It’s easy to think of the evolution of athletic clothing as just fashion choices. After all, tastes vary. Shorts get longer or shorter, and tops change from in-your-face neon to muted earth tones. While there’s undoubtedly a fashion element to any piece of clothing, you’d be wrong to dismiss the explosion of the athletic wear category as simply arbitrary. Much research has gone into technology that not only makes your athletic clothing more comfortable—but also improves your performance.
That’s a bold claim, but one that’s been backed up not only by scientific studies but by the professional athletes who choose to wear them. Compression clothing, created to help stave off muscle fatigue, has become the norm in many major sports leagues. Does it make a difference? And can it help weekend warriors just as much as those who play the game for a living? You’ll be happy to learn that the latest technology works for everyone—and it can be particularly helpful in avoiding injuries and keeping you in the game.
Let’s start with the basics of compression clothing: You can probably guess from its name that this technology describes tight-fitting clothing designed to cling to the body’s muscles. Rather than floppy sweatpants or tops, compression clothing gives athletes a next-to-skin feel while eliminating excessive fabric that can be cumbersome, get tangled with other athletes and create unwanted drag. (Think of track sprinters, who don’t want an oversized shirt flapping in the wind slowing them down.)
But if you’re not concerned about speed, what difference does it make? It turns out that the most apparent benefits of compression gear are just the tip of the iceberg. The more critical advantages come with how your muscles react to compression clothing.
Wearing compression gear can help reduce muscle fatigue during exercise. That’s right, studies have found athletes who wear compression shorts and shirts can complete their workouts without feeling as tired. The clothing also helps eliminate muscle soreness, allowing you to recover faster. Wearing compression material has also been shown to help reduce muscle strains—and help those who have strained their muscles to recover more quickly. According to a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, those who wore compression gear both during and after exercise experienced lower levels of soreness than those who didn’t. What gives?
When muscles work hard, they become inflamed, and the body’s response is to send fluid and white blood cells to the affected region, leading to swelling and pain. By gently constricting your muscles, compression gear reduces the amount of this build-up. The study also reported that the compression gear increases blood flow to the muscles, which helps remove creatine kinase, an enzyme that can cause aches and pains. There’s also evidence (found in studies like this one from ResearchGate) that compression clothing can increase the amount of oxygen delivered to the muscles (via better blood flow), which can improve athletic performance over time.
For endurance athletes, compression clothing can help lower the perceived level of exertion. That is, it doesn’t seem as if you’re working as hard. This makes the workout easier to complete and leads to more significant gains. (A study in the journal Sports Medicine confirmed that compression tights, shorts and socks diminished the perceived exertion for runners.)
Finally, compression shorts are more comfortable than traditional workout wear and eliminate problems like chafing and excessive friction. They also make it easier to complete your exercises, and they don’t ride up (or down) as you complete things like squats, sit-ups and stretching.
Is Compression Gear for Me?
The studies may sound convincing, but perhaps not enough to overcome the thought of wearing skin-tight clothing in public. But you don’t need to have the body of an Olympic sprinter to appreciate the gear's benefits. Many athletes use compression shorts, tights and tops as undergarments if they’re more comfortable with a loose-fitting pair of shorts and a T-shirt in the gym, court or on the field. You’ll still get all the same benefits—without the look that may not be as flattering as you’d like.
Even if you’re just looking to have some fun or lose a few pounds, the injury-prevention aspect of compression gear shouldn’t be overlooked. You can’t enjoy your favorite sport when you’re injured, and anything that can keep you in action is worth considering.
Compression gear made with 37.5 Technology stands out from others in the field for its additional benefits. Clothing with this technology has patented, active particles permanently embedded into the fabric’s fibers that capture and release moisture vapor to help your body maintain the optimum levels of temperature and humidity. The name 37.5 refers to the ideal body temperature for athletic performance (37.5 degrees Celsius) and humidity (37.5 percent) that the technology helps maintain next to your skin, known as the microclimate. The technology will help you stay cool in warmer conditions, but if you get too cold, those active particles will capture your body’s own infrared energy to help warm you up. For everyday athletes, this means an expanded comfort range in your workout clothes.
One of the brands creating compression gear using 37.5 Technology is Inaria, which is best known for its soccer apparel. The Ravello Base Layer Compression Short dries quickly and helps manage your body temperature for any active sport, and the Ravello Short-Sleeve Compression Top pairs nicely with the shorts as a way to bring the benefits of the technology to your upper body as well. Other brands tapping into 37.5 Technology for compression clothing can be found on the 37.5 Partner Page.
Compression gear may have the benefits that the pros need, but it can be just as helpful for amateur athletes who want to get the most out of their workouts. With its performance and injury-prevention benefits, this type of clothing should be in everyone’s gym bag. If you look for apparel using 37.5 Technology, you’ll be more comfortable than ever while participating in your favorite sports. You don’t have to be a pro to understand these benefits are worth exploring.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with 37.5.
Featured image provided by Inaria