Do Compression Tights Really Improve Running Performance?

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You’ve seen them everywhere and you might even own a pair or two. Compression tights are supposed to boost athletic power and help keep us from getting tired during workouts. But can they actually do that? A new Nike-sponsored study says no. The research was recently presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Athletic-wear companies claim that compression tights can essentially hold your muscles in place, decreasing energy-sucking vibrations. The fewer the vibrations, the theory goes, the less energy you’ll expend, and the less tired you’ll become.

Many fans of compression gear also swear by its performance-enhancing properties, which, they say, can help them run farther and faster.

To find out if tights can really do all these things, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center recruited 20 experienced male runners. They brought the athletes into the lab, hooked them up to heart monitors and motion-capture devices, and set them running on sensor-filled treadmills. They tracked the runners’ performance on two separate days, one with compression tights worn, and one without.

The Ohio State University

Study co-author Ajit Chaudhari says that wearing the tights did indeed reduce muscle vibration. “However, the reduced vibration was not associated with any reduction in fatigue at all," he said in a statement. "In the study, runners performed the same with and without compression tights.”

After a half-hour of intense exertion, the tights made no significant difference in runners’ jump height, jump landing loading rate, or muscle strength.

Still, Chaudhari notes, that doesn’t mean compression gear is useless. Athletic performance is as much about state of mind as it is muscle tension. "There is nothing in this study that shows it's bad to wear compression tights," he said. "Every little bit of perception counts when running long distances, so they may help runners in ways we aren't able to measure."