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All you Need to Know About Compression Garments for Marathons

compression socks marathon

You can find a wealth of information online about compression garments and their influence on performance during a marathon and muscle recovery after the run. Everyone wants to find the thing that makes them better athlete. For many athletes, they swear by compression garments. Do compression garments really work? If so, what do they do and what can’t they do? The research is out there, so what does it say? Can compression garments for marathons improve your time during your run and the recovery time after your run?

What are Compression Garments for Marathons?

Compression garments for marathons are clothing items that put pressure on the body. Many compression garment companies claim the increased pressure on the body targets the muscles, which then improves speed, endurance, and recovery. You can find compression garments in the form of pants, shorts, sleeves, socks, and shirts. Between 2008 and 2010, sales of these items jumped 170%. Runners want to feel better during and after a marathon.

Common Marathon Pains

Running a marathon is hard on the bones and muscles. Prolonged, strenuous exercise can and will cause a number of pains for the runner. These are pains the compression gear companies want to target:

  • Blisters
  • Muscle fatigue and soreness
  • Runner’s knee
  • Stress fractures
  • inflammation

How Do Compression Garments Work?

This isn’t putting on a pair of Spanx and calling it. Compression garments are designed a little differently and with a different goal in mind. Compression gear is designed to improve circulation. Physicians have been using compression gear, such as compression stockings, for many years. Physicians use compression stockings to improve blood flood to a patient’s legs. When the stocking presses against the leg, it moves blood up the leg. Patients with veins disorders, recent surgeries and edema may benefit from compression stockings.

The science behind medical stockings is what compression gear companies are banking on to sell compression garments for marathon runners. Compression gear is designed to deliver a certain amount of pressure to certain areas of the body or the affected limb. Compression garment companies claim the improvement in vascular circulation increases oxygen in the muscles. When oxygen in the muscles increases, metabolic waste, such as lactic acid, is removed.

Evidence of Benefits

Do compression garments work? The answer depends on whom you ask. Many athletes swear by them, compression gear companies advertise big promises, and researchers warn that the gear may not do what is advertised. Researchers have taken up the compression gear claims, and the results may influence you to rethink the 50 bucks you are about to drop on the gear.

Research studies reveal no performance benefits. As far as recovery is concerned, the results vary among studies. A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research revealed no improvement in strength or recovery. However, perception of recovery played a role.

Overwhelmingly, medical and fitness professionals agree the expectation is what makes them effective.

5 Reasons Why You Should Wear Compression Garments for Marathons

Despite the less-than-enthusiastic results, many athletes continue to believe in compression garments for marathons. That is why they work. Using compression garments may have a psychological benefit. If you still want to wear compression garments, here’s why you should.

1. You believe they work

Become your own placebo. The psychological effects of believing in yourself and the gear you sport may have a bigger impact on your performance than any study.

2. Older runners may benefit

Older athletes, who experience poor vein health, may benefit from the medical compression garments. This is something for a physician to decide, as more research is needed.

3. Controls swelling

Just as medical garments control swelling, performance compression garments may do the same. Compression limits swelling in people on their feet for a long time. Triathletes and marathon runners endure hours-long runs that can cause swelling.

4. Protect your legs

You aren’t running on a debris-free treadmill during a marathon. You encounter biting branches, rocks, brush, dirt and bugs. Compression gear will protect your extremities from the irritating scratches, dirt and bites on the track or trail.

5. You feel controlled

Many triathletes and marathon runners like to wear compression garments for marathons because the gear makes them feel controlled when on the track or train. Because they fit tighter, runners claim the gear makes them more aware of their body mechanics.


Are you convinced? Chances are you have already made up your mind about compression garments. If they make you feel better, they can’t hurt. Just be cautious when you are reading claims made on websites. Choose compression gear for your individual needs. The best way to increase performance and recovery is to train, practice proper body mechanics, and to listen to your body. You can improve your performance better than a pair of shorts can.


  5. Hill JA, Howatson G, van Someren KA et al. Influence of compression garments on recovery after marathon running. J Strength Cond Res 2014;28(8):2228-2235.