I have a very distinct memory of the Rubicon Triathlon in 2015. My abiding memory is not the excitement of the river swim, nor is it the fantastic support from the Wakefield Tri Club feed station. It’s not even the soupy paddling pool at the finish line. No, my overriding memory of that race is that I seemed to be the only person doing the event that wasn’t wearing compression sleeves on my calves.
You still see them, of course, and many people swear by them for recovery, but there was a brief period when every triathlete was racing and training in tight calf guards.
I did eventually try calf guards for a while. I was getting calf problems – repetitive muscle strains, and cramp – so I thought I would give them a try. In the end, I just didn’t feel they helped. I felt restricted, and it was starting to affect the way I ran.
I asked around on social media for people’s opinions, and got a real range of answers.
· Calves. Several people had started using them to stave off calf trouble, but almost all of those people had subsequently stopped. Steve Denniss and Adrian Gough both said that they used them when they first started running, but no longer feel the need.
· Shins. This is something I hadn’t previously considered, but several people raised the subject of shin splints, and general soreness which were aided by wearing compression sleeves during exercise. Lindsay Taylor-King is prone to shin splints, and is sure that sleeves make a difference.
· Recovery. A lot more people in my little survey talked about recovery. After a long run, putting on the sleeves to act as a sort of compression bandage appears to aid recovery and get people back to full strength more quickly.
I am no scientist, and this was far from a definitive survey, but I have also done some Googling so I now consider myself an expert (joke). I don’t have a definitive answer on their efficacy, but the theory is that they increase blood flow to the constricted area, and this does help with recovery – in just the same way that doctors recommend compression socks for long haul flights.
There doesn’t, however, seem to be any clear evidence that they add anything when worn whilst running.
That said, I am a great believer in the placebo effect, and just believing that something will have a positive influence on your race can often be enough. Several people admitted that they still use them for no better reason than they have always used them, and it just feels like part of their kit. Emma Lockwood said she felt naked without them!
So it seems that wearing compression sleeves for recovery is a good idea, but I still believe that racing in them was definitely a bit of a fad in the early 2010s. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop wearing them if they are doing you some good. And if you THINK they are doing you some good, well then that’s good enough for me.