What Are Compression Leggings and Do I Need Them?

Compression is often mentioned as a feature of leggings, but it’s hardly ever explained. It doesn’t sound very nice at first. I don’t typically want to be compressed into my clothing. That sounds uncomfortable. But when it comes to leggings, it’s always promoted as a good thing. This naturally leaves you wondering: what are compression leggings exactly, do I need them and what can they do for me?

What are compression leggings?

When activewear brands say that a piece of clothing has compression, they are referring to that “hugged in” feeling you get when you put the clothing on. It’s supposed to be pleasantly tight and hold you in, but it’s not restrictive at all because it has just the right amount of stretch. While the word “compression” doesn’t instantly make you think “this is going to be comfortable,” the compression is actually very comforting and supportive, especially when your body is moving, like during a workout.

What makes leggings compressive?

The actual “compression” feeling is created in leggings by a stretchy spandex-type material. Spandex is used because it stretches in all directions, and also bounces back and retains its shape after being stretched. In other words, it doesn’t go loose and baggy after it has been stretched out. The higher the percentage of spandex used in the fabric, the higher the compression. Anywhere from 10% – 30% spandex is common in compression wear, with 10% being on the very light end and 30% being on the very high end.

You will also see compression levels described in mmHg (millimetres of mercury), which measures the level of pressure on your body. This number typically ranges from 8mmHg to 30mmHg. 8mmHg is very light compression and 30mmHg is very high compression.

What are the benefits of compression leggings?

The theory behind compression leggings is that pressure is being applied to your body as you move during physical activity, which is when there is a big increase in blood flow throughout your body. This pressure assists your body with circulation, pumping more oxygenated blood to your muscles and tissues than would be possible without compression. Increased circulation can also help prevent cramping, and we all know cramping can totally derail a race or training session. It is reported to increase endurance because blood is being circulated more efficiently and can speed up the removal of waste products that cause muscle fatigue, like lactic acid. 

Compression leggings should feel like they are hugging you in without feeling restrictive or uncomfortable

Compression leggings are also reported to help you recover faster post-workout because they stimulate increased circulation. More blood flow will allow damaged tissues to repair faster and waste products to be cleared more efficiently. This reduces the amount of time you suffer from sore muscles and gets you back to training sooner.

Keep in mind that these benefits are all in theory. The actual benefits of compression leggings has not been scientifically proven. The evidence comes from athlete anecdotes that say they feel these benefits and notice a difference when they wear compression clothing. This could be real or a placebo effect. I would argue that it doesn’t really matter. If compression leggings make you feel better, perform better and recover faster, it’s irrelevant whether the improved performance is imagined or real. The benefits will be real for you.

Compression leggings are super flattering

Another unspoken benefit? Compression has a light sculpting and lifting effect on the body, so it smoothes out curves and makes your legs look amazing. The higher the compression and thicker the fabric, the smoother your body will look.

When should I wear compression leggings?

Compression leggings are typically worn by athletes during important events when they want to gain some of the recovery benefits that compression provides. Typically an athlete would wear high compression leggings during an intense training session, a long endurance run, or a big race day.

Athletes wear compression leggings during long endurance races or training sessions

You don’t need to be an athlete doing hard training or races to get in on the compression fun though. You can select different levels of compression for your comfort preferences and activities. Leggings with low to medium compression provide a comforting hugged in feeling and sculpting effect that is great for everyday wear and light workouts. You can give medium to high compression leggings a try for more intense workouts and see if they give you the good feels that others claim to get.

Can you wear compression leggings all day?

Absolutely. As long as they feel comfortable, they should be fine to wear all day. I find light compression leggings very nice to lounge around in, but high compression leggings may be too much pressure if you’re just sitting around at home. You should definitely remove any compression gear that feels uncomfortable, gives you pins and needles, or makes you feel like your skin is being pinched or restricted. That is harming your body, not helping. Use your comfort levels a gauge and listen to your body.

Compression leggings are great for everyday wear and light workouts

While the claims of compression leggings have yet to be scientifically proven, they do feel good and may offer some performance benefits. If you’re curious, they are definitely worth a try. They come in so many different styles and pressure levels, so you can have fun experimenting and test what works for you. Who knows, you might see your workouts improve dramatically with this one simple item of clothing.

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