It was at registration for Ironman Canada last August that I was first introduced to compression socks.

I had seen a few athletes training on the days leading up to the race wearing these knee high stockings, and they always reminded me of Javier Sotomayor (see below), from Cuba, Olympic silver medal winner in the Sydney games, and numerous other medals from World and Olympic competitions.

And yes I did think that I would never be caught dead in a pair of those knee high socks!

How wrong was I !

A Pedorthist friend of mine gave my wife and I a pair to try out, and they sat in my drawer for a few months, until we started our training for Ironman Canada 2009.

I decided to give them a try - because I had heard from a few people how great they were and because I could wear them under my winter running tights.

So 6 months later, with Summer here and race season in full swing, I am a convert to the compression sock, wearing them with shorts, in public, with out so much as ounce of self consciousness.

During runs, they do seem to reduce the sensation of fatigue in the legs (especially the muscles of the lower limbs), and my tendons do feel as inflamed after long runs as they have previously .

Whether these effects are the result of the compression of the muscles of the lower limbs, or perhaps they assist you maintain good running mechanics for longer, or perhaps there is an element of the Placebo effect, I do not know.

Whatever the reason, what I do know is that I will be racing my first Ironman in a pair.

So from a more scientific perspective, what could the benefits of these compression socks be and what does the research have to say about performance and compressions socks?

There is not a vast amount of research on the subject, but I was able to get my hands on two papers that investigated compression socks.

The first paper was by Kemmler et al. from the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg in Germany.

The study was developed to, "determine the effect of below the knee compression stockings on running performance in men runners"

The protocol had 21 male runners, without injury and of moderate levels of training, perform 2 step wise tests to maximum with and without compression socks.

The results of the research were very interesting :

The bottom line from the findings was that there appeared to be a correlation between the compression stockings and the improved performances by the participants.

The mechanisms for these improved performances: not fully understood.

The second paper was published by a couple of researchers from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, and this study set out to determine whether "athletes improved their maximal capacity and recovery when running with graded compression socks."

They took 10 healthy male studdents, who all completed 2 identical, maximal exercise protocols with in 7 days of one another. One test was completed with compression socks and the other was completed without the socks.

The subjects concentrations of Lactic Acid was measured at rest and post-run, at 2, 10 and 30 minutes, to dtermine clearance rate of accumulated Lactic Acid.

During the test, various physilogical parameters were measured including: Maximal Oxygen Uptake, Heart Rate and Minute ventilation.

It was found that there was no significant difference in Vo2max, heart rates and minute venitlation between the compression and non-compression runs.

There was however a noticeable difference in the rate at which lactic acid was cleared post run, when wearing the compression socks.

The conclusions drawn by the researchers was that although the compression socks did not have any impact on the participants short term, maximal running performance results, there certainly was a clear improvement in their recovery post activity.

They felt that more investigation was required into how compression socks impact recovery.

So these investigations showed that there was some improvement in performance and recovery as a result of wearing compression socks.

Possible reasons for these improvements might include:
  1. Compression socks might improve venous return to the heart by increasing the efficiency of the calf muscle pump mechanism.
  2. Muscles are kep more compact resulting in a decrease in muscle damage and subsequently a reduction in muscle fatigue.
Only research can provide empirical proof of the benefits and performance enhancing capabilities of compression socks.

I suggest you give a pair a try - see what they do for you. If there is a 1% improvement in your performance or recovery time, it is well worth the effort of rolling on a pair of socks for.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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