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What’s The Lowdown On Compression Gear?

We’ve got the why, how, which and when for wearing socks that squeeze.

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Compression socks are everywhere—in stores, on your legs, on her legs, on Meb Keflezighi’s legs. So what’s the deal with these calf huggers? According to Miami-based triathlete and cardiologist Dr. Alice Perlowski, there are four main reasons why you should get snug around your stems…

1. Performance boost while training or racing. “There’s some data that [compression] not only increases  venous return to the heart, but it may also improve  arterial blood flow in the legs,” explains Perlowski. Translation? More blood flow through your pumper to working muscles while you move.

2. Mechanical support for muscles and soft tissues. “When a person is running, everything is bouncing up and down,” explains Perlowski. Compression “holds it all snug together so not as much jarring of tissue can happen, and things like delayed-onset muscle soreness can be reduced.” Sounds invigorating!

3. Recovery after races. Perlowski highly recommends jet-setting runners to endure the squeeze during long travel stints to and from a race. “Blood is pooling because you’re not walking around on the plane,” she explains. “There could also be increased clotting action that happens after a race because of inflammation.”

4. Venous insufficiency—aka varicose veins. This can result in swollen legs, ankles or feet at the end of the day, according to Perlowski. “Extra fluid pools in the legs because the valves in the veins don’t work as well as they should. It’s hereditary, and those who have it can feel kind of sluggish particularly if they are doing endurance exercise.”

Perlowski also cautions against buying generic brand compression socks—but how do you know which pairs are legit? “The ones that aren’t beneficial are the ones that don’t claim to be medical- grade,” says Perlowski. “Typically you want 10 to 15 mm of mercury in your compression. That’s why it’s important to measure your leg to get the right size.”

Related: A Coach Gives Her Advice On Compression Socks

Which Ones?

These are the biggest bang for your buck. “The major-ity of the major veins are in the leg, not the foot,” says Perlowski, so these socks promote the highest level of blood flow

Calf sleeves
For a triathlete, “these are a lot more practical than wearing the socks since you swim first,” says Perlowski. “Normally people put the sleeves on before they start the swim and put their wetsuit on over.”

Ankle socks
You can wear low socks to decrease foot inflammation after running or injury—although Perlowski still recommends the knee-high version before grabbing ankle compression.

Related: This Spring’s Top 12 Running Shoes

Getting Them On
Compression socks can be tricky to get on since they’re so snug around your legs—so it’s easiest to do it one small step at a time.

1. Grab the heel of the sock, turning it inside out.

2. With the sock inside out, put your big toe in first and pull the foot portion of the sock over your foot to your ankle.

3. From the bottom near your ankle to the top below your knee, invert the fabric as you slide it up your leg.

4. Go run!