You may have noticed some of your fellow runners wearing a new item, knee high socks. At first I thought this was another fashion trend I had missed out on but a closer look, and some detective work, revealed the socks were performing a function. The new items are compression socks, and their functions can be particularly beneficial to runners. The socks are designed for a snug fit that compresses the muscles of the lower legs and improves circulation. As runners we demand a lot from our bodies and a product like this will help you push it a little further on that run or a little higher up that hill.
The science behind the product is pretty interesting. They use compression to help move blood in and out of your lower legs and feet more efficiently. Compression gear has its roots in medical products and is used to treat many circulatory ailments. We have recently begun seeing the benefits in the athletic realm and the technology is best suited to help endurance athletes. Gravity and the centrifugal forces created by running make it difficult for the blood that pools in your lower legs to get back to your heart. It’s important to cut down the time it takes for the blood to get to your heart and back because the blood making the return trip brings with it vital oxygen, and your muscles really want oxygen. The compression also helps to hold your muscles in place and reduce the vibrations of the muscles while you run. This function helps tremendously in the prevention of shinsplints and generally reduces the wear and tear on the muscles during activity.
Not all compression socks are created equal. There are specific properties to look for in a product that will ensure you get the maximum benefit. All compression socks are going to help reduce the vibrations of the muscles and help with things like shinsplints. The difference between a good compression products and a great one is how tailored the compression is to the size and shape of your leg. The level of compression on certain parts of your lower legs needs to be exact. The best products will have graded compression throughout the sock and an exact level of compression on the calf itself.
Graded compression means it is actually a little tighter around the ankle than the calf to help your veins get blood back to your heart. The exact level of
compression on the calf is extremely important for your arteries, which bring blood back from your heart. A specific amount of compression will help the arteries in your calf dilate and be able to bring more oxygen-rich blood back to your leg. The best products will be sized by doing a measurement of your calf to make sure the level of compression is enough to make your arteries dilate but not too tight to inhibit circulation.
Compression socks are a completely natural way to get a little more out of your runs. They feel great and the difference a good product can make to your runs is noticeable. They are also a great recovery tool and help to flush out the lactic acid in your muscles so you can get back out there faster and stay on track with your training goals. So give them a shot! Here are some products we tested…
-They feel great on your legs. The compression is noticeable but not overpowering. They use a heavier fabric and the thick air channels that run the length of the sock make sure they aren’t too stuffy on long runs. The sizing is based on your shoe size and the sock part is fitted to be left-right specific. Zensah’s will effectively reduce muscle vibrations, reducing wear and tear while providing graded compression to help get blood back to your heart.
-This brand is famous for making socks with individual toes and they make a compression toe sock too. Injinji uses a heavier fabric, which is great for warmth but can leave your leg feeling sweaty and itchy after a long run or on a warm day. The compression is less noticeable in this product. The sizing is based on your shoe size. If you have enjoyed toe socks in the past then the Injinji’s product will give you a toe sock with some added benefits.
-This product really incorporates all aspects of a compression sock. It requires a measurement of your calf for an accurate compression level to help dilate the arteries and bring blood back to the leg and graded compression to help the veins get that blood back to the heart. The sock itself is comfortable and breathable making it ideal for long runs or for use as a recovery tool. CEP makes the most technically sound compression sock incorporating medical grade compression into their socks.
-A lighter sock made of a thinner fabric. A little less durable and I occasionally had to pull them up during runs but the lightness of the fabric makes them extremely comfortable. The compression id graded and enough to reduce muscle vibrations while you are running. The comfort of the fabric makes them a great recovery sock.
By Dan Schade