Compression wear has been big business recently, and there are a lot of well known manufacturers on the market. Despite this, there still seems to be a lot of confusion out there in the marketplace as to whether it works or not. One of the grey areas is how much compression is ideal both when you’re exercising and when you’re recovering. It goes from the extreme compression of hospital grade support stockings, right down to the budget compression wear available at certain supermarkets and department stores. We all know that compression garments feel good to wear and even if they aren’t doing a lot, the feeling of having certain muscles contained while riding certainly feels great. Often the people who we should look toward for guidance only serve to muddy the waters. For example in 2009 the AIS conducted a study the results of which suggested that compression garments made a significant impact during recovery but very little during actual competition exercise. Several months later, the AIS was sponsored by a compression and sportswear company and we were told that their athletes would gain a significant edge using this product during competition. Well…
French company BV Sport are a new player on the Australian scene but they have been researching compression and the venous return system since 1990. Using Doppler ultrasound and MRI technology, BV Sport claim that the most benefit can be found with progressive rates of compression along the calf area and down towards the ankle. They suggest that recovery can be managed through the entire leg area by applying compression in this way because the calf is the area where your arteries are closest to the surface. Compression in other areas only works on capillaries and smaller veins. You can see the different levels of compression by the patterns on the socks in the picture.
The two socks we have on trial here are the Booster (grey model) and the Pro Recup (white model). The Booster is designed to be worn during exercise and only covers the calf area. The Pro Recup is a recovery version and can be worn under jeans or if you fancy the German tourist look, with sandals.
BV Sport says that too many compression companies employ a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy. They say that compression should be targeted to the individual so before purchasing you need to do a lot of measuring, calf circumference at the widest point, length from knee to floor, quad measurement, foot size and so on. While some manufacturers do small, medium and large, BV Sport have no less than 10 sizes in their range. This must force manufacturing costs up a bit, but it does give you some confidence that they care about fit.
Our test samples arrived so it was time to put them on. I found that the sizing was pretty spot-on, although I did have to fold down the tops below my knees. Previously I imagined that the elastic would sit at the bottom of my quads in a sort of Dr Frankenfurter style but I was advised by BV Sport’s Australian representative that you should never have compression over your knees. I found riding with the Boosters to be very comfortable, particularly if I didn’t look in the mirror before heading out, though in this instance, I found ¾ knicks to be particularly beneficial. Not having access to blood tests I did feel that the Boosters were definitely helping. I could feel them if I thought about them but they weren’t in any way constrictive. These socks were designed to keep your calf muscles tracking up and down, not all over the place, and they certainly did that. I may also say here that in all the test runs, sometimes of several hours, they didn’t once slip down, an important consideration when riding.
The Pro Recup models are a bit of a different animal, being designed for recovery. You are meant to put these on as soon as you get home and wear them for a minimum of two hours. They use a special knit to push out toxins, have arch, Achilles and fascia plantar, the tissue in the arch of the foot. When you have these on you can really feel them working. They start off not feeling like they’re doing much, then the compression feeling grows. And when you take them off your skin tingles. I did some multi day hard workouts using these after each one and yes, I did notice a reduction in calf muscle soreness.
When compression socks first entered the triathlon world, I was inclined to be disparaging. Some brands of ‘compression’ didn’t do much to change my mind but having worn the BV Sport range, I’m definitely a convert.
Price: Boost: $79.95
Pro Recup: $99.95
Distributed by BV Sport Australia