If you’re anything like the rest of modern society, you’re noticing the benefits of living an active lifestyle. Making time to hit the gym or simply to go jogging or walking can have a lot of small but noticeable benefits, mainly involving the improvement of one’s cardio, burning some pounds, and generally improving one’s metabolic rate. People who have come to realize that a lot of the work of the 21st century involves sitting down at a desk or computer have decided to counteract this by taking the initiative and seeking out physical activity.

This has resulted in a lot of other industries benefiting from this newfound resurgence in popularity. Where the fashion of physical fitness was once seen in the way aerobics leotards, muscle shirts and jogging/sports bandanas went mainstream, these days we see yoga pants and various clothes that could be at home in the gym or on the street – largely because people now have to fit the gym into their regular schedule. Even things like footwear have enjoyed a popularity push for decades, becoming fixtures thanks to basketball endorsements and the current spike in popularity of jogging and cross training. Like the matter of athletic shoes, however, a large part of fitness fashion is function.

Enter compression gear. Actually, compression gear was already on the scene well before its current rise in popularity – doctors would prescribe these to patients with circulation issues, such as those that resulted in varicose veins and spider veins. Far from simply being exclusive to the realm of medical prescription, though, compression attire has broken into the mainstream and is now quite popular among gym-goers for a variety of reasons. One could surmise that compression attire, such as compression shirts and compression socks, have proven to be a great match for the athletic, active lifestyle of today.

WHAT ARE COMPRESSION GARMENTS?

The name says it all really. These are usually the typical shirts, sleeves, and socks, only distinct because of the material and cut – the overall effect on the body is one of a super-tight fit, which itself has a direct effect on the muscles being covered and bound by the compression attire. Once you get used to this second-skin feeling, you can get comfortable with compression attire. It helps that there is some variety in the degree of compression. Light to strong pressure options allow you to select the degree of compression. For compression socks in particular there are even options according to length – knee-length compression socks or ones that reach high up on the thigh are available.

HOW DO THEY WORK?

Compression gear is mainly associated with improving circulation in the body. Remember how they’re usually prescribed for people with leg vein issues? The tightness of the compression typically encourages proper blood flow where it might otherwise slow down in the leg area. In some cases compression socks are even prescribed to help prevent blood clots in the area after injury or surgery, especially in the interim period of recovery when one might be less active. If you’re living an active lifestyle and engaging in a lot of exercise as a result, you’ll want your circulation to be consistently good – this can help keep the limbs strong and moving well, and possibly even adjust to strain better.

If you’re wondering how something tight can improve rather than impede circulation, this may help it make sense: compression socks usually involve graduated compression as a design principle. Graduated compression has varying degrees of tightness along the length of the compression sock. Usually, the better kinds have about 30mmHG of compression around the ankle area, and decreases this as the sock goes up the leg. This allows for better circulation that doesn’t get pinched off by the tightness of the compression sock.

Other design ideas give additional convenience to the compression sock. While some brands focus on making the material effective at wicking away moisture, others focus on cushioning. Some brands even make sure to give the top of the sock a bit more compression to help free you from having to pull up the sock should it slide down your leg.

WHY ARE THEY A GOOD FIT FOR AN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE?

An active lifestyle is likely to involve pain to some degree, and this is arguably inevitable. Simply increasing the intensity of your workouts over time can already bring some degree of pain, from something as simple as the production of lactic acid – which causes soreness – due to working your muscles. Compression socks can reduce the production of lactic acid while improving the blood flow in the leg muscles, resulting in more oxygen getting brought to the muscles and possibly allowing faster recovery from muscle pain than would otherwise be possible.

This can be more important than you realize, as muscles are far from the only things involved in a workout. Our joints are also central to the success of workout – just as they are for basic moving around on a daily basis. The joints in our legs, in particular, are subject to tremendous demand as they hold up our body weight as we stand, sit, and move around. When the joints become subject to pain, movement in general can grind to a halt. The inflammation and stiffness that can take over a joint can keep us from virtually any activity, let alone an active exercise-based lifestyle. Compression gear can help there as well, as long as the other means for recovery are also followed – compression, after all, is traditionally one of the most important steps to be taken to recover from joint pains. This is why we wrap joints in addition to keeping them elevated and iced.