Athlete Wearing Compression Shorts
Athlete Wearing Compression Shorts

Equipment (Video): Compression Shorts Improve Sports Performance

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

Compression shorts provide support for the glutes, hamstrings, hips and thighs and are sold as injury-prevention garments, with some companies claiming improvements in performance. But are they really effective as performance enhancers?

Recent research shows that they do indeed provide a performance boost.

Positive Effects of Wearing Compression Shorts
Studies have shown the following benefits of wearing compression shorts:

  • The ability to perform more maximal-effort jumps before fatigue.
  • Greater height when performing counter-movement jumps (where the legs flex downward before jumping).
  • Lower energy cost when running at 80% of V02 max - 26% better than when wearing regular elastic tights and 36% better versus loose shorts.
  • Lower levels of lactate in the blood during and after exercise.
  • Fewer injuries, particularly in the thighs and ham-strings.
  • Fewer injuries during contact sports because of the support provided to the musculature and the resulting reduction in impact forces.
  • Reduced vibration within the muscles.
  • Reduced muscle oscillation upon landing from jumps.

Why Compression Shorts are Effective

    Why are compression shorts effective in improving performance? Speculation includes:
  • Improved venous return allowing for faster removal of blood lactate during exercise.
  • Improved proprioception and motor patterning caused by the compression of muscles around the nerves.
  • Reduced muscle oscillation and vibration, improved efficiency of muscle contraction and reduced fatigue because of support of the muscles in their direction of contraction.
  • Improved eccentric contraction of the hamstrings as they transition from forward movement to backward drive at the end of the recovery phase in running - a result of the compression and support of the hamstring muscles. This phase of the stride cycle is most responsible for hamstring pulls, so assistance at this point of the stride reduces strain on the hamstrings and reduces injury risk.
  • Improved body cooling when wearing compression clothing versus loose clothing. The closer proximity to the skin allows better transfer of sweat to the fabric, encouraging faster evaporation and cooling.
  • Improved confidence due to the feeling of support.

Criticism - Constriction of Movement
One criticism of compression shorts is that they may constrict the movement of the legs when running, reducing the legs' range of motion and causing early fatigue. Research has found this to be false.

This video shows a sprinter wearing compression shorts
and demonstrating excellent range of motion.

Reference: Andy Harrison BSc, MSc and Kevin Thompson, PhD, "Compression clothing: Can it help you squeeze out a PB?" Peak Performance, 2007.

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