Your Ultimate Guide to Compression Wearables - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Your Ultimate Guide to Compression Wearables

Why all the hype? Should you wear them? And what’s coming next?

In olden times, men at the gym wore… whatever. Seriously, you’d look around and 90 per cent of the dudes there would be in an outfit that would be equally appropriate for eating a whole pizza on the couch. We’re talking raggedy T-shirt – maybe with the sleeves cut off – and shorts. Shorts with no adjective. Shorts whose only “performance benefit” was that they were made of mesh and had once had a workable drawstring. That was before compression shorts arrived.

You’re familiar with compression shorts, yes? But you may not understand why they came to be such a big thing, or what they’re good for in the first place. Like any athletic trend, compression clothing hit the market with claims it would make you work out better, recover faster and feel cool doing it. And suddenly when you looked around the weight room, half the guys were wearing high-tech knee-length tights, either underneath their old shorts, or instead of their old shorts (which is a ballsy move – pun intended).

How did compression gear get such a tight grip on the market? And what are the real benefits? In other words, what does it do that your old workout clothes didn’t? In a space where dominant brands like 2XU are vying with savvy newcomers, and space-age fabrics are becoming real options, here’s everything you need to know about compression wear, starting with the classic: the shorts.

Wait, so what is compression wear?

Compression wear is the name given to garments woven with spandex-type fibres. The clothing is skin tight. Tighter, actually. The idea is that it compresses your muscles to keep them supported and contained, and improves circulation by squeezing blood back towards the heart.

We’ll get back to the physical benefits in a minute. But there’s another reason it caught on: it looks and feels sporty AF.

Are they shorts? Or underwear?

Easy answer: underwear. You glimpse compression shorts squeezing the thighs of athletes, peeking out from under basketball shorts or running shorts. Steph Curry takes the layered look a step further, wearing his uniform shorts over three-quarter length compression tights.

Of course, you do have runners who want to be aerodynamic, and you see them dash by in only compression shorts. That’s an option, too.

There’s a type of compression short for every activity. But, for modesty’s sake, read the label. Your shorts will tell you if they’re designed as a base layer, or if they’re appropriate for showing to the world.

Does it improve performance?

Compression gear promises to boost circulation, decrease soreness and even prevent injury.

So does it? Yes and no. “In terms of science, there’s no clear evidence that it will decrease injury risk,” says Dr Gerardo Miranda-Comas, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine.

However, a 2016 study concluded compression clothing could improve endurance, extending the time to exhaustion in runners by increasing muscle economy.

“It can help with biomechanics,” says Miranda-Comas, “and personally that’s why I recommend it at times. Compression helps recruit muscle adequately and give you more synchronised movement.”

But those circulation claims? Take them with a grain of salt. While compression does aid circulation, you need just the right amount of squeeze, in just the right places. So unless your gear is designed for you, you may not get the full benefit.

Can compression help after a workout?

Remember R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)? Compression has always been part of treating injuries such as sprains. And some athletes swear by wearing compression clothing after training or play.

Here’s the thing: some recent studies have indicated that to get the full repair benefit, you’d have to wear compression shorts – whatever the brand – for hours. However, we do know compression gear can help clear lactic acid from muscles, which helps with soreness. Also, wearing it during your workout may help you feel better after, especially if you want to keep your form tight following an injury.

“For me it makes sense to use during exercise if you’re looking for better muscle recruitment,” says Miranda-Comas, the sports physician. “For instance, if you had a hamstring injury and during recovery you want to use it while training.”

Why spend the money?

Sure, standard-issue boxer briefs could get you through your workout. And maybe they used to. Back when all you did was bench press and sit around between sets.

Now, with things like interval training, CrossFit and workout classes, the needs have changed. One area of concern? The pouch. The front gusset is where a man’s junk sits and that’s the place to innovate. It’s pretty simple, but if you just expand those seams out, you create more room for the package.

Couple that with soft-to-the-touch fabric, a stays-in-place waist band, and revolutionary Muscle Containment Stamping (MCS) technology from brands like 2XU, and you have a garment that is developed with a detailed understanding of the key muscles and movements used during high-intensity training, reducing muscle movement, damage and fatigue so you can smash your goals at every workout.

The options can get pricey, sure. But working out in something that doesn’t chafe your junk and improves performance: that’s priceless. 

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