Compression Socks for Running: Helpful or Hype?
If you’re a runner and aren’t wearing compression socks, you’ve likely noticed. Compression socks seem to be all the rage these days, with many runners swearing by them. So much so that they practically go hand in hand with being a runner.
Why, you may ask?
Well, many credit compression socks for running for helping them crush their athletic goals and enhancing their overall performance. Sounds pretty intriguing, right? Especially when you pair those perks with a faster recovery time and less muscle fatigue.
But before you join the compression sock crowd, let’s discuss why you might wear compression socks for running and the benefits so that you know what you’re getting into. Then, we’ll dig into how you can choose the right compression socks for running, why to use them, and who shouldn’t wear them. This way you can make an educated purchase decision that leaves you excited to pound the trail rocking your new leg gear.
Why Should You Wear Compression Socks for Running?
Compression socks are designed to help your blood vessels pump blood to your heart and tissues more effectively. They do this by putting pressure on your legs which in turn reduces the backflow of blood and encourages proper blood flow. In addition, gravity is constantly adding resistance to your vessels in your legs, so compression socks help you fight that force.
And they’re not just for runners. Many people, from nurses to pregnant women, swear by wearing compression socks to reduce leg fatigue and limit swelling.
All in all, having healthy circulation in your legs helps your muscles to be well oxygenated and can even reduce your recovery time after a run. So wearing compression socks for running helps ensure oxygen-rich blood is able to be efficiently pumped to your muscles when you need it most.
What Research Says About Running and Compression Socks
One study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that those who wore compression socks for 48 hours after a marathon increased their average treadmill run to exhaustion time by 2.6%. Those who didn’t wear compression socks had a decreased run to exhaustion time by 3.4%. To break this down, this means that the compression socks group ran for 52.4 seconds longer while the group without compression socks ran for 61.7 seconds less — talk about a huge gap in running performance by the use of compression socks alone.
The conclusion of the study was that wearing compression socks post-marathon for 48 hours enhances recovery time two weeks after the run. That’s another big difference for someone whose goal is to recover quickly to increase their athletic performance.
But unfortunately, that study isn’t the norm when it comes to research on compression socks and running. Some research has found that wearing compression socks for running isn’t going to make you the next Usain Bolt. A study in Sports Medicine found that compression socks had no statistically significant difference on overall running performance, but did find they slightly improved running endurance while aiding in reduced muscle soreness.
So while some studies aren’t rock solid endorsements of wearing compression socks during a run, they certainly aren’t finding any downsides either. It’s up to you to decide whether or not they’re for you, but ask around in the running community and we bet you’ll find many runners who credit their compression socks with helping them go the distance.
The bottom line is that if wearing compression socks causes you to have less swelling, soreness, and helps get you in the right headspace before a run, then pull that fancy hosiery out and get to running.
Benefits of Compression Socks for Running
There’s a slew of benefits to wearing compression socks during and after a run. Let’s dig in.
Reduced Leg Cramps
One study found that wearing compression socks during a simulated trail run decreased participant calf muscle soreness. Interestingly, they concluded it was the perceived soreness that was affected. This means that wearing compression socks for running encouraged the runners to believe that they would help them. Ever heard that your mind is the most powerful tool you’ll ever have? Well, you just may find that to be true.
But it’s not just the mental effect. Another study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found compression socks reduced blood lactic acid levels. Lactic acid lingers in your muscles after exercise and causes muscle cramping and soreness. So wearing compression socks for running helps to remove lactic acid quicker because of the blood circulation improvement.
Decreased Recovery Time
A study of German handball players found that athletes who wear compression socks during exercise have a decreased recovery time compared to those who don’t, particularly after intense activity. Just another reason to grab a pair of compression socks before your next run.
Wearing compression socks during a high-intensity run was found to improve muscle performance during future runs. This occurs through the athlete’s beliefs, improved oxygenation, reduced leg vibrations, and improved running mechanics. If you run competitively, you know that even a fraction of a second makes a difference, so increasing your performance is a big deal.
Improved Circulation and Oxygenation
As we talked about earlier, compression socks are designed to help you fight the effects of gravity by improving blood flow in your legs. This helps blood move efficiently through your vessels to your muscles and heart. Having legs that feel heavy and fatigued because of pooling blood isn’t going to help you win the race.
Because compression socks are widely known to reduce swelling, it’s no secret they offer the same benefit to runners. The tight squeezing on your legs during a run helps prevent the buildup of fluid in your lower legs that only weighs you down.
Protect and Insulate Your Legs
Compression socks also have the added benefit of protecting your legs and reducing chafing. This comes in handy when you’re off on the trail and need a breathable, thin layer between your delicate skin and the elements. Plus, they provide insulation in colder climates or for those brisk morning runs before the sun comes up.
Look Like the Real Deal
Let’s all face the truth. Compression socks make you look like a pro. So if your goal is to look like a real deal distance runner, then compression socks are an excellent choice. And you can show off your fun personality with neat colors and patterns or more subdued hues if that’s your thing.
When Should Runners Wear Compression Socks?
You can benefit from wearing compression socks either during or after a run. Both times help encourage proper blood circulation throughout your legs which helps improve your training and racing. So if you’re still on the fence, try pulling up a pair of compression socks during or after a race and see if you notice a difference. The key here is to wear them consistently so you can reap the maximum benefits of wearing compression socks for running.
How to Choose the Right Running Compression Socks
There a few things to keep in mind to help you choose a pair of compression socks for running:
The best compression stockings are ones that are tight, but not painful. They should feel like a firm squeeze on your leg without cutting off circulation. A proper fit is needed to ensure they’re able to work effectively and you don’t end up with a foot full of blisters. The amount of compression in each sock is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury) and is then graded by compression level as mild, moderate, or firm pressure. Any of these pressure grades would work for running.
Runners typically wear a sock with graduated pressure. This means the highest pressure is at the foot and gets progressively less tight as it goes up the leg. This design works great for improving blood flow, reducing muscle fatigue, and decreasing recovery time.
Wear lightweight, moisture-wicking socks. If your socks feel thick or make you sweat like crazy, odds are you won’t want to wear them. Your socks should keep you cool, dry, and feel like a second skin.
- Your compression socks should be something you’ll actually wear. Let’s face it, many people go to buy something, only to realize they don’t really like it or it’s just not comfortable. So when choosing your socks, make sure you like them.
Remember to choose a compression sock with an adequate amount of leg compression that you'll enjoy wearing and is made from quality fabric. Also, try your new running socks out while wearing your running shoes. This will help you understand how they'll feel when your feet hit the pavement.
Are There Risks for Runners Wearing Compression Socks?
Wearing compression socks during a run is a relatively low-risk endeavor. However, there are times when you shouldn’t be wearing compression socks due to a medical condition such as:
- Skin infection
- Abnormal leg swelling
- Very thin, easily torn skin
- Peripheral vascular disease (narrowed vessels in arms or legs)
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in hands or feet)
If you have any of these conditions, talk to your healthcare provider before wearing compression socks or going for a run.
Run Smarter, Not Harder With Compression Socks
Compression socks for running can help give you the competitive edge you crave. That combined with the impressive list of benefits is a great reason to go grab this sought-after running gear for yourself. When you’re finishing those last few miles, you’ll be glad you did everything you could to finish strong.
Check out Cuvu compression socks where you’ll be pleased to see a variety of men’s and women’s stylish, eco-friendly picks that won’t break the bank. See for yourself why so many runners are turning to Cuvu to run like a champion.