The revival of men in spandex at your local gym and CrossFit box isn’t some weird tribute to 80s exercise videos. New research finds that tights can help you avoid dreaded post-workout pains.
“When compression garments are worn during and after heavy exercise, they appear to reduce muscle soreness,” says Jessica Hill, M.S.c., a U.K.-based exercise scientist who authored a 2013 review on the topic, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
It concluded that people who wear compression garments after their exercise sessions experience less soreness and faster muscle recovery than people who rock a more traditional gym outfit, like a t-shirt and shorts.
When you work a muscle group hard, it can become inflamed. “When we experience an inflammatory response we get an increase in fluid and white blood cells to the affected area. This leads to swelling and increases in pressure, and therefore pain,” says Hill.
Compression garments “work” by constricting your muscles. That reduces the amount of fluid buildup, decreasing the swelling and pressure.
“Compression garments also may increase blood flow to the muscles, which removes creatine kinase, an enzyme in your muscles that leaks out after muscle damage and can cause the ache,” says Hill.
The tight gear isn’t salvation from soreness, though—it only helps.
Spanish scientists had a group of soccer players wear a compression sleeve on one leg, and nothing on the other leg. Then the players ran downhill for 40 minutes (an activity commonly used to elicit soreness). They showed 27% fewer markers of soreness in the compressed leg compared to the free leg.
And a U.K. study found that marathoners who wore compression tights in the 24-hours after crossing the finish line reported feeling less sore, but not ache free.
Bottom line: think of compression gear as another weapon in your arsenal against post-exercise aches.
Looking for a good pair of compression pants, shorts, or a shirt? Check out those from 2XU. Hill uses that brand in her research and says, “People seem to like wearing them. I get reports that they ‘feel nice.’” The aforementioned study on marathoners also used 2XU gear. (2XU Men’s Recovery Compression Tights; $160).
But be warned: The same reason that compression gear “feels nice”—mainly, the clothing’s nut-caressing properties—is also why it may not look so nice to others.
“It gives off a lot of information, if you know what I mean. That can make other people uncomfortable.
His advice is to treat tight gear like underwear. “Wear it as a base layer, under traditional gym clothing,” he says.