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Having discussed the evidence for a potential reduction in muscle damage and inflammation with compression garments last week, now I will look into if this translates into improved muscle function and physical performance.  It goes without saying that a recovery modality that can improve subsequent physical performance will be of benefit to team sports athletes.

Muscle Function & Physical Performance

Although early research into the effect of compression garments as a recovery modality measured a range of blood markers associated with muscle damage and metabolism, few actually measured the performance measures associated with these changes.  Lovell and colleagues (2011) found wearing compression garments during active recovery from high intensity treadmill running helped the recovery process in reducing blood lactate concentration and heart rate by enhancing the ‘muscle pump’ but did not analyse the effect on subsequent muscle function.

In one of the first studies to measure subsequent physical performance, no differences were found in repeat sprint performance or throwing performance in cricket players when wearing compression garments compared to the control (Duffield and Portus, 2007).  Further to that, no differences were found in the recovery of peak force of knee flexion and extension between control and compression garments in the 24 hours following fatiguing sprint and plyometric bounding exercise (Duffield et al, 2010).  French et al (2008) also reported no attenuation of recovery in countermovement jump, sprint and squat measures with compression garments after a resistance exercise challenge.

Compression garments provided no benefit to physical recovery in hockey players after a match simulation exercise, assessed via 5CMJ and SJ tests (Pruscino et al, 2013).  Despite the low physiological responses and mild muscle damage caused by the LIST protocol in the highly trained subjects as discussed in the Part II post, there was a significant decrease in force and power production at 1 h post, which the compression garments did not help to attenuate.  However, considering the practical application to team sports it could be argued that recovery at 24 hours and beyond is more important than 1 hour post therefore it is necessary to research the findings on recovery when muscle function is suppressed beyond 1 hour.

Duffield et al (2008) found wearing compression garments for 15 hours post exercise did not improve speed or power in rugby players or aid performance recovery during 24h post exercise.  However, they utilised a simulated team sport exercise with small volumes of eccentric exercise and collisions, which may not reflect the true physical demands of rugby match play and consequently may have only suppressed muscle contractile performance for a limited time period.  Despite the non-significant differences found between the trials in this study, the absolute results (2.2% higher with compression garments) are reported elsewhere as evidence in favour for the use of compression garments in physical recovery (Hamlin et al, 2012).  In that study, the authors extended the previous work of Duffield et al (2008) to wearing compression garments for 24 hours post a rugby match simulation circuit and physical improvements were seen in terms of decreased 3km time and improved repeated sprint times and fatigue (Hamlin et al, 2012).  Although a placebo effect was controlled for by using a similar looking garment and telling the subjects it was also compressive, the ability of a non-compressive garment to truly blind participants from the sensation of compression is questionable.

In a novel study in which professional Australian Football League players were free to choose their own combination of recovery strategies and monitored across a 23 game season, no associations were found between post-game recovery methods, which included compression garments, and physical recovery assessed with vertical jump or next game performance as scored subjectively by the coaching staff (Bahnert et al, 2013).  Although the use of combinations of recovery modalities and the uncontrolled duration of application of compression garments could be seen as limitations to this study, these aspects more realistically represent the application of recovery modalities in the applied team sport setting.

Despite most of the studies in this review suggesting little or no change in subsequent physical performance, a recent meta-analysis demonstrated improved recovery of performance measures in strength and power with the use of a compression garment (Hill et al, 2014).  The results suggested 69% and 66% of the population will experience accelerated recovery for strength and power respectively when using a compression garment.  However, we must once again consider the variation in exercise interventions, type of compression garment and duration of application, as well as the participants training status ranging from untrained to elite, when applying these results to a specific population of interest.

Whilst this review highlights the lack of evidence for a positive effect on subsequent physical performance after recovery with compression garments, to date no studies have reported negative effects on exercise performance (Nédélec et al, 2013).  In a literature review by MacRae et al (2011) it is concluded that the current data on subsequent exercise performance do not form a consensus or a mechanistically insightful interpretation of these effects, and so the authors call for further data particularly with trained participants, with realistic exercise type and wear durations, adequate blinding to placebo conditions and consideration of longer term effects.

In next week’s final post in this Compression Garments Series, I discuss the effects on perceptual recovery and provide conclusions from across all four parts of this series.

Jo Clubb


Bahnert A, Norton K and Lock P. (2013) Association between post-game recovery protocol, physical and perceived recovery, and performance in elite Australian Football League players. J Sci Med Sport 16: 151-156.

Duffield R and Portus M. (2007) Comparison of three types of full-body compression garments on throwing and repeat-sprint performance in cricket players. Br J Sports Med 41: 409-414.

Duffield R, Cannon J and King M. (2010) The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle performance following high-intensity sprint and plyometric exercise. J Sci Med Sport 13: 136-140.

Duffield R, Edge J, Merrells R, et al. (2008) The effects of compression garments on intermittent exercise performance and recovery on consecutive days. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 3: 454-468.

French DN, Thompson KG, Garland SW, et al. (2008) The effects of contrast bathing and compression therapy on muscular performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 40: 1297-1306.

Hamlin MJ, Mitchell CJ, Ward FD. (2012) Effects of compression garments on short-term recovery of repeated sprint and 3-km running performance in rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res 26: 2975-2982.

Hill J, Howatson G, van Someren K, et al. (2014) Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 48: 1340-1346.

Lovell DI, Mason DG, Delphinus EM, et al. (2011) Do compression garments enhance the active recovery process after high-intensity running? J Strength Cond Res 25: 3264-3268.

MacRae BA, Cotter JD and Laing RM. (2011) Compression garments and exercise: garment considerations, physiology and performance. Sports Med 41: 815-843.

Nédélec M, McCall A, Carling C, et al. (2013) Recovery in Soccer Part II – Recovery Strategies. Sports Med 43: 9-22.

Pruscino CL, Halson SL and Hargreaves M. (2013) Effects of compression garments on recovery following intermittent exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 113: 1585-1596.