The human body is a fascinating, well-oiled machine under the best of circumstances. These days we understand the potential of the human body so well that entire industries have been built around helping us maximize its effectiveness, as well as provide better and better care for it. This is complemented by the heightened sheer level of attention we give the human body these days, as the motivation to take care of it is also at an arguable all-time high. Even in a world as busy as ours has become, we manage to find time to take care of our bodies and hone the body’s capabilities to ever higher levels of efficiency.
Even sports fashion has come around to be more function and less fashion – or, at least, less like the traditional, easily-dismissed notion of fashion. These days, people tend to choose to invest in running shoes that are configured to give their feet ideal striking surfaces so they can prevent ankle or shin injury, rather than simply going with whatever is flashiest. Even workout attire like yoga pants and gym shirts and shorts has become tailor-made to suit various physical and fitness-related needs rather than simple aesthetics. (Of course, they happen to also look good enough that you can wear them as casual clothes in a pinch, which is perfect for people fitting gym time into their regular schedule).
Compression attire is one of the types of fitness clothing that have gained more than a little momentum of late. The compression aspect of the attire is the unique contribution it makes to fitness. As the name would indicate, compression gear brings to bear a super-tight fit that squeezes the body enclosed in it. Compression shirts do this for the torso, compression sleeves and socks can do this for arms and legs, and so on. The fit, tight as it is, is nevertheless snugly comfortable – there are also degrees of compression one can buy a garment in – but the degree of pressure creates a unique sensation and overall effect on the body. Because they’re so form-fitting, they can typically be worn underneath other garments as well.
Compression is mainly popular in medical terms because of the way compression encourages proper circulation. The main familiar benefit of compression is that the squeezing it creates tends to improve internal blood flow, allowing the muscles to benefit from a continuous (if enforced) flow of blood that can help improve maintenance and perhaps even recovery. This is why compression garments have been prescribed by doctors for years, even before the current garment popularity explosion, to patients with blood clots or varicose or spider veins. These tend to also be popular with those recovering from surgery or injury. This sort of garment tends to work best if worn over a lengthy period of time, which is why most recommendations suggest putting them on first at the start of the day, then keeping them on for the duration.
Targeted compression is a particular approach to compression that, as the name suggests, directs its effects to specifically affect certain aspects of our physiology to generate results that involve better performance and recovery. Targeted compression is a relatively new concept, only about ten years on the market, and the technological application is quite deceptively simple. It tends to operate on the understanding that different parts of the body, and thus different muscles and muscle groups, will have specific and distinct requirements that uniform compression might not be able to provide.
For instance, the quad muscles are tasked with the acceleration and deceleration of the lower leg during exercise, while also flexing to bear considerable impact shocks that might come about through exercise movements. Calf muscles enact dynamic planar flexion, which is an inevitable part of virtually every explosive lower limb exercise. The ankle gets the lowest amount of blood flow during exercise but tends to do a lot of the work. Furthermore, the hamstrings muscle panel is actually made up of three muscles that need to be well-aligned in order to move smoothly. A lot gets taken for granted when not wearing compression attire, or even when wearing traditional uniform compression attire rather than the sort that allows for targeted compression.
Targeted compression is suggested to offer a number of benefits. Generally, it’s that compression panels can specifically direct added compression to key muscle points. For instance, the calf muscle can receive added compression to enhance blood flow and minimize muscle vibration. The ankle, which would ordinarily receive even more restricted blood flow from traditional compression, can with targeted compression’s alternative design be allowed maximize proprioception (joint position sense) and blood flow. The likelihood of groin strains can be minimized with increased groin proprioception, and the improved temperature of the core muscle, which can be given by targeted compression.
Improved support and blood flow to the lower leg muscles can help diminish the negative impact of heel strikes, helping reduce the likelihood of shin splints. Muscle oscillation in the quadriceps can be reduced as well with targeted compression, aiding recovery. Even the gluteal muscle can benefit from targeted compression, in a manner that can even lend leg movements further explosiveness since this is where those tend to originate. Enhanced blood flow to the area can help the muscle store potential energy that can be tapped for such movements.
For the upper body, many of the same benefits apply. Reduced oscillatory muscle displacement can help the pectoral muscles, improving neurotransmission as well, while strength and support can be lent to the deltoid muscle group in order to help stave off fatigue.
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