Some of my teammates have been raving about compression tights recently. My first reaction, as a self-proclaimed "minimalist runner" was to dismiss the tights as just another new gimmicky running product. But then I gave it a bit more thought. I know that the medical community has prescribed compression gear to people with poor circulation due to diabetes or another medical condition for years. Those not-so-sexy and not-so-sporty medical knee-highs work wonders to promote circulation and prevent swelling. The technology made the leap into the sports world in the 70's and I know that cyclists and triathletes wear them to race and to recover. So I decided to give them a try.
The tights are fairly pricey at around $125 a pop, so I did a bit of research to make sure I was sinking my money into a pair that would work for me. There are many brands out there specializing in compression gear. I narrowed it down two brands: SKINS and Zoot.
These tights come with attached footies, which I liked. They are a nice black with different color stitching down the legs, I tried on a pair with blue stitching. The sizes were a bit difficult to figure out, the chart is very similar to a package of panty hose. Unfortunately, the store that I tried them on at didn't have the XS size, so I tried on the S. These were easy to get on and comfortable, but didn't achieve the compression goal because they were a bit large. Also, they are labeled as unisex, but the seams were very similar to a male boxer-brief, not very flattering for females. I decided to try out something else. Which brought me to the Zoot tights.
These are a flat black tight with the Zoot logo on the calf. The thing that first struck me about these tights is the different stitching all over the legs, which gives them an odd shape when they aren't being worn. This is due to the various gradients of compression moving up the leg, which allow for better circulation up the leg in order to avoid pooling of old blood near the ankles.
The sizes are muscle-size specific, which I also liked. Rather than a general height/weight size chart, I had my calf, thigh, and waist measured to determine the proper size (which certainly makes ordering tights online easier). The gentleman at the store advised me that his general rule was to go one size lower than the size for which I measured. I did and the tights were tight enough that I feel like they are working, but not uncomfortable.
I was a bit concerned that these weren't labeled "Recovery" tights, but he assured me that the level of compression is the same in most compression tights, it's the seams that are different on "active" pairs in order to promote movement and decrease chafing.
After trying on both pairs, I went with the Zoot tights.
I noticed a difference when I put them on post-Army Ten Miler. My legs were swollen and heavy after the race and ceremonies. After a shower, I pulled on my Zoot tights and wore them for a few hours. When I took them off, I saw veins in my lower legs that I've never even seen before!
They are compression tights and therefore require a bit of work to put on, getting the bottom over my heel is the most difficult part. I have found that it is much easier to put them on with a light pair of running socks. I also recommend putting them on DRY legs. I attempted to put them on immediately post-workout (ie. sweaty legs) and had a pretty difficult time.
For travel, they are a must. Rather than having swollen, tired logs for legs, I hopped off the plane on a spry pair, ready for a run and race in a few days.
Do they work? The technology makes sense and when combined with every thing else, they make a difference. I think they give me about as much of an advantage as an ice bath, proper stretching, and massage do in the recovery realm.