I’ve now returned from the information gathering phase of my research and, although fighting off the effects of jet lag, I’ll write as coherently as possible.
I’ve visited with such dignitaries as Chris Carmichael, Joe Friel, ‘wisegeek’, Paula Radcliffe, and an unnamed editor at Bicycling.net. I’ve seen the conclusions (more like non-conclusions) of multiple studies.
My travels were via the world wide web, so the jet lag part was all made up.
A Few Of The Studies
Current studies are a bit ambiguous.
At the Central Queensland University in Australia, researcher Aaron Scanlan and his team measured the effects of lower body compression garments in a cycling time trial. Traditional statistics showed no benefit from wearing compression garments, but he noted that traditional statistics may not be appropriate for measuring athletic performance.
Think about it.
Time trials can be won or lost by five seconds over the period of 40 minutes. That’s five seconds out of 2400 seconds. In the world of statistics that’s a hard one to prove or disprove.
But, using an evaluation process called Magnitude-Based Inferences, Scanlan demonstrated slight improvement in power output, anaerobic threshold, and the efficiency of muscle oxygenation. He concluded that further research was necessary.
Soon afterward, he was seen hustling over to the ‘Department For The Funding Of Further Research ‘ office.
A 2007 study at Massay University in New Zealand compared the perceived soreness in the legs of runners. After a 10km run with compression socks, two of the 14 runners reported leg soreness. After running 10km without compression socks, 13 of the 14 runners reported leg soreness.
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Here’s What I’ve Observed
My background is in long distance running. When Paula Radcliffe was tearing up the roads, setting the women’s world record of 2:15:25 in the 2003 London Marathon, she made quite a splash with her usage of compression socks. She wore flesh colored socks, no doubt to not draw undue attention to her ‘secret weapon’. She was ahead of her time.
But there’s a vast (and I emphasize the word ‘vast’) difference between cycling and running.
When I first started bike racing I couldn’t believe how long and hard I could work out one day and be relatively OK the next day. Extreme workouts took hours to complete. The next day I’d be able to ambulate just fine, thank-you.
I was shocked.
Not so with running. After a long, hard running workout the pain for the next few days was often extreme.
Even navigating down stairs was tricky.
So what’s the difference between cycling and running, and how does it apply to compression socks?
In my mind, runners experience micro trauma due to the shock associated with each foot plant. I’m not sure how compression socks would help, but maybe they reduce the vibration sufficiently enough to make a difference.
Search your memory banks – haven’t you seen grotesquely disfigured legs captured by a camera during different phases of the runner’s foot strike?
Cyclists aren’t subject to the same micro trauma.
I suppose it could also be argued that the deceleration of the leg with each running foot strike subjects the muscles to eccentric contractions, causing a lot of the soreness after running.
Cyclists don’t have to deal with eccentric contraction since there’s no deceleration in the pedal stroke.
Weight lifters know that putting a muscle under load during eccentric contraction (such as gently lowering a heavy suitcase out of your Uncle Phillip’s trunk) causes more strain to the muscle than does concentric contraction.
As an aside, this is no doubt why most baggage handlers drop your luggage onto the moving conveyor belt rather than handling it with care. They’re trying to save their back from the detrimental effects of eccentric contraction.
Other baggage handlers drop your bags because they don’t like you.
And…I’m not sure how any of this relates to the use of compression socks during cycling, but my fingers just kept rambling along at the keyboard.
The Role Of Compression Socks During Recovery
Carmichael addressed the issue of Lance (no last name necessary) putting on compression socks after rides in the Tour (again, no last name necessary).
Their point of view was that they may decrease any edema that accumulate after a hard ride.
Compression socks didn’t have the same pumping effect that the Normatec MVP compression boots used by the Garmin-Slipstream team do, but Team Livestrong thinks they may be effective to counter the swelling that can occur after sitting for long periods on the way back to the hotel.
And Now For The Royal Conclusion…
Researcher Scanlan concluded, “The only real practical advice I can give at the moment is to ignore the results on the use of compression garments and try them out”.
He added, “If they feel good to wear during cycling, then wear them during cycling, and if they feel good during recovery, wear them during recovery.”
Scanlan made the statement as he hustled off to teach his graduate class, ‘Make Your Study Report ‘POP’ With Compelling Concluding Remarks’.
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