Cycling compression socks: Can they make you a better cyclist, or they just look funny?
If you have ever been to a cycling race, you must have come across a specific type of cycler. The one that wears a strange type of elastic, purple long hosiery you can see from miles away. We call these items cycling compression socks.
You start having strange thoughts in your head: Did he put them on in the morning? Maybe he even sleeped in them. Maybe he wore them on the way to the race in the car. For sure he is going to cycle the whole length of the race wearing those footwear. When the race is over, for sure he is going to get back into his car wearing them, and if he is really manic, he will even sleep in his sweaty hosiery again.
If you see that guy, you have found a real believer in the benefits of compression hosiery. He is compelled that he is fresher than the others and he is recovering quicker than any of the other competitors. At the moment the scientific evidence on the usefulness of cycling compression socks in enhancing sports performance and helping recovery is inconclusive. But more on that later…
Are cycling compression socks effective?
Compression socks have a long history of successfully treating venous disease, such as varicose and spider veins. They are well known to improve circulation in pregnant women, as well as diabetic and bed-bound patients.
The reason for its success is the added pressure it puts on the veins, speeding up the blood flow. The blood collects and flows in small veins in the extremities. The speed of the blood flow can be made faster, if some pressure is put on the legs. This makes the veins tighter, and the same amount of blood flows quicker in a vein with a smaller diameter.
In the eighties athletes started thinking, if bed-bound patients and the elderly can benefit from compression technology, why can’t we. Hence the start of athletes using these to enhance performance, recover quicker and draw a few sideways glances at races. Although the last one is admittedly a side effect. Some sports – like basketball – have embraced the compression wearables as a part of the sport’s dress code.
Nowadays compression shorts, hosiery and socks have become common among endurance athletes. Although runners benefit massively from these wearables, recently cyclists started using them. The ones who were early adapters were the travelling cyclists. On long airline travels compression socks can reduce the risks of DVT significantly and speed up recovery.
What does science say?
Despite the empirical findings of endurance athletes, what other pieces of evidence are there that compression socks work? Does science back it up? There have been experiments looking at the use of compression garments for runners. Some experiments have found that these products help during competition. For example the heart rate of runners was lower while wearing compression socks during the race then otherwise. Runners were able to raise their lactate threshold during competition.
Rob Duffield, PhD has found evidence of compression socks helping runners. Despite publishing three studies about compression wearables, and making several more for companies, he has found no evidence that it helps cyclists.
Some other researchers have found compression hosiery to be helpful. Jeremiah Peiffer, PhD and exercise physiologist at the the Murdoch University in Australia regularly wears these cycling compression socks as he is a competitive cyclist himself. He claims that the theory of improved blood flow aiding athletic output and recovery is a very sound one, although it is hard to find scientific evidence that it helps cyclists.
In 2008 a study from the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that muscles covered with compression garments worked using less oxygen. Matt Driller, a researcher working for the Australian Institute of Sport performed two studies to measure the effects of compression garments on back-to-back 15 minute cycling trails. He found that cyclist dealt better with fatigue, and could repeat their athletic performance sooner after wearing compression tights.
Why the conflicting results on cycling?
The way the human body works during cycling might account for the reason why cycling compression socks are not as effective as for runners. During pedalling the muscles shorten during exertion since it is a concentric motion. In other sports such as walking and running the muscles lengthen during activation, which leads to delayed onset muscle soreness. This is a condition compression socks can help with during recovery. However cyclists are unlikely to get delayed onset muscle soreness.
Triathletes often wear compression garments if the rules of the particular race permits them – not all races do. Despite the mixed results of studies most athletes still believe in their effectiveness and wear them. Maybe the placebo effect is at play here. In very easy terms, the placebo effect means the mind believes a particular intervention is helpful. It actually has an effect, without changing anything in the physiology. For many athletes the way they feel affects the way they race. Simply having cycling compression socks on and feeling like you have an edge over other competitors might be enough to justify wearing them. Even if their effect is purely mental, they can help a lot if the athlete has to cover long distances on back-to-back days.
If you decide to wear compression socks for cycling, what should you pay attention to?
Secrets to finding the perfect cycling compression socks
Size and fit
First of all, choosing the proper fit is very important. If the socks are too tight, they will choke the blood out of your legs instead of helping circulation. If they are saggy, the garment won’t hold the muscles effectively.
Always check the size chart of the company. The size chart is always featured on the product’s Amazon page. When in doubt, it is better to choose the smaller option.
Graduate or uniform compression?
There are different types of compression technologies on the market, the most notable ones are uniform and graduate compression. Uniform compression puts the same amount of pressure everywhere on the muscles. The more common graduate compression puts more pressure on the muscles the further they are from the heart, and less pressure if they are closer to the heart. Graduate compression is more common, since it creates the ideal help for blood flow without restricting the movement of the muscles in any way.
Above you can see the pink version of the Physix Gear Sport compression socks. They are comfortable graduate compression socks that refresh your legs. For this reason they are the model I recommend for all my runner friends. If you believe in the effects of compression, you can’t go too wrong with this model.
If possible, look for seamless products. A badly designed seam can cause chaffing, blisters and make your cycling experience a real handful. The products advertised on this site all avoid pressure in areas that can chafe or restrict circulation.
All the products advertised on this site are very durable. They are usually made of some combination of nylon, polyester and spandex, with a little bit of mesh added for better breathability. The breathable material lets the sweat evaporate from your skin. As a result, with these materials yo won’t be swimming in your sweat while you cycle. The best cycling leggings feature a 360-degree stretch material that stretches around every individual’s muscles for better fit, and better aerodynamics on the bike.
The best products have an antibacterial yarn. Small silver linens run through the fabric for added protection against bacterial infections and fungi development. Hygiene is key, especially if you race and have to wear the items repeatedly.
The best products have some extra padding at the saddle area. This makes the race more comfortable, and reduces the chances of chaffing or blisters while you are sitting in the saddle.
So which are the best cycling compression socks for men and women? Let’s take a look at the three best products!
Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks
Finally you don’t have to look foolish in your cycling compression socks. A stylish design that doesn’t compromise on comfort or effectiveness. The graduated compression technology speeds up your blood flow, so your muscles can recover faster. Your sweat can evaporate through the drying material of the socks. Your skin will remain fresh, dry and healthy.
There is no need to compromise on style, health or comfort anymore. Your wallet will stay healthy. The company offers a no questions asked, 100% money-back guarantee in case you find yourself disappointed with the product. But you won’t. Physix Gear Sport users are raving fans. Get ready to become one.
Blitzu Sports Graduated Sports Compression Socks
The Blitzu Sports compression socks are well known among runners for their groundbreaking kinesiology taping design. This is the only model on the market combining the stability of kinesiology taping with the effect of compression technology. If you suffer from aching joints and ankle problems, this is the perfect model for you.
The ultra stretchable fabric provides durability and flexibility. Your skin can breathe in this fabric. It stays fresh and dry during even the longest rides. You will get the confidence, and energy boost you need to perform at the edge of your abilities.
It is available in many different styles and colours. Feel the confidence, feel the boost and feel the difference right away. The company offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t feel the extra these socks can provide for you, Blitzu will return your money, no questions asked.
VeloChampion Compression Sport Socks
The most technical compression socks on our list. Made with a special blend of technical yarns to provide comfort and recovery even during the longest rides in the saddle.
They provide 20-3o mm Hg compression for your legs. The oxygen flows and the waste materials leave your muscles quicker. These cycling compression socks give excellent support to your legs. You will be surprised how much they speed up the recovery process, and how much fresher you will be if you use these socks for cycling and running.
As you can see, there are many different high quality products on the market. Although the empirical evidence is clear that cycling compression socks enhance the performance and recovery of cyclists, but the science so far is inconclusive. Even if it is just the placebo effect, the compression socks can be a great aid for any serious cyclist out there.