From socks to shirts, compression workout clothes may not make you faster, but could help you recover more quickly.
1 of 8All photos
American marathoner and Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi famously won the 2014 Boston Marathon while wearing a pair of white CEP compression socks. Originally designed for medical use, tight toe-holders improve circulation and oxygen delivery to your muscles, stabilize your calves, support and warm your Achilles tendons, and reduce foot and muscle fatigue, all of which might add up to improved performance. Does it work? Studies are mixed when it comes to speed, but research suggests that compression socks might reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
To maximize the potential benefits, look for a stocking that’s graduated—tighter at the ankle and looser toward the knee—and one that offers sizing specific to your gender and calf-size, like the CEP Progressive+ Run Socks 2.0 ($60; cepcompression.com) or Zoot Women’s Ultra 2.0 CRx Sock ($60; zoot.com). Socks come in different grades of compression, from 15 to 20mmHg (a measure of pressure) on the lighter end to 20 to 30mmHg on the tighter side.
Use Recovery Socks within 24 Hours
2 of 8All photos
Slip on graduated recovery socks or tights in the 24 hours after a tough run—like Zoot Women’s Recovery 2.0 CRx Sock ($65; zootsports.com) or CEP Recovery Pro+ Socks ($55; cepcompression.com). Many recovery socks have a lower grade of compression than their active counterparts. Putting the pinch on your calves may reduce soreness and repair muscle damage for up to three days later.
Consider Calf Sleeves
3 of 8All photos
Since lower leg squeeze—not foot force—matters most, some runners prefer compression sleeves so they can still wear their favorite socks. Like stockings, be sure to buy sleeves that fit the circumference of your calf for the best results. Thirty 48 Cp Compression Series ($29.99; thirty48.com) sleeves come in two different grades of graduated compression to increase circulation and stabilize muscles for training and recovery. For a pop of pattern, try ASICS Printed Calf Sleeve ($28; asicsamerica.com) or C3fit’s graduated compression Performance Calf Sleeve ($59; c3fit.com).
Pull on Tights
4 of 8All photos
Compression tights promise the same benefits as socks: better blood flow, muscle support, reduced fatigue and faster recovery. With a full gam grip, they mimic medical stockings. Like socks, be sure to wear tights with graduated compression from ankle to thigh or you won’t reap the benefits of improved circulation to deliver oxygen to your muscles. The tights should be sufficiently difficult to pull on. C3fit’s Women’s Performance Long Tights ($159; c3fit.com) fit the bill with graduated compression, vibrant designs, and fabric that shields you from ultraviolet rays.
Shorten It Up
5 of 8All photos
Compression shorts target upper leg muscles the way socks target calves to reduce fatigue and soreness. 2XU’s Women’s Elite Compression Short ($89.95; 2xu.com) uses a blend of fabric panels to provide different levels of support and alignment to varying muscle groups. Glutes and hammys get a heavier fabric, while abductors and quads get a more flexible stretch. Research suggests that lower leg compression is the most effective at improving blood flow, but that doesn’t stop runners from trying to maximize the potential benefits of all over compression.
Cover Your Arms
6 of 8All photos
Like their leg counterparts, arm sleeves use the power of compression to improve circulation and speed recovery by reducing muscle vibrations, in addition to adding warmth. The Zensah Compression Arm Sleeves ($29.99; zensah.com) use graduated compression and pinpoint compression at the elbow, while the Zensah Limitless Compression Arm Warmers ($34.99; zensah.com) have a mesh pocket and thumbholes to help them stay put. Want some flash? C3fit makes their Performance Arm Sleeves ($59; c3fit.com) in eye-popping polka dots and crazy stripes.
RELATED: 7 Must-Have Fall Running Accessories
Make a Layer Out of It
7 of 8All photos
Compression shirts aim to cinch your upper body, reducing muscle fatigue in tight arms, shoulders, and hard-charging abs. Do they work? The jury is still out. But torso huggers like ASICS’ Speed Inner Muscle ½ Zip ($100; asicsamerica.com) claim to do it all, while the 2XU Women’s Long Sleeve Compression Top ($99.95; 2xu.com) has graduated compression through the arms and back.
Have a Little Fun
8 of 8All photos
Compression socks have become as much a fashion accessory as a training tool, thanks to popular athletes like Olympian Shalane Flanagan, who regularly sports the look. RunningSkirts sells their Swift Sox Compression Socks ($32 to $39; runningskirts.com) in five different designs, including rainbows, hearts, camo, polka dots and stars & stripes. The fun footwear has the same 20 to 30mmHg graduated compression of other brands, but in one size for women. The Nike Women’s Half Marathon San Francisco even got its own stocking with the Nike Elite Graduated Compression OTC ($50; Nike.com), complete with the race’s “We Run SF” motto across the band.