“I’m recovering just fine, thanks. That four hour sufferfest really didn’t destroy my legs as much as I thought. Think I’ll do the Death Ride tomorrow.” That’s compression gear in a nutshell.
Pick your scientific study and it’s difficult to tell if a compression bib short boosts performance on the bike. But these days most experts — whether they’re sports physiologists or just Cat 5 weekend warriors — agree that compression for recovery works.
We’ve been testing out the SKINS compression leg sleeves ($90) for a few months and now we pretty much live in them. We slip them on for a few hours after a killer ride, a long day of skiing or a demanding leg workout in the gym.
The principle behind compression is to encourage and promote the venous response. The highest level of compression is at the ankle and that pressure tapers as you go up the leg sleeve. This pushes blood back up to the heart where it re-oxygenates. You’re also flushing out the lactic acid and metabolic waste. End result: your legs feel less sore, beat up, trashed.
We’ve found the SKINS leg sleeves fit perfectly and even if we wear them under our jeans, we don’t have to pull them up once in a while. They don’t slide down the thigh. The zipper at the back helps you slip them on.
The sensation is relaxing, like you’re getting extra support, a gentle hand pressing down, holding everything together to aid the repair work inside. The sleeves also remind you that you’re in recovery mode — a benefit in itself. SKINS argues that their “gradient” compression allows several levels of compression, dialed in for specific muscle group.
They also promote their innovative use of a “warp mix” for the fabric. This means that they can set and control specific levels of stretch and compression. That’s not visible in the fabric itself, but we certainly felt a total pressure wrap with no areas that were looser.
Like most compression manufacturers, SKINS says that the benefits are pretty extensive for a cyclist: bumps in strength, power, endurance, improved muscle oxygenation and reduced muscle damage. They also look cool and sexy when you pad around the house like you just bagged Alp D’Huez in a new personal best.
SKINS works with WorldTour squads Europcar and NetApp so even top Tour de France riders like Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland are compression fans. Garmin, BMC, Sky — pick your team and they all use the apparel for recovery.
However, for the older athlete and hammerhead, we’d recommend SKINS as a practical necessity. In those cases, you can still do the brutal climbing intervals, it’s just the recovery that kills you. This is what Sky’s boss David Brailsford means when he talks about “marginal gains.” Results will always vary based on individual physiology, but the SKINS leg sleeves give you that incremental boost in recovery.
It’s the difference between doing a hard ride two days in a row and taking that second day off and sitting on the couch watching old Tour de France DVD’s. Given the potential benefits — and how many activities for which you can use compression apparel — it makes sense to give SKINS leg sleeves a serious look.