We know they’re not a fashion statement. So what are they?
When Chris Solinsky became the first non-African to break 27:00 for the 10k he immediately became a distance running icon. Although he can’t dunk a basketball, he will—like another Nike athlete from 15 years ago—no doubt inspire people to “be like Chris.” And emulating Solinsky means racing in medical hosiery.
The knee-high’s that Solinsky races in are not a fashion statement, they are compression socks that squeeze his lower leg. They have been used in medicine for years to increase circulation, and athletes have recently discovered the potential benefits to them. Compressive garments can be worn during training or recovery and they provide two benefits for a runner: they increase circulation and prevent muscle damage.
While running: Blood is forced from a runner’s legs up to the heart as his or her lower leg muscles contract and relax with each stride. This natural pump creates a strong circulating force, so the assistance provided by compression socks while running is quite minimal.
While resting: Compression gear is arguably the most beneficial to runners when they are stuck in a chair. The legs do not have a natural pump to help circulate blood when resting so blood tends to pool in the legs. Compression socks, like the ones Solinsky races in, put a gentle pressure on the blood vessels in the calf so blood cannot pool in the lower legs while stationary. This helps to reduce the stiff feeling that comes from sitting for several hours.
While running: The myth that lactic acid burns muscles and causes soreness has been debunked. Soreness can be attributed to tiny tears in the muscle. Compression gear may reduce muscle damage by physically holding the muscle in place and preventing it from shaking back and forth with every stride. Although it is difficult to feel this effect in a healthy muscle, the difference is clear in an injured muscle.
While resting: Don’t fall down the stairs between runs and your muscles should be fine.
Compression socks look lame, but they can provide real benefit during running and between runs. They are a necessity for an eight-hour day at a desk or a long plane flight. Other styles of compression gear include calf sleeves, quad sleeves, full-length tights and shorts.