A few months ago I bought two pairs of compression socks – one pair of Zoot and one pair of CEP. I thought there may be a difference between them, but after close examination, I think they may have come off the same assembly line, it may be just a branding thing. I initially held out in buying compression socks because first they looked goofy on runners and second they are pretty expensive. Who would rationally buy a $50 pair of socks? However, after reading the science behind them and claims of faster marathon times, I figured what the heck, why not. In the last couple of years I’ve been seeing more and more elite runners wear them, so I figured there may be something to them.
For those unfamiliar with compression socks, the socks were created to help diabetics improve their circulation, and now they’ve become popular with runners looking to boost blood flow and run faster. There is a claim on the CEP website that compression socks will provide 5% faster running times while using 6% less energy. The tight material compresses the muscle vessels providing better blood flow thus supplying the muscles with more oxygen. After a long run wearing the socks for a few hours or in the night aids recovery.
The verdict – maybe. Having only worn the socks during my long runs, they do seem to hold my calf muscles and achilles tight, thus reducing vibration and increasing blood flow, which I believe is especially helpful for mid-foot runners. I also put on a pair after my long run and it does seems to speed up the freshness of the legs. However, I’m not sure if this is placebo effect or is really attributed to the socks, since the improvement has not been overwhelming or easily detectable. As far as the claim that it will improve your marathon times by 5% (which would equate to about 10 minutes for me), that is yet to be determined and I think would be difficult to verify since there are so many other variables that go into how well you run a marathon. Therefore, I think the jury is still out on whether or not compression socks are a fad or the next best thing since sliced bread.
A couple of recommendations and cautions on wearing compression socks. First, they are pretty warm, so running in them in hot weather is probably not going to be an enjoyable experience. Second, the socks are pretty darn hard to take on and off…it really takes some practice and is an exercise routine in itself. And last, if I were to buy the socks again, I would go with the calf sleeves rather than the entire sock. I’m finding that I would prefer wearing my own running socks as the full compression sock just aren’t as comfortable.