Review: 2XU Compression Tights
Compression garments, once the preserve of Nannas and the hospitalised are now frequently seen on athletic individuals looking for performance gains through various different methods of usage. I first came across them when I noticed several of my marathon running friends trotting about in colourful knee high socks, something that at first I took to be a fashion trend. And certainly, using compression socks for running, triathlon and cycling does seem to be something of a trend, but what of the science behind it – do these products actually work and should they be used before or after a ride or a run?
What do compression garments actually do?
According to some reports, compression socks worn during activity can improve ‘venous return’ and help with the removal of lactic acid.
There are two kinds of blood flow, blood flowing from the heart carrying oxygen (called arterial blood) and blood that’s already flowed through the muscles and is returning to the heart to be re-oxygenated, called venous blood. This venous blood has a lower pressure than the other kind and as the contraction of muscles helps it return to the heart, it’s thought that pressure applied to the muscles is beneficial.
If applying pressure to the limbs can stimulate blow flow, compression garments should therefore boost the amount of oxygen your muscles receive, something that should help them perform better.
Compression worn during exercise can also stop your muscles jiggling about (muscle oscillation) an unnecessary movement that can add to fatigue. If you’ve a lot of muscle, think about the way your quads wobble slightly as you run forwards, right before the muscles is engaged as your leg takes your weight. Runners see more oscillation than cyclists, simply due to the different movement patterns so that’s possibly why you see more runners wearing compression for activity than you do cyclists.
What about compression for recovery?
It’s now very common to see pro-tour teams slip on their recovery socks the minute they finish a day of racing. The theory is that compression increases circulation, so it stands to reason that this should aid recovery – anything that boosts the speed at which your blood can move toxins such as lactic acid away from the legs to be processed can surely only be a good thing.
2XU Power Recovery Tights
As there seem to be plenty of conflicting opinions and reports about compression and cycling, I thought it would make sense to try it for myself, picking the brand X2U from a couple that had been recommended to me. 2XU have done studies with the Australian Institute of Sport that seem to back cycling whilst wearing compression, stating these findings about compression on their website:
- Improve performance – Cyclist wearing 2XU Compression compared to normal cycling shorts, increased average power output by 4 watts*
- Reduced swelling – Thigh girth measurements pre and post recovery indicate a significantly greater reduction in swelling when wearing 2XU Compression*.
- Maintain performance – Cyclists were able to maintain performance in 2XU Compression by -0.1% vs. -1.79% without*.
- Lower heart rate – Significantly lower heart rate when 2XU Compression is worn*
- Reduction of soreness – Significantly less perceived muscle soreness was noted during the recovery period when wearing 2XU Compression*.
X2u sent me a pair of Women’s Power Recovery Compression tights to review. I actually don’t particularly want to cycling in recovery garments – I like my ASSOS clothing – and was instead looking for assistance with my recovery as it’s something I’m always hoping to improve. I therefore started wearing X2U’s Power Recovery Compression tights after rides.
The look of these tights is really sporty. Personally, I think the all black ones look badass but I was sent the black and green ones which I think look a bit bonkers. I’ve therefore stuck to wearing these in the confines of my own home. A wide (green) waistband helps the tights stay in place, which is important as recovery tights are generally looser at the top than the bottom and can therefore be prone to falling down.
The tights use 2XU’s greatest level of compression – 105 denier – and make use of a very stretchy yet stable fabric that feels firm rather than tight. The leggings go over the ankle and about half way down the foot leaving the toes exposed, which is great because no one wants compressed toes!
Supposedly they feature ‘graduated stamping’ but I couldn’t actually find out what on earth that’s meant to be so I can only assume it means graduated compression – the level of compression eases off the further you travel up your leg.
The fabric is durable, moisture wicking, anti bacterial and even has UFP 50+ sun protection.
Feel and Fit
It’s really important to get recovery tights that are close fitting as otherwise they’re not going to work properly. 2XU recommend sizing down if you fall between sizes but as I didn’t, I just went for XS. As a size 8 with a pretty small waist and hips but relatively developed quads, I found the fit comfortable. Getting them on is more difficult than pulling on a regular pair of leggings but not too awkward.
The material feels cool, silky and pleasant on the skin. Flatlock seams prevent any chafing. The compression is firmest around the calf and not particularly noticeable on the thighs. I guess this is because the idea is to help speed that blood back up your leg towards the heart, but I was hoping to feel more of a squeeze on my tired thighs, just because that would feel pleasant!
The tights have a stirrup that goes over your heel so that compression begins right at the foot. I actually didn’t like the pressure on my foot, it’s uncomfortable and makes my flesh bulge so I’m actually going to cut the bottom of the tights off – they feel tight enough at the ankle that I feel I’ll still get a good level of compression.
Do they work?
Hmm… well, it’s really hard to tell for sure but they feel nice to wear and I like the sensation of consistent pressure on my limbs, there’s something comforting about it. When I put them on, it makes me feel like I’m doing something positive and giving myself the best chance of recovering well. Having someone squeeze your legs feels good after a ride feels good.
Having read ‘the science’ I feel it’s worth wearing these as even a minuscule boost to my recovery is worth it, particularly if I all need to do is wear a pair of tights.