What is the difference between running tights and compression tights?

Joel Enoch explains the advantages and disadvantages of compression versus non-compressive run tights

What is the difference between running tights and compression tights?

Ultimately, when it comes to compression or non-compressive run tights, comfort is the most important factor as any garment that’s uncomfortable or restrictive will impact how you train, how you recover or whether you wear them in the first place. Sort the right garment, however, and there are rewards aplenty.

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While there’s little research out there on non-compression leggings, it’s clear that additional layers will retain heat in the working muscle. Research shows that warmer muscles are less prone to injury and ‘slow-twitch’ muscle fibres are used more effectively, saving the more carbohydrate-dependent ‘fast twitch’ fibres. That potentially delays fatigue and reduces lactate build-up.

Compression wear use pressure to squeeze the muscles, theoretically improving the return of blood to the heart while decreasing muscle oscillation (or wobbling!). But with compression garments often more expensive, does this actually make any difference to your performance?

A review article in 2016 suggested that runners’ time to exhaustion could be slightly improved by wearing compression wear. It also reported improved run biomechanics and running economy, as well as reduced perception of effort, muscle damage, pain and inflammation during recovery. This is in line with research showing that muscle power’s better maintained when wearing compression clothing. It’s also been shown that such benefits can be maintained during moderate exercise for up to 30mins in temperatures up to 30°C.

Ultimately, the choice is down to your personal preference, but if you do go for compression, wear them during and after your more stressful sessions rather than all the time and choose items that offer ‘graduated compression’. 

Joel Enoch is a sports scientist and triathlon coach who’s helped athletes of all abilities reach their multisport goals

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