Compression Socks: More Comfortable than an Ice Bath and Definitely More Stylish!

If you have been to any sort of competitive running event lately you may have noticed a number of competitors wearing colorful knee-high socks. While it may appear at first glance as if runners are trending towards a “1970’s schoolgirl” fashion look in their knee socks, the choice in hosiery actually has a theoretically functional purpose as well. Regardless of the fashion versus function motivation, it is clear that compression socks are an extremely popular trend in the running world these days. In this post I would like to highlight their potential benefits in performance, recovery and, of course, fashion.

The Science Behind Compression Socks

Let’s start with compression benefits in terms of performance and recovery. (You may want to get your dictionary out for this section, because it is chock-full of technical jargon.) Compression socks claim to facilitate fresh, slow-to-fatigue race day legs in two ways:   First of all, compression of the lower leg facilitates circulation to this area, thereby reducing the likelihood of blood pooling in the legs. The idea is that if compression socks can produce increased venous blood flow, then more fatigue-inducing exercise by-products transported by the blood stream (such as lactic acid) can be quickly cleared from the legs, resulting in delayed on-set of muscle fatigue and thus, a stronger run. This concept applies to post-run recovery as well. If its true that wearing your compression socks after a big race or hard workout improves venous return, increasing the removal of lactic acid from your calves, then your legs should feel fresher and ready to get back in the game sooner rather than later. In layman’s terms, wearing compression socks is believed to both keep your blood from gathering in your ankles (where you don’t need it as much), redirect it up towards your quads, hamstrings and glutes (where you do need it) and flush the waste by-products of running from your legs more quickly. All of this while  looking super-snazzy!

In addition, compressions socks are thought to reduce muscle oscillation (vibration of the muscles and tendons of the lower leg due to the impact of running). As with the increased circulation theory, it is believed that reduced muscle vibration could result in delayed fatigue and reduced wear and tear on muscle and connective tissue, resulting in improved performance, reduced injury and faster recovery.

Currently, the scientific evidence verdict on the effectiveness of compression socks is still out.  Although there are some studies supporting the theories behind compression and performance, they do not offer significant proof supporting the idea that compression improves venous return during exercise, or the theory that decreased muscle vibration yields reduced injury or faster race results. There is some conclusive evidence that the increased venous return that compression socks create when used at rest does aid in faster recovery. I learned a lot about the science of compression socks here: Science of Running: Compression Socks. Check it out if you would like to delve deeper into the research behind the compression wear phenomenon.

Fast, Fabulous, and Functional for Racing and Recovery!

But enough of this technical scientific rambling, let’s talk about some real life personal compression sock experience… I for one am embracing the compression sock trend both on race day and for recovery. I find my compression wear extremely comfortable to run in. I don’t know if it’s all that science-y stuff or what, but it sure feels like my calves, ankles, and feet are getting little hugs of encouragement with every step I take! I will also be the first to admit that I love the fashion value that compression socks bring to my race day outfits. I am pleased to report that they are available in a multitude of flashy colors, and a good obnoxiously hot pink pair tends to get a lot of attention from race spectators. I must confess that I find chants of “Love those socks!” and “Go Pink Sock Girl!” and the high fives that often come with them to be extremely motivating and spirit lifting. In fact, for me this may be the most significant way in which compression socks boost performance.

Compression wear hard at work at my most recent marathon!

But more than I love compression socks for racing, I love them for recovery. Like their popular long run recovery counterpart the ice bath, I find that they do a nice job of combating fatigue, muscle soreness, and swelling and helping my legs feel fresher sooner. But unlike ice baths compression accomplishes all of this at a perfectly comfortable ambient temperature, sans shivering, cyanosis, chill bumps, and general unpleasantness. Furthermore, compression socks are much more stylish than blue lips and fingernails.  I have found that they spruce up a casual outfit just as effectively as they do my race day digs (although those of you who are not lucky enough to work at a running store may find it somewhat challenging to pull of compression-casual on the job.)

Recovery in a chilly, uncomfortable ice bath.

Perfectly comfortable, pleasant recovery in compression socks.

I have even been known to sleep in my compression socks after particularly long and/ or hard efforts, and I felt that this yielded fresher-feeling legs the next day. And as if compression wasn’t sounding awesome enough already, I have also gone so far as to wear my compression socks on several long airplane trips, and I am pleased to report that so far I am 100% deep vein thrombosis free!

Calf Sleeves and Other Compression Sock Alternatives

In other good news, compression wear is not limited exclusively to socks! If socks aren’t your forte, you can still treat your calves to some compression love in the form of the calve sleeve. These sleeves are perfect for those who want the joys of compression without being forced to give up either their favorite pair of running socks or their post-run flip-flops. They offer all the perks of the traditional compression sock: graduated compression from calf to ankle, bright, eye-catching colors, and potential running and recovery-related physical benefits but they simply stop just above the ankle. Given that many brands of compression socks tend to feature a slightly thicker, cushioned sock, I recommend that readers who prefer an ultra-thin sock or no sock at all consider the calve sleeve option.

Diehard compression sleeve fan Allie modeling her favorite 2XU sleeves.

You can also treat the entire length of your legs and glutes to a big compression-y hug with compression tights, and your arms can get in the fun with compression arm sleeves as well! The compression options are truly endless.

Compressing Both Your Calves and Your Bankroll

In my opinion, the biggest downside of the whole compression craze is the sticker-shock-inducing price of many compression products. Your average pair of compression socks will probably set you back around $50.00, which does seem like an awful lot of money for one pair of socks. However, it has been my observation as a running store sales associate that high prices have not significantly thwarted the popularity of compression wear in the running community. I guess the general consensus is that $50.00 is a worthwhile investment for potentially improved and expedited recovery.

Fast, Fabulous Compression Favorites

My personal favorite means of calf compression is the CEP Running Compression Sock. These socks offer an anatomical fit (meaning they are right foot/ left foot specific) and medical grade graduated compression (compression is greatest at the foot and ankle and lessens as it moves up the leg) that fits super-snug, plus they are available in a nice variety of bright colors. Check out CEP compression socks here: CEP Compression Socks

Other popular compression brands include 2XU (great variety of options, specific products for racing and for recovery, 2xu Compression Socks), Zensa (My favorite sleeve option. Super comfy, not-so-tight feeling, and available in every color imaginable! They even have tie dyed ones! Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves), and Swiftwick (less exciting color options, but a quality product with an attractive $35.00 price tag, Swiftwick Compression Socks.)

I hope that this semi-scientific and fully fashionable assessment of compression socks and sleeves has helped to demystify the compression trend for you! I, for one, definitely regard compression wear as contributing to a runner’s ability to be both fast and fabulous!

Big thanks Cat and Allie for all of their input for this post, editing skills, and compression wear modeling. More thanks to Allie’s wonderfully patient husband for agreeably snapping countless compression sock photos. And most of all, thanks to all of you for reading!

5 Fast, Fabulous, Underrated Favorites

In my inaugural blog post I reviewed an example of the single most important piece of gear needed by every runner: a pair of gait-appropriate shoes. Obviously there are many other equally important items needed to get a runner out the door, but in this post I want to focus on some of the unheralded running products that should be in every runner’s gear arsenal. These products, while often overshadowed by shoes, sports bras and shorts, can play an equally key role in keeping your runs comfortable, safe, and even fashionable!

5 of my fast, fabulous, under-rated favorites!

Technical Running Socks

First all, I would like to give a big fast and fabulous shout-out to the technical sock.  Before you balk at the average price tag of $10 a pair, please consider that investing in proper running socks can afford you dry, happy feet and blister-free running. Technical socks, unlike their cotton counterparts, are made of synthetic materials that move moisture away from the foot rather than absorbing it. For you this translates into drier socks that stay in place and are free of friction/ blister-causing stretching and bunching. There are plenty of great tech socks out there, and you are sure to find one that aligns with your sock-height and cushioning preferences at your favorite local running store. My personal favorite is the Swiftwick Vibe. Available in 3 different cuts and a nice variety of fun colors, this plush yet thin, compressive sock offers a snug moisture wicking fit that stays put, plus a hint of comfy cushioning.

The Swiftwick Vibe, my very favorite running sock!

Check them out in full detail here: Swiftwick Vibe Sock

Arm Warmers

Next on my list of fabulous yet underrated running accessories are arm warmers (also called arm sleeves by some). Once solely the domain of cyclists, these are generally inexpensive and perfect for those spring or fall runs and race days when it is too warm for long sleeves but potentially too chilly for short sleeves. They essentially turn any short sleeve shirt into a convertible long sleeve, allowing you to easily shed added warmth should you find yourself heating up mid-run. Furthermore, arm warmers often offer other useful benefits like compression and sun protection, and many companies are capitalizing on their value as a fashion accessory by making them in plenty of exciting prints and colors.  My cheetah print Moeben arm sleeves are an essential component of my cooler-weather race day ensemble. Just putting them on makes me feel a little faster! Check out all of Moben’s fun and funky arm sleeve options here: Fun, Funky Moben Arm Sleeves. If your style is perhaps more sedate than cheetah and tattoo prints, you will also find that myriad other companies, from Asics to Zensa (and many in between) sell arm warmers as well. Asics makes a great soft knit arm warmer that is cozy on a cold morning, Nike’s are featherweight, Zensa’s provide compression features to keep blood flow directed to your most important running muscles and De Soto’s “arm coolers” deflect the sun and use evaporative cooling technology to keep a runner cooler on extremely hot runs. The wide variety of arm sleeve options means that there are surely sleeves to fit every runner’s desires and needs.

  

Practical, light-weight Nike arm warmers in basic black, and fast, fabulous cheetah print Moben ones for days when you feel like walking (and running) on the wild side!

The Road ID

 The third item on my list emphasizes both style and safety.  Behold the Road ID:

This nifty little ID tag offers extra peace of mind for you and your loved ones by providing emergency responders with important emergency contact and medical information that could save your life! In purchasing a Road ID you have the option of setting up a secure, updatable online emergency profile to be accessed by medical personnel in the event of an emergency.  As if that isn’t a good enough reason to go the Road ID website and purchase one right now, this awesome product is also available a whole spectrum of colors and styles that can be worn on the wrist, ankle, or shoe.  With all these options you are guaranteed to find a Road ID option that caters to your personal style and safety needs. Check out Road ID options here: Road ID

On today’s run I am playing it extra safe and sporting both the shoe tag and wrist Road ID styles!

The Spibelt

 Now, tell the truth…are you tired of putting your car key in that sketchy inner-shorts-waistband key pocket? Chafed from stashing energy gels in your sports bra? Suffering from carpal tunnel from clutching your iPod for your entire long run? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, I recommend that you drop whatever you are doing, drive to the nearest running store, and purchase a Spibelt immediately! This small, inconspicuous yet surprising expandable personal item belt can accommodate any standard smart phone or iPod/ mp3 player, your car keys, your ID, and enough gels to get you through a marathon! (According to the Spibelt website, it can hold up to 5 gel packs!) The Spibelt is super-adjustable, offering a bounce-free fit for even the most petite and slender runners.  And you guessed it, like most products featured on The Fast and the Fabulous, it comes in a vast array of bright colors and it is available in a waterproof option and kid’s sizes! Learn more about the marvels of the Spibelt here:  Spibelt!

The spibelt can accommodate your smart phone, multiple anti-chaffing products, and a janitor-sized set of keys. It can also hold a ton of gels!

Foot Rubz

 Last but far from least, the Foot Rubz ball. This golf ball-sized piece of pure  foot bliss may be one of the best deals that exists in the entire realm of running gear! Retailing for approximately $5.50 this little green wonder is a saving grace for many who suffer from sore arches and plantar fasciitis.

It is firm enough that it doesn’t compress under body weight and the little nubs provide just the right amount of targeted massaging action for often grouchy muscles and tissues on the underside of a runners foot. If you have ever longed for a foot rub post-run (or first thing in the morning, or at the office while sitting at your desk…) then this is the answer to your prayers. As a bonus it is much, much cheaper than an on-call foot massage therapist! More information on Foot Rubz here: Foot Rubz

My very fast and even more fabulous friend Allie enjoying an invigorating post-run Foot Rubz massage.

So there you have it: my round-up of the 5 most underrated products for runners. I hope that they help keep you healthy, comfortable, safe and of course fast and fabulous in the long run!

Cheers to these unsung heroes of running gear and the brilliant minds that thought them up, to Allie, my favorite blogging consultant, proofreader, and photographer, and to all of you for reading!