About two weeks ago I convinced myself a proper pair of compression tights was a good idea. The science behind them was my first priority. There are quite a few studies out there about compression clothing, specifically lower limb compression (go to pubmed and search ‘lower muscle compression’). Most of the studies focus on endurance athletics or recovery after running or cycling. The way the circulatory system works, the heart pumps blood in one direction and muscle contractions push it back the other way. That’s where graded compression comes in, compression from the ankles lessening as you approach hips, effectively mimicking the muscle contractions and helping to push blood back into the body. The idea being the more fresh blood you can get through your tissues the better performance and recovery.
[learn_more caption=”The Science”]
THE EFFECT OF GRADUATED COMPRESSION TIGHTS, COMPARED TO RUNNING SHORTS, ON COUNTER MOVEMENT JUMP PERFORMANCE BEFORE AND AFTER SUBMAXIMAL RUNNING.
The mean post-run CMJ height in graduated compression tights of 60.3 ± 19.4 cm was significantly greater, at the p < 0.05 level, than both the pre-run with tights value of 57.7 ± 19.4 (4.5% increase) and the post-run running shorts value of 57.7 ± 19.6 cm (4.5% increase). In addition, the subjects reported a significantly lower level of perceived exertion and greater comfort values while wearing the graduated compression tights. The results of the present study support the use of graduated compression tights for maintenance of lower limb muscle power after submaximal endurance running. Effects of compression tights on calf muscle oxygenation and venous pooling during quiet resting in supine and standing positions.
Compression Tights compared to Elastic Tights have positive effects on calf muscle oxygenation and venous pooling in quiet resting positions.
Aerobic energy cost and sensation responses during submaximal running exercise–positive effects of wearing compression tights.
During part II, wearing compression tights decreased significantly VO2 slow component by 26 and 36% compared to elastic tights and conventional shorts, respectively. There were no differences in sweating and comfort sensations, RPE, and for whole thermal sensation between clothing conditions in parts I and II. Wearing compression tights during running exercise may enhance overall circulation and decrease muscle oscillation to promote a lower energy expenditure at a given prolonged submaximal speed.
I literally only searched the first page of pubmed, there are hundreds but I was convinced enough to try it out. Though the literature suggests that it could be pretty 50/50 in terms of effectiveness. When I set out to buy some compression tights, I looked at four companies, 2XU, Zoot, Skins, and Bodyscience. As far as the MSRP goes they’re all about the same, somewhere between $140 and $160 for a pair. The biggest difference is that some companies offer a different pair for recovery and for active use; some companies suggest you can use a single pair for both. The deciding factor for me was price, being that amazon.com had Skins for about $90 a pair rather than the retail $150, and they came highly recommended from a couple other blogs and internet friends.
They got here last Saturday, just in time for squats on Monday. Seemingly at the same time I was contacted by @BK_Athletics on twitter. This was a first, he wanted to give me a pair of his tights just for this review. That’s a pretty bold move, only someone with a lot of faith in their product would give it away, knowing how it might rack up against the competition. That already was a bold gesture in my mind – not to mention my excitement over the first tangible anything this blog has generated.
The Skins material is pretty much really nice under armour. There’s a few talking points they give, “The fabric we use is warp knitted, which is a superior fabric that provides the stringent stretch and recovery standards needed for SKINS engineered gradient compression.” The first thing I noticed was how many more seems there were than regular leggings, they looked to be made of at least 5 or 6 pieces. The material feels very smooth and about as thin as other leggings I’ve worn. They aren’t thermal, so they weren’t meant to be thick. Really nothing stood out to me as problematic or special here.
According to the Skins sizing chart, a 6’2 210 pound male should buy a Large. I was kind of second guessing this but thought I should just follow the chart. I ordered larges of both the A400 and the Recovery tights. My original perception is that both pairs fit pretty well, they felt tight through the calf and looser along the thigh and hip. They sit rather high on my waist which takes some getting used to but beyond that I figured they fit pretty well. I should also mention that I adjusted them multiple times during my first workout, often having to pull on the thighs to keep them from sagging down.
Still pretty early to call this one, especially since I’m in the middle of a strength gaining cycle, to really say “these skins helped me squat 10# more, or run 5 seconds faster” is almost impossible. I will say, they felt good through the workout. The metcon I did in these was deadlifts and muscle ups, the deadlifts were only at 225# but my legs stayed fresh through 8 rounds of 7. The real test would be to run week-to-week 5k’s in both pairs, thats where they would really see changes. From a psychological perspective, theres something to be said about placebo, just feeling the tights on your legs gives you the perception of greater strength and stability. This could be my fault however, maybe a medium would actually feel more compressed and make a bigger difference.
This one was a bit interesting to me. I mentioned above the material is thin, as thin as most compression wear I’ve worn. I did some hang snatch’s in these, and the knurling on the bar started to tug at the material. I didn’t rip a hole in them or anything, but they did start to pill a bit, I could see using this for long enough that it did become an issue. For $150 I’d want something that lasts for awhile. I have washed both pairs of Skins and they survived that just fine, no stretching or messed up fit.
I wanted to take a special area to talk about the Recovery tights specifically (RY400). This is something that most people will probably use their Skins for. I love them for this. I don’t like the idea of wearing the same tights you just spent 2 hours sweating in all night for recovery as well. First, the fit of the Skins is a bit more relaxed, so they’re comfortable enough to wear for 10-12 hours at home for the night and still get some benefit. I put these on to sleep in every night after I do any form of squat or clean and I can definitely tell the difference when I wake up the next morning. The other side of this is the circulation heals inflammation in joints, my knees have felt so much better since wearing these regularly. While I might not land on the A400’s for my workouts, the RY400’s definitely have a place in my bag.
Score: 88 B+
The first thing I noticed when pulling these out of the box was that they were thicker than the Skins. Trying them on, the material felt much better right off the bat. Without getting into fit, there was already a noticeable difference between the two. The second thing I noticed was the sort of rubberized webbing from the calf through the knee, this same material was used to add logo’s to both calves as well as one on the thigh. From a styling perspective I really enjoyed the more outspoken branding on the BSC tights. I can’t think of a super practical reason for the webbing on the calves short of rope climbs, but it does look good. They’re thick enough that wearing them actually keeps my knee warm to the point of not needing my big reheband wraps.
According to the BK Athletics and the Bodyscience site I would’ve placed myself in the Large category as well. Here’s where having a person rather than a company makes a huge difference. Knowing my height and weight Ben suggested a medium. This as a pretty big deal, I don’t wear anything medium really, at least not without looking like the hulk after he’s ripped through his shit. Skeptically, when I put them on for the first time I felt a huge difference between the Skins. I actually felt “compressed” rather than just like wearing something thats skin tight. They also sit lower, as a ‘long-waisted’ individual, I find the lower hip level much more comfortable. They’re also much tighter passed the knee compares to the Skins which seemingly let go about half way up the thigh.
After my first day in the Skins I wasn’t expecting a ton from tights beyond the psychological affects. I tried them first on Friday and had one of the best workouts of my life. I PR’d my snatch, then I PR’d my clean, then I PR’d my jerk. Then I did the heaviest set of 5 front squats I’d ever done, without my knee sleeves. Was it probably just a good day? Yes, did the compression help, absolutely. I also wore them on Saturday which didn’t go so well, though no lower body exercises. Then again on Monday, which was 5RM back squat that I struggled more than I wanted to. I still give the Bodyscience pair a leg up on the Skins. They feel far better while working out, while doing rowing intervals, and not having to adjust them constantly.
I mentioned doing hang snatches in the Skins and the trouble that caused. I did both hang cleans and hang snatches in the Bodysciece tights and they did not show any of the same signs of wear that the Skins did. That’s a huge bonus, if they’ll last forever they’re worth whatever you can charge for them. Already a victory.
This part I can’t talk about. I mentioned above I’ve only used them to workout in, they get sweaty and smelly, I don’t want to wear that to bed. If I had 7 pairs of these, I would gladly set a pair aside to relax in, but short of that I really can’t see using these as a recovery tool, unless it was laundry day.
Score: 97 A/A+
- Lightweight material
- Sized a bit big
- Comfortable for recovery
- Cheaper through 3rd party retailers
- Minimal branding/logo’s
- Heavier material for more “compressed” feeling
- More durable
- Better workout stability
- Pricier but probably worth it
- Well styled
At the end of the day the biggest metric is where I’ll spend my money, and my next pair of tights will definitely be from BK Athletics and Bodyscience.