed that there is an enhanced mean power output during the repetitive jump test when wearing a compression garment. This supports the previous research that wearing compression garments can improve or maintain the power output of the lower limb after some kind of activity.

How to use this to your advantage:

You can wear compression tights when you’re running before doing strength training to preserve your lower limb power output.

It can also give you a slight advantage in the last sprint of a long-distance race.

Fact #5: It Prevents Chafing

Unlike the previous facts, I don’t have research to show to back this up. However, I can attest to this by personal experience.

I used to wear loose running shorts (and I still do now, sometimes). The problem was when I run long distances I usually experience chafing in between my thighs. Chafing is caused by friction. In my case, it was caused by my thighs rubbing each other when I run. I am prone to it because I have thick thighs and I have no thigh gap.

When I started wearing compression shorts, I immediately noticed that I am no longer getting chafed in the same area. The compression shorts acts like another layer of skin to prevent my skin from rubbing each other.

My favorite is the Under Armour HeatGear (link to Amazon). Sometimes I use it as a base layer but there are times that I use it as my outerwear.

If you’re wondering if wearing only compression shorts in public is okay, I actually did my own research asking different runners if they think it’s okay. Check that out.

How to use this to your advantage:

If you’re like me—a guy with thick thighs who frequently get chafed in long runs—you can try wearing compression shorts or tights to prevent it from happening.

Benefits Of Each Compression Garment

To understand the benefits of compression garments and help you understand what type of compression garment you need, I made a list of the benefits of the different types of compression garments used in running—namely, compression tops, shorts/tights, and socks.

Type BenefitsBest Examples
Compression topsHelps maintain posture
Supports the core muscles
Helps with thermoregulation
Prevents chafing
Under Armour HeatGear Compression Long Sleeve T-shirt
Compression shorts/tightsImprove running endurance
Improve running efficiency
Increases rate of recovery
Prevent chafing in between the thighs
2XU MCS Run Compression Shorts
Compression socks, calf sleevesAssists venous return
Reduce muscle oscillation in the calf
Increases rate of recovery
Helps prevent cramps
MudGear Premium Compression Socks
A summary of the benefits of the different kinds of compression garments

Compression Tops

  • Helps maintain posture: Compression helps maintain proper posture by delaying fatigue and providing support in the upper body core muscles. This results in better breathing and better running form
  • Helps support the core muscles: Core muscles are responsible for posture. As mentioned above, wearing a compression shirt while running provide support in the abs, obliques, and back (the core muscles) as well as delay fatigue in those muscles.
  • Helps with thermoregulation: Running in the cold weather? Wearing a compression top will help keep you warm better than a loose shirt.
  • Prevents chafing in the arm: the area in the medial part of your arm just below your armpit can get chafed. It’s not so common but it happens. Wearing compression shirts will help eliminate chafing in that area.

Compression Shorts/Tights

  • Helps improve running endurance: As mentioned in fact #1, wearing compression tights help improve endurance by decreasing the amount of oscillation and improving the running economy.
  • Helps with recovery: Wearing compression tights after high-intensity exercise has been proven to increase the rate of recovery if worn for 24 hours after exercise.
  • Improve running efficiency: Wearing running tights help improve running efficiency by keeping the muscles warm, decreasing muscle oscillation, and perception.
  • Prevent chafing in between the thighs: As mentioned, chafing in between the thighs is very common for runners with thick thighs. Wearing compression shorts or tights is the most effective way to eliminate it.

Compression Socks and Calf Sleeves

  • Assists venous return: Wearing below the knee compression socks helps assist with venous return which helps prevent or delay fatigue in the calf area.
  • Reduce muscle oscillation: Compression socks help reduce muscle oscillation in the calf area helping the calf muscles work more efficiently.
  • Helps with recovery: The lower leg is one of the most common sore spots after running a marathon. Wearing compression socks for 48 hours post-marathon is proven to help speed up the functional recovery and help you return to running earlier.
  • Helps prevent cramps: Because of the ability of compression socks to aid venous return, it can help flush out the lactic acid in the calf area, therefore, preventing cramps.

Should I Wear Compression Garments?

Now that we’ve talked about the facts about compression garments and the benefits of the different types of compression garments, the question now is if you should wear compression garments to help your running performance.

The answer depends to that depends on your personal preference. Some runners don’t seem to like compression garments very much because it limits their motion. While others love them because of all the things we’ve discussed in this article.

As a general rule, you shouldn’t rely on compression garments to improve your running performance. Instead, you should only wear them if you’re comfortable with them and to assist with your running performance. Proper training is still the key to an excellent running performance. 

Personally, the only compression garment I wear is compression shorts and tights. As mentioned, I do have thick thighs and the only way I found to effectively eliminate chafing in between my thighs during a long run is by wearing compression shorts, tights, or 2-in-1 shorts.

I’ve tried wearing compression tops a couple of times but I didn’t like the compression in the chest area. I found it was harder to breathe because of the constant pressure in my chest.

With regards to running socks, calf sleeves, and the like, I haven’t been using them very much because I don’t like how high socks look. Also, I have never had cramps in my calves so I don’t find the need for it.

I own a pair of MudGear compression socks and I only use them for trail running. I think they’re very comfortable and they keep my lower leg feeling more stable.

A friend of mine swears it prevents his calves from having cramps so he never does long runs without them.

The bottom line is, you should try different compression garments for yourself and see what would benefit you. We all have different needs in running, recommending compression shorts to everyone is like recommending the same shoes to every runner—which is obviously a wrong advice.

My Favorite Compression Shorts

If you think you need to use compression shorts for the same reasons I do (prevent chafing in the thigh), I have a few recommendations that I have used and that you might like.

Under Armour HeatGear – I like them because of how cool they are for the warm weather. They have excellent compression and moisture-wicking properties. They keep me dry and fresh during a run.

2XU MCS Run Compression Shorts – I like them particularly because of how they look. But aside from that, they use graduated technology proven to improve performance and recovery. It’s a little more expensive than other compression shorts but they’re worth it.

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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