By Samantha Calder-Sprackman, MD
Being a medical professional, I have traditionally thought of compression socks/sleeves as a medical device to help prevent blood clots, varicose veins, and leg swelling. However, it is apparent that compression socks/sleeves are becoming more and more popular among athletes. They seem to be popping up on my legs of athletes of all levels. Early adopters of compression socks include runners such as Paula Radcliff but now many runners in the elite and non-elite fields can be seen wearing them.
Not being one to resist what is trendy, I quickly jumped on the compression bandwagon. I have tried a variety of different compression socks and sleeves including brands such as CEP Compression socks, Running Room Compression Socks, 110% Compression Ice and Recovery Calf Sleeves, and most recently, the Lorpen Calf Sleeves. Previously my go-to compression garment was the CEP Compression Sock but since trying out the Lorpen Calf Sleeves for the past three weeks, I must admit that CEP Compression Sock has some tough competition in my eyes (or should I say calves).
The Science of Compression:
Before talking about the pros and cons of compression sleeves, lets talk science. In short, compression socks are designed to 1) reduce muscle fatigue, and 2) minimize muscle vibration/maximize muscle stability.
1) Compression socks are meant to reduce muscle fatigue by helping squeeze deoxygenated venous blood that pools in our lower legs back to the heart and lungs to be reoxygenated. Ultimately the extra squeeze of compression garments increases the flushing out of byproducts that are transported by the blood away from our tired muscles. This increase in blood flow and removal of byproducts is meant to decrease fatigue during exercise improving performance, decreasing fatigue, and accelerating recovery.
2) Muscle vibration throughout our calves is also thought to occur every time our foot hits the pavement. The compressive force found in compression socks/sleeves is thought to decrease this vibration and therefore decrease the soreness and calf pain we have all experienced during workouts and recovery.
For a more detailed evidence-based review on the science behind compression please visit Steve Magness‘s blog post (ScienceOfRunning.com)! It’s a great read!
My Experience with LORPEN Calf Sleeves
I have been sporting the Lorpen Calf Sleeves for nearly three weeks now. I have worn them for long easy runs (up to 20 km), steady runs, and for high intensity interval speed work. I have worn them outside in temperatures ranging from -5 to +15 (crazy fall weather), inside on a treadmill, and for a couple plyometric workout classes that require high impact jumping movements. Overall, I feel like have become well acquainted with the Lorpen Calf Sleeves. So here are my thoughts…
As soon as I put on the Lorpen Calf Sleeves, I knew I was going to like them. They are a comfortable lightweight fabric and have great compression forces on my calf unlike some of the looser compression products I have tried in the past.
On my first run with them, I felt awesome and ran faster. Maybe it is just me but I think that if I’m wearing a running accessory like compression socks that I must look intense and therefore run faster. Never underestimate the power of the mind when it comes to performance ;).
In addition to the mental aspect perks of feeling and running fast, I did not get any calf soreness or fatigue on my long run or during my speed work. I also felt that I did not experience any calf soreness during the recovery from my hard workouts. Interestingly, I even found the recovery from my plyometric workout was quicker when I wore the compression sleeves – in my eyes, this was a great test because plyo workouts ALWAYS makes my calfs sore!
Perhaps what I liked best of all about the Lorpen Calf Sleeve is the ‘sleeve’ component. Having wimpy feet that are prone to blisters and being cold, I love the flexibility that I can pick my base sock without sacrificing the compression. I was able to wear my favorite two-ply socks to avoid blisters on warm running days and switch to my big wool socks on the chilly days without sacrificing any compression.
Another perk of the compression sleeve verses the compression sock is the decreased need to do laundry. I must admit that I have not washed my calf sleeves in the 3 weeks (gross, I know) but they do not smell and have not lost any of their compression forces! Bonus! They are also extremely reasonably priced at $34.99 compared to many other compression garments I have bought that are $60.00 and up!
It can’t all be good. Despite being lightweight and made of breathable material, I still find these compression sleeves warmer than other compression socks I have tried in the past. They are great for the cooler fall temperatures right now but I do not think I will keep wearing them in the warm summer months.
(Note: Lorpen is introducing a Lightweight Compression Sleeve for Spring '14. MSRP will be $29)
I also think the compression sleeves look a little silly. From an esthetics perspective, I much prefer the look of the sleek compression sock verses the sleeve. I also like bright colours offered by other compression companies compared to the blue and black sleeve made by Lorpen.
Science or no science, I love compression garments. I feel faster and have less calf soreness during and after my workouts. The Lorpen Calf Sleeve has been excellent to me, it’s lightweight and has strong compressive forces are some of the best with respect to the compression products I’ve tried. For now I am enjoying the flexibility of pairing a warmer sock on my foot to stay warm without having to sacrifice any compression. Again, I don’t know if I will keep wearing them when the weather gets warmer but, for now, I will definitely be using them regularly throughout the winter. I give the Lorpen Compression Sleeve two thumbs up and definitely recommend them to anyone looking for a new compression garment! Looking forward to testing them out with a race in the spring!
Samantha Calder-Sprackman is a member of the Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team, an Ottawa based women's running club