Review of 2XU Compression

, January 1, 2015

Like many of you, I am sitting at my computer listening to Britney Spears on Pandora in one tab and browsing Magnetic Junction on another in an effort to recover after a rigorous trail run that took me deep into the hills behind my house.  Tomorrow, I will wake up early to get in some sort of exercise before going into the office for the rest of the day so I’d like to recover as effectively as possible.  I already had a good balanced meal, made sure to hydrate (ok maybe Dr. Pepper doesn’t really count but I ran out of FluiD recovery drink), and am now sitting down with my legs up.  What else could I possibly do to get the lactic acid to leave my blood stream and go back to wherever it came from? (Yes, this is a joke).

Meanwhile, next to me sits a small box with some of the best sports marketing I have ever seen that contains 2XU compression tights.  If I had half the muscle tone of the guy pictured on the box I’d quit school and start working as a Calvin Klein model. In my angst, I slip on the tights, which were surprisingly comfortable, snug yet not crushing.

The product

2XU offers a wide variety of compression gear which ranges from shorts to tights to tops to calf sleeves to leggings. While leggings technically should not be worn without accompanying garments, I have a hard time entering public casually while wearing spandex pants (even while living in the San Francisco Bay Area).  I am a strong believer in a comfortable pair of jeans when not exercising, which will fit perfectly over your compression leggings for the perfect blend of recovery, comfort and style.

Another fine attribute of 2XU compression gear is they come in a variety of strengths that range unofficially from “loving hug” to “Boa Constrictor vs. lifeless rodent.”  A less compressive garment can be comfortably used while exercising for warmth and muscle support where the more restrictive, tighter pieces are better used after a workout.

Now, I’ve heard of compression garments; I think everybody in the triathlon community has, and we all vaguely know that they “aide in recovery.”  If you asked the first 10 athletes you saw wearing compression gear how it aides recovery, you would get 5 wildly different answers, and 5 who all agree that they have no clue whatsoever.  While I claim to be a member of the scientific community, I still fall firmly into the latter category.  I decided to start my research by reading the side of the box.

The science behind compression

2XU has a couple of bar graphs that represent how much power, weight and flex each fabric type has.  The axis of the graph however are not labeled, nor are they are not compared to any other product.  The box claims you will recover faster, improve circulation, reduce fatigue and increase muscle compression which are claimed to “suggest performance benefits.”  Ok, so I’m not going to find too many answers on the box so I went to Pubmed.com, a web browser specifically for published scientific articles.

Now compression garments are not new to the medical industry.  They have successfully been used for many years in patients with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and Lymphedema.   Many imagine the circulatory system simply as a closed circuit.  This, however, doesn’t really make sense: if one hose (an artery) leads to a smaller hose (capillary bed) and then back to another big hose (vein) and then back to the heart, that’s cool, but what’s the point?

Somehow the good stuff from blood (Oxygen, glucose, etc) needs to get to the muscle tissue.  This happens in the capillary bed where the vessels are actually permeable to fluids and small molecules while larger proteins can be moved via protein transporters.  Out of the 5 Liters of blood that gets pumped out of the heart every minute only about 4 make it back via the circulatory system.  The other one gets picked up by the lymph system, which does far more than just aid with immunity.  Although white blood cells are produced in specialized lymph nodes, this system is mainly designed to get the lost blood plasma and cells back to the heart.  Both CHF and lymphedema cause pooling of this leaked blood fluid in peripheral extremities most commonly in the feet due to a breakdown of these systems.  Both blood veins and the lymph ducts rely on external compression to push blood back towards the heart.  While this is usually provided by muscle contraction, compression stockings were invented to aide in this process.

It just makes sense that creating positive pressure in lower extremities would help push the blood back towards the heart where it could get recycled, being filtered in the liver, kidneys and lungs then redelivered back into circulation again.  This has been shown to be useful to fix a system that is broken (CHF) so why not extrapolate this technology to an intact physiological system?  2XU has done just that in pioneering their compression recovery gear.  All of their claims on the box revolve around increasing circulation during recovery.

The verdict

Great, so we put on these tights and blood rushes back to the heart.  Sounds good, but does it really work? And what’s with “performance compression gear?”  I have to admit that I am usually a skeptic and the biggest thing I learned through my research was that “recovery” is very difficult to quantify.  Most studies (this is one of my favorites out of a large number available on the web) preferred to do some combination of measuring lactic acid levels [La-], muscle oxygenation and perceived muscle fatigue usually using elastic tights and loose shorts as a control.   Although results were quite variable between studies, the general consensus was that compression gear does aide in recovery both from a physiologic and psychological standpoint.  I always encourage people to look at all the research and draw their own conclusions, though.  The idea behind “performance compression” is to reduce muscle oscillation especially upon impact while running.  This, however, was shown to be ineffective, though many professional athletes still swear by it.

So what if studies have shown some variable results? And who even knows how to objectively measure “recovery” anyway? What I can tell you for sure however, is that sitting here after a workout I am very happy to be wearing my 2XU compression tights.

Craig Fellers is based out of Santa Cruz where he is the owner and optometrist at Midtown Optometry.