Runners tend to put on clothing that is comfortable, breathable, wicks sweat away from the skin to prevent chaffing, provides good mobility and keeps them at a proper temperature.
These criteria are vitally important, but new factors have added to the variety of products available. The term ‘compression clothing’ is usually used as a generic name for a range of products and it’s vital to understand the differences between what’s on offer. Some of it is ‘true’ compression clothing, whereas other items are functional pieces of kit that are tight-fitting.
Proprioception is about being aware of your body, its posture and its movement. It is possible to wear clothes that increase this awareness and, as a result, improve your posture and technique as you exercise and compete.
This is a more difficult goal to achieve. Applying an appropriate amount of pressure to a muscle increases circulation to it – improved micro-circulation. Think of the principle behind the socks you can buy to prevent deep vein thrombosis on long aeroplane flights. Doing the same during workout can improve your performance because the extra blood helps fuel your muscles and remove waste products.
You can also put on this kind of clothing between sessions to gain the same benefits – weary legs are flushed out and recovery enhanced. Sleeping in the clothing or wearing it under your regular clothes allows you to go into the next session fresher.
Of course there’s always a catch when something sounds this good… improved micro-circulation is a more difficult benefit to achieve than increased proprioception. If you use inadequate pressure, circulation isn’t stimulated. Too much pressure will have the opposite effect – circulation will be hindered!
The right materials, the right cut and wearing the correct size become very important. Therefore, you will see far more complex sizing charts for clothing that can really deliver on this front.
3 Muscle vibration
If you watch a very-slow-motion movie of a runner, you will notice their muscles vibrate and oscillate as they run. It’s believed that reducing this oscillation and vibration could reduce the strain on the muscles during exercise and so reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) – in other words, feeling as stiff as a board a while after exercise. The less soreness you have after training, the sooner you’ll be ready to tackle the next session.
3 Technical advances
As material technology and biomechanical understanding increase, the boffins come up with more and more ways of applying the know-how. At ASICS, Inner Muscle technologies have been developed to improve posture and provide resistance that strengthens key, but hard to train, muscles.
Adidas, meanwhile, has noticed that by adding a Powerweb (a polymer overlay that works like hi-tech rubber bands) to its clothing, athletes can improve their posture and the power they can generate. A lot of the power generated when you run is from ‘elastic energy’ – for instance, from stretching and releasing your Achilles tendon. The Adidas Powerwebbing seeks to add to that energy.