Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Training Essentials: Compression Socks

Note: As we get closer to Boston (only two weeks left of real training until the taper!!!), I'm going to highlight some of the items that have been "essential" to me during training. Now, for all you literalists out there, by essential I simply mean things I wouldn't want to train without. 

Today I'm starting with one of my favorite items--compression socks.

The main theory behind running socks--yes, like with most running trends, it's theory, not fact--is that the compression of the lower leg increases the blood flow flushing out the fatigue causing by-products from a hard workout. Some folks swear by them on race day including elites like Chris Solinsky and Paula Radcliffe, while other folks use them exclusively as a post-run recovery tool.

What do scientists think? According to a 2007 study conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa wearing compression socks during a race or workout doesn't actually improve performance. The same study, however, found that wearing compression socks after a tough workout leads to a faster lactate recovery rate. 

So when do I wear compression socks? I wear them during some harder workouts (like today's 7x800 speed session) and often on long runs. I don't know for sure whether they help, but they certainly aren't hurting my performance. I also use them as a recovery tool. Post-race or just when my legs are feeling a little sore, I'll put them on around the house for an hour or so. [Note: From personal experience, don't wear them to bed--your toes will not be happy in the morning.]

As for which ones I recommend, there are a dozen or so brands out there. I have tried and like 2XU, CW-X, and CEP. I like the sleeves better during a run (they only cover your calf so you can wear normal socks) but the full socks better post-run. Are these the holy grail of running? No. Could I train without them? Obviously, since I didn't get my first pair until marathon #4. That said, I'm hooked on them now and definitely think they're worth checking out.  

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