How to Choose the Best Running Compression Socks in 2017 – Look Fashionable and Increase Your Running Performance
In recent years compression socks have become more and more fashionable. The running community has been at the forefront of this revolution. Compression socks are effective for enhancing athletic performance as well as speeding up recovery. Let’s look at which models are the best running compression socks for men and women in 2017.
The best running compression socks in 2017
The Physix Gear Sport Compression socks are the best compression socks for runners. They have everything that the best running compression socks need to have.
These socks are made of nylon and quality, stretchable lycra material. These socks are breathable, which lets the sweat evaporate from your skin and keeps your legs dry during workouts. The fabric has antibacterial and anti-fungi qualities.
The socks have a double stitched heel design, which lowers the vibrations going through your legs when you step on the ground during your run. This is a huge plus when it comes to preventing and treating shin splints.
The socks have a single toe design, which hold your toes tightly but don’t compress them too much.
The Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks put between 20-30 mm Hg graduated compression on your legs. This is the ideal amount to promote blood flow while sitting, running or sleeping. This way you will not only have lower heart rate while running, the training load on your muscles will decrease, and they will recover quicker.
It is clear how much the company believes in their product. The Physix Gear Sport Compression socks come with a lifetime money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with your product, they will refund your money, no questions asked.
Do compression socks work?
Running compression socks have certainly grew in popularity among athletes, so much so that people trying out for the Olympics are using compression socks. However there are still people who claim that compression socks give you no real competitive edge. In my opinion if they only worked as a placebo, then they would not be used by so many serious athletes. At the very least they do not hurt your performance. On the other hand if they probably don’t give you a huge edge, in that case everybody would be using them. As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Whenever I have to decide if something is good for my body or not, I prefer to look at what the science says instead of anecdotal evidence and stories. Let’s see what scientists can tell us about the effectiveness of compression socks.
What are compression socks good for?
Initially compression garments were used to treat venous diseases. The two most common were pregnancy swelling and lymphedema. In the first one the higher blood pressure caused by the featus results in the mother’s legs swelling up. In the case of lymphedema, the body’s lymp drains don’t do their jobs properly, which resutls in the limbs swelling up like balloons.
Throughout the years their positive effects were used to treat more and more diseases. Diseases related to a sitting lifestyle, such as varicose veins and spider veins. Air travellers also started to use them to lower the chances of suffering deep vein thrombosis.
The most popular compression socks in 2017 are graduated models. Graduated compression socks help the circulatory system by putting more pressure on the ankles than on the higher parts of the legs. This difference in pressure causes the blood to flow quicker towards the heart. This way the valves inside the veins don’t have to work as hard to prevent the blood from flowing back down or pooling up in the veins – a major cause of varicose veins.
Soon runners started to take notice, especially endurance, long distance runners. With their interest, exercise researcher started to look into whether the best running compression socks could really enhance performance, or runners were just experiencing a placebo effect.
The effects of the best running compression socks during and after workouts
First, let’s separate two different areas where the best running compression socks might have a positive effect on one’s life. During competition, and after competition – recovery. The first one requires that the compression socks cause a more effective movement pattern, less energy uptake, or a peak in performance that immediately correlates with better racing times. The second part states that with the positives of compression socks, one can rejuvenate their muscles, and get back to peak physical condition quicker.
There are multiple theories behind why compression socks work.
Reason 1 – Better blood circulation
This theory states that due to the better blood circulation in the lower limbs, the muscles are getting nutrients and oxygen quicker, which in turn leads to better performance. Continuing on the same logic, more waste materials -such as lactic acid – can be washed out of the muscles, leading to better performance.
Reason 2 – Muscle vibration taken away
When you run and your foot hits the ground, vibrations go through from the point of impact through your muscles, tendons and joint until they are absorbed. As the theory goes, these vibrations cause ruptures and put stress on the muscles, which can be one of the reasons behind the delayed muscle soreness we experience.
The most compelling evidence for the claim that the reduction in muscle vibration actually helps performance significantly was provided by the long jumping and hurdle jumping community. These athletes regularly wear compression pants. Kraemer et al. proved in a study that these products decrease muscle vibrations. This in turn leads to better muscle control, and increased proprioception.
Reason 3 – Keeping the muscles warm
After warming up, a constant problem for athletes is that the msucles might cool down between the warm up and the actual competitive period. In an environment where every little edge counts, cooling down just a little bit can decide between finishing in first place, or not even making the top three. The best running compression socks do an excellent job of keeping the leg muscles warm, and not letting them cool down.
Now that we know all the theories behind why the best running compression socks might increase performance and help with recovery, let’s go through all the research.
What does the research say?
The research literature could not provide an overwhelming evidence to why compression socks increase performance in runners, but there are encouraging signs out there. Ali et al did a study in 2007, and found the socks could not account for any performance enhancement, or change in physiological parameters. However after the run the runners experienced significantly lower muscle soreness, which was a result of the reduction in muscle vibrations.
Lactate threshold and running economy
On the other hand in a 2009 study Kremmier found that the lactate threshold of athletes improved when wearing compression socks while running. Other studies found that the energy consumption and running economy decreased as a result of wearing the best running compression socks, as well as improved performence over a 5 kilometer race. A study by Bringard (2006) found improved running economy, especially in the middle speed ranges.
On the question of whether compression socks improved lactate clearance, Berry et al provided the most comprehensive study thirty years ago in 1987. The study demonstrated that blood lactate clearance improved after exercise.
The study however requires a bit of a side note. First of all, it measured the lactate levels in the blood, and not in the muscles. The latter causes muscle soreness. It is possible that the decrease in blood lactate was down to the compression preventing lactate entering the blood stream from the muscles. The other possible explenation is that the lactate enters the blood stream, but it gets taken up by the other muscles in the body. It is hard to know which phenomena is at play exactly, but the results of the study are the same nevertheless.
On the recovery side, the studies have demonstrated clearly that compression garments help recovery. In a 2010 study by Byrne and Easton, they put graduated compression tights on people after plyometric exercise, which led to a decrease in muscle soreness, and better recovery. It is suspected that the combination of decreased muscle vibrations and the pushing out of the blood lactate is at play here. However scientists do not agree 100 % on what causes muscle soreness, so at the moment all we know is that the best runnig compression socks help with recovery, but the exact mechanisms are not clear.
A side note to the research
As a sidenote to the results of these studies, it is important to realise that they were done with different types of compression socks. Some sstudies used uniform compression, some graduated compression.
The strength of compression differed also. It seems that there is a sweetspot in compression strength for increasing blood flow. Byrne in 2001 found that 20 mm Hg pressure at the ankles increased blood flow, while 30 mm Hg cut off the circulation.
It is clear that during competition even the best running compression socks are not game changers. If it was so, everybody would be using them. However during recovery they can help a lot.
Looking at the research, long distance endurance runners might benefit the most from compression socks. In long distance running muscle damage could interfere with muscle contraction, and limit the number of muscle fibers taking part in muscle contraction, which in turn limits performance. After the run the results are clear. Compression socks help recovery.
If you are an active runner yourself, you can find a lot of runners who talk about how compression socks helped their performance. Some claim that compression socks help even during Olympic trials. Others feel that they were able to cover more mileage than otherwise with the help of compression socks.
The types of compression
Basically there are two different types of compression technologies on the market, graduated and uniform. Graduated compression socks are the most popular, as they help blood flow the most. These products put the largest amount of pressure on the ankles, and the pressure slightly subsides as the socks get higher on the legs. The difference in pressure creates an ideal environment for the blood to flow up from the ankles towards the heart. The pressure is largest at the ankles, where the pull of the gravity is largest on the blood.
Uniform compression is used mostly for fighting swelling and edema. They can be dangerous if applied in the wrong situation, so they are available only with doctor’s prescription.
You might also find targeted running compression socks in stores. These products apply extra compression to a specific part of your legs. The most common are special plantar fasciitis socks, or the ones that apply extra pressure to your aching achilles tendons. The extra pressure is applied with tighter materials holding the leg firmer at the area where the extra compression is needed.
Strength of compression
As I mentioned above, there is a sweetspot of compression strength for running socks, but there are still a lot of different types of running compression socks on the market. As studies found before, the best compression range for the best running compression socks was around 20 mm Hg around the ankles. This promoted the best blood flow during workouts.
Let’s take a look at what other levels of compression can you find in the best running compression socks.
First of all, the strength of compression is measured in millimetres of mercury – mm Hg. The larger this number is, the bigger pressure the garment puts on your legs.
10 – 15 mm Hg – This is the lightest compression range. It is called super light compression. This range provides good prevention against shin splints, plantar fasciitis or overworking. If you exercise lightly, or you don’t like feeling the super hard, super tight feeling larger compression puts on your legs, than these models might be just for you.
16 – 20 mm Hg – These are a band of lighter compression socks for running. The best compression socks for pregnant women who want to exercise during their pregnancy are found in this range.
21-30 mm Hg – The most common and best running compression socks for runners are found in this pressure range. They promote optimal blood flow for better athletic performance, and quicker recovery.
Over these pressure ranges there are no compression socks for runners. However there are other great compression socks over this range, but those are used in extreme cases of varicose veins, lymphedema and swelling.
If you don’t know which compression range would work best for you, it might be a great idea to consult with a medical professional. Another way would be to start with a cheaper model, and slowly work your way up from there.
How to choose the best running compression socks?
Unfortunately choosing the best running compression socks is often overlooked by inexperienced runners. In my opinion they are as much, if not more important as wearing the right running shoes.
The famous story about John Wooden, the famous college basketball coach comes to mind. On the first day of preseason training, he used to sit down his rookie players, and show them how to properly put on their socks. As he said, unfitting socks cause blisters, blisters cause missed shots, missed shots mean lost games, which translates to lost trophies.
To go forward with this analogy, if you choose anything but the best running compression socks, you will feel uncomfortable as a result of chaffing, blisters and skin burn. If your socks are too tight, they will choke the life out of your legs. If they are too loose, they will not be able to put enough pressure on your muscles. Any of these factors will contribute to subpar training and running performance.
The most important part to finding the best running compression socks is the fabric. Runners often make the mistake of wearing regular socks for workouts, made of 100% cotton. Cotton does not let your skin breathe, and the sweat to evaporate, the fabric holds and absorbs moisture. This causes blisters. The best running compression socks are made of some combination of nylon, spandex and lycra. These materials help wick the sweat and moisture away from your skin during the workout, leading to more hygienic and dry workout conditions.
Choosing the correct size compression socks is a challenge for most people. A good trick is to try them on before purchase, but if you are getting one online, just check the size chart at the product description. These charts compare the sock size to the shoe size, so if you know your shoe size, you should be able to make a good decision.
Some size charts of the best running compression socks might mention few of the following measures:
- Ankle circumference: Wrap a measurement tape around your ankles right above your ankle bone.
- Calf circumference: Wrap the tape around the largest part of your calf. To be sure, measure multiple parts of your calf, and use the largest number.
- Knee length: Take a measurement tape from the floor from the back of your heel up to the bend of your knee.
- Thigh circumference: Measure the thickest part of your thigh, right at the top. Measure at multiple places, just to be sure.
- Leg length: Take the tape from the floor right behind your heel to the top of your thighs. The tape should be firm, straight and smooth.
There are two types of products based on toe design: single toe models and five toe models. Both can work, but they both have their drawbacks. The single toe models can cause serious skin damage if the seams are not well designed. For this reason I encourage you to choose models that are seamless.
With toe socks if the toes don’t fit perfectly, the material can get caught between them and cause chaffing and blisters. If you choose toe socks, make sure they are the perfect fit.
The best running compression socks can come with excellent extra padding. For example the Physix Gear Sport compression socks have double stitched heel paddings.
These paddings give extra protection to the areas of your feet which they cover. The most common areas are the heels, the plantar fascia, the achilles tendons and the toes.
The tendons are covered due to the extra padding, which helps in case your achilles tendons are aching. The extra padding and compression helps the blood flow to the tendon, which causes the inflammation to subside. The blood transports nutritions and T cells to the inflamed area.
If you choose running compression socks with extra padding, make sure they are attached with comfortable, good quality seams. If the seams are prone to tearing, or they cut into your skin they will cause skin burn and chaffing.
Based on where you want to run, you might want to consider wearing different length compression socks. If you run in rainy weather, or you are a fan of trail running through the forest with thick vegetation, you might want to consider wearing knee high socks. These protect your legs against the damage of plants, bushes and rocks. In rainy weather they keep your legs warm, but they allow them to dry up if possible through letting the water evaporate.
Common injuries in runners and how to solve them
For runners there is nothing worse than getting an injury. It can lead to being absent from training and competition for a long time. For people who are hooked on the dopamine of exercising being absent from running can be a life altering problem.
For runners there are many ways to prevent injuries. Stretching, proper nutrition and leaving enough time for recovery can seriously lower the chances of suffering an injury.
The effect of running compression socks in injury prevention
Other things that can help treat and prevent running injuries are compression socks. As covered above, they reduce the muscle vibrations during your runs. Normally when you step on the ground your feet touching the ground produce vibrations that travel through your legs, and get absorbed by the bones, joints and muscles. These vibrations over time put a big strain on your legs, leading to injuries such as micro tears inside the muscle fibers, and the overuse of the joints.
Inflammation and plantar fasciitis
Inflammation is a major cause of leg pain in competitive runners. The tendons tire due to overuse, and this produces a pinching, sharp pain inside the legs. Most often the achilles tendons and the bottom of the feet are suffer from inflammation. At the bottom of the feet, inflammation is also known as plantar fasciitis, or runner’s foot. The plantar fascia is a tissue running between the heel and the toes. A sure sign of plantar fasciitis is feeling pain in your foot when you step out of bed in the morning.
Compression socks can help not only treat, but prevent plantar fasciitis. On the prevention side, the better mood flow, and quicker recovery between workouts reduces the perceived extension of your feet. Once you suffer from inflammation, the best running compression socks increase blood flow to the problem areas. The inflamed areas receive more nutrition in less time, and the T cells responsible for ending inflammation can travel to the problem areas quicker.
You can wear the best running compression socks either during your workout, between workouts, in the office or in your sleep.
Shin splints are caused exactly by the heels hitting the pavement while running. Even standing and walking all day long can be a cause of shin splints. How can you know if you are experiencing shin splints? Do you have a throbbing pain in your shins? Does this pain keep you from exercising?
This is one of the most common injuries that occur to runners. It involves the shins aching, in the front of the legs. There are two different types of shin splints. The ones that occur on the inside of the legs are called medial shin splints. The ones occurring on the outside of the legs are called anterior shin splints.
The best way to prevent shin splints is build up your mileage first when you start running. If you put too much mileage on your legs too soon, then wearing compression socks can treat your legs.
The risk of DVT in runners
The general public is not aware how dangerous DVT is. Deep vein thrombosis is when a blood cloth travels in the veins and gets caught – most likely – in one of the veins of the thigh muscles. If the cloth travels to the lungs or to the heart, it can be fatal.
After the day of a hard workout, runners are at an increased risk of suffering DVT. Combined with other risk factors, such as smoking, dehydration, diabetes, being overweight, taking birth control pills or injuries causing internal bleeding. It is essential that runners use the best running compression socks to keep blood flowing quickly and prevent DVT.
Unfortunately not many runners now how to recognise the symptoms of DVT. Swelling in the legs after a workout can be a sign of DVT. Other signs can be a sudden, but constant pinching pain in your calves. Unfortunately most runners mistake this pain for a muscle injury, and don’t go to a medical professional to get it checked out.
Other great compression socks for runners in 2017
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the Physix Gear Sport are the best compression socks for runners.
Danish Endurance Graduated Compression Socks
These excellent graduated running compression socks are made of moisture wicking, antibacterial material that lets your skin breathe. The material makeup of the socks is 65% polyamide, 20% elasthan with 15% lycra. The socks put between 18-21 mm Hg graduated compression on your legs. They have a super comfortable fit, which ensures that you will enjoy all the positive effects of graduated compression. This product is machine washable below 40 °C. One of the best running compression socks on the market.
Go2 Compression Socks
Excellent graduated athletic compression socks for recovery as well as performance. The product is on the larger side of compression, it puts between 20 and 30 mm Hg graduated compression on your legs. It is machine washable. The Go2 compression socks are easy to put on, and they hold your legs very tightly. They don’t have enough extra features for me to call them the best running compression socks, but they are good ones to keep as backup or rotation models.
Blitzu Compression Socks
These models provide graduated compression to reduce muscle fatigue, make you better competitors and help recover faster. It has a special Blitzu Kinesiology Taping Design. This pairs the effects of compression technology with the positive effects of kinesiology tapes. Excellent for marathon running, basketball, gym training and cycling. The kinesiology pads stay in place, but the fabric around them is stretchable, so it conforms to the shape and size of your legs. The product comes with a 100% money back guarantee in case you are not satisfied with it.
Zensah Tech+ Running Compression Socks
This product is made of a mixture of polyamide and elastane, a durable yet stretchable combination that lets your skin breathe during competition. These models are especially good at treating shin splints. They hold tight and stabilise the calf and shin area. The toes are seamless, which prevents chaffing and blisters. Excellent graduated compression for runners, basketball players and cyclists. The socks are knitted with an especially high, 200 needle count construction. This provides extra comfort and durability at the same time.
I hope this article gave you a good overview of which are the best running compression socks in 2017. The article contained short reviews of the best graduated running compression socks. Do you have experience wearing compression socks for running? If so, share it in the comment section below!