Study: Compression Tights Might Help Runners Fight Psychological Fatigue, But Not Physical

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Compression tights are the latest trend in running gear and they’re said to improve performance.

Lots of long distance runners swear the tight leggings improve their times and distances, but CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez says a new study suggests runners may not be getting the boost they think.

In his first marathon, Matt Ithurburn learned how hard it is to push through those final miles. So after hearing other runners swear that compression tights helped them run faster and farther, he decided to try them himself.

“When I was wearing the tights, I did feel like I had better support and that I wasn’t getting as fatigued,” he said.

Which is why researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center tested the theory. In a new study, researchers monitored runners during high-intensity workouts with and without compression tights. When athletes run, their muscles vibrate and contract, which uses more energy the longer they run.

“The tights reduce this vibration, and by reducing vibration, your muscles don’t have to do as much work,” Dr. Ajit Chaudhari explained.

During vigorous 30-minute runs, the team used motion capture technology and heart rate monitors to measure a runner’s muscle vibration and fatigue. Before and after each run, doctors analyzed leg strength and jump height. What they found was surprising.

“Even though there was that reduction in vibration, that didn’t have any effect on their fatigue, their strength, their jump height,” Chaudhari said.

Although compression tights don’t ease tired legs, the muscle support may still help keep runners in the race.

“Every little bit of perception counts. So I wouldn’t say that’s a placebo effort. That’s a real effect, but it may not be an effect that we can actually even measure,” Chaudhari said.

“A big part of distance running is not just physical endurance but also psychological endurance,” Ithurburn said.

Running can be psychological as well as physical, so if you like the feel of the tights and can afford them — they cost $50 to $100 and up — then go for it, Dr. Max reported. Your performance might actually improve.

Researchers say benefits from the tights might show up in much longer distance runs.

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