Compression for Runners: 3 Types of Clothing to Give You an Edge

Compression for runners...can these form-fitting clothing options really give you an edge?

Maybe you've tried compression for running gear to help you go the distance, prevent injury, or speed recovery.

Or maybe you're on the fence about it. Yes?

WeeViews Ambassador Brynn Cunningham gives you The Rundown on 3 types of compression clothing for runners.

Here's what you need to know...

“Recovery takes just as much effort as the running itself.”

—Weeviews Ambassador Lucie Hanes and author of "Post-Run Recovery: 3 Runner-Tested Tips to Bounce Back" , https://www.weeviews.com/rundown/post-run-recovery

It’s true: Recovery DEFINITELY takes just as much effort as running. 

With a bit of planning and tweaking of daily habits, runners can integrate recovery into their day-to-day lives, making recovery rituals automatic, even non-negotiable.

👀After all, if we look at running as a long term activity that we are committed to because of its energizing, life-enhancing after-effects that contribute to our overall health, vitality and longevity...

👉Then we must be mindful about balancing the stress-inducing components of running by pairing it with smart and adequate recovery. 

To put it simply:

  • We can’t have one without the other, at least not for very long.

In Post-Run Recovery: 3 Runner-Tested Tips to Bounce Back, Lucie lists three major areas of self-care that lead to the ultimate trifecta of running recovery: 

  1. Nutrition and Hydration
  2. Movement and Meditation 
  3. Massage and Bodywork

Today, we’ll look at one subcategory of massage and bodywork: compression for runners.

Compression for runners

The purpose of wearing compression apparel when it comes to running is to:

  • Apply pressure to targeted areas of the body
  • Increase blood flow and circulation
  • Speeds the recovery of running muscles

Therefore, compression can:

  • Speed recovery so you’re fresh for the next session
  • Reduce muscle soreness and fatigue
  • Prevent and reduce injury

Compression apparel for runners comes in many forms:

  • Socks
  • Calf sleeves
  • Shorts
  • Tights
  • Arm sleeves
  • IT Band sleeves
  • Foot sleeves
  • And more 

The benefits of using compression as a post-run recovery strategy is that it is:

  • Passive
  • Takes very little preparation, thought or effort
  • Can be applied (i.e., the piece of compression put on) and forgotten about while you go about your day

When to wear compression

Lucie also tells us that “no matter what, strategic rest is the best way to recover from a run,” and wearing compression post-run certainly qualifies as strategic rest. 

Of course, you can wear some compression during a run, but here are some other times to wear it to maximize recovery:

  • Immediately after a run
  • During a cross training activity 
  • While you’re on your feet cooking and preparing meals
  • Sitting at your kid’s activities 
  • Running errands
  • Lying out in the sunshine, though you may have some funny tan lines
  • While practicing Legs Up the Wall pose
  • In the evening before bedtime
  • During a movie 
  • After a hot bath
  • In the vehicle during a long drive home from a race (or drive to/from anywhere)
  • On an airplane during a long flight home from a race  (or drive to/from anywhere)
  • Any time that suits you - get creative

As you can see, there are many ways to fit compression into your post-run recovery plan.

Some useful info about compression for runners

The Runner’s World article Compression Socks for Running” discusses in detail exactly:

  • How compression works
  • How it is measured
  • Whether it has been scientifically proven to actually work

NOTE: I feel better after wearing it, and though that is just anecdotal evidence, it’s enough for me.

The 3 types of wear-tested and reviewed compression clothing in this article includes:

  1. Socks
  2. Bottoms
  3. Sleeves

For assistance in determining your own size, here are the female wear tester’s measurements:

  • Height: 5’ 3 ¾”
  • Weight: 120-125 pounds
  • Waist: 27.75 inches
  • Chest/bust: 34 inches
  • Hips: 34 inches
  • Thigh circumference: 18.5 inches
  • Inseam: 28 inches
  • Typical shirt size: XS
  • Typical pant size: 2, sometimes 0 if the brand runs large

1. Socks

Feetures! Plantar Fasciitis Relief Light Cushion Crew Socks, size medium

Feetures! Plantar Fasciitis Relief Light Cushion Crew Socks

The Feetures! Plantar Fasciitis Relief Light Cushion Crew Socks, which I wear in a size medium, are a simple, nylon sock that can be worn easily while running, working or around the house. 

  • They designate the right and left foot with an “R” and “L” on each sock, so the fit is just right. 
  • The heel is cushioned and offers support in front of the heel bone, the calcaneus, which is where I feel the most lift. They are not the tightest of compression socks, making them easy to slip on and wear all day. 
  • My preferred time to wear these are while running errands and simply out and about. They are not the first compression item I grab to put on after long or hard runs, because they simply do not give me the squeeze I want. Rather, I like them for the subtle, all-day compression benefit. 

NOTE: One time I wore them in a race, but they did not stay up, slipping down to my ankles, so I won’t be wearing them during runs again. That’s OK, though, because I didn’t buy them for running, anyway. They do not slip any other time.

For a daily sock, these work well with the added benefit of compression.

Sockwell Pacer 3/4 Crew Compression Socks

Sockwell Pacer 3/4 Crew Compression Socks

Although the Sockwell Pacer 3/4 Crew Compression Socks, which I wear in size S/M, are no longer in production, Sockwell makes a similar style:

I LOVE these socks for everything: 

  • Running
  • Wearing after runs in the fall and spring
  • And as a daily sock. 
  • They are soft and cozy, stay in place while running, squeeze the foot nicely with maximum compression around the ankles, giving a feeling of ultimate support. 

If you want a do-it-all compression sock, one for running and recovery, Sockwell is the one.

ProCompression Marathon Socks, size S/M (Photo/ Eric Harder)

ProCompression Marathon Socks

The ProCompression Marathon Recovery Socks, which I wear in size S/M, are made to wear after long, hard runs. 

  • The toes will remind, too, because they say “recovery” across them, in case you forget. 
  • They have that silky nylon feel and go on easily, which is an added benefit, especially after arduous double-digit trail runs, when anything requiring much effort quickly loses its appeal.
  • Additionally, they are lightweight enough to wear after hot summer runs, at least for a couple of hours around the house, and are easy to wear under pants or another pair of warm socks if it’s chilly. 
Xoskin 5.0 Graduated Compression Socks, sitting below the knees and not stretched to their full length (Photo/author)
Xoskin 5.0 Graduated Compression Socks, size 1, when pulled all the way up sit above the knees (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Xoskin 5.0 Graduated Compression Socks

The Xoskin 5.0 Graduated Compression Socks, which I wear in size 1, are the big daddies of compression. 

  • They are a detailed sock, with graduated compression that decreases as it climbs up, RAPIDriCOPPER to manage sweat and moisture, plus an entire list of Xoskin-patented technologies. 
  • Their compression is just right, squeezing not too much, and not too little, which makes them easy to put on and perfect to wear during cross training activities on off-days from running, a necessary part of any runner’s schedule. 

In fact, these are my go-to for mountain biking, a favorite cross training activity. 

  • As you can see from the photos, when pulled all the way up, they sit just above my knees, more like thigh-highs than knee-highs. 
  • Within a couple miles, they end up sliding down to the middle of the knee, which isn’t terribly bothersome most of the time.
  • Sometimes I have to get off my bike and fold them below the knees to keep them from digging into the back of the knee, but it’s not enough of an issue for me to not like them. 

Another way to manage the height during cross training activities is by pushing them down to sit underneath the knee rather than folding them, which decreases the compression sensation.

  • Their height is no issue if worn while resting, and I actually like the compression to the knees, so it’s not much of a deal breaker when it comes to these socks.

TIP: Runners with extra sweaty feet will appreciate how dry they are. I can finish a two-hour ride in 90-degree weather, hang them up to dry without washing, and they will be ready for the next day.

NOTE: Of all the socks I own, these ones keep my feet the driest of all thanks to the RAPIDriCOPPER, thus minimizing the risk of blisters forming on the next form. 

2. Bottoms

Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MID Compression Shorts Low Rise, size medium (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MID Compression Shorts Low Rise

 The Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MID Compression Shorts Low Rise, which I wear in size medium, are the first Xoskin product I ever owned, and they instantly sold me on the company. 

  • Sizing. After I ordered them, an Xoskin representative emailed me for my measurements and weight and recommended mediums, because the product runs small. 
  • Fit. I took their recommendation, went with the medium, and was satisfied enough, although they were not quite as tight as I wanted them to be for the purpose of post-run recovery. 
  • Running, biking, recovery. I hadn’t planned on running in them, and perhaps if I told the Xoskin rep that, maybe they would have understood why I wanted smalls. Nonetheless, the mediums feel like regular spandex shorts, making them super easy to wear after runs.
  • Everyday use. I love pulling these on especially after hot-weather runs and have even worn them under dresses and skirts. Because they feel like regular stretchy shorts, I have worn them all day, up to eight hours, while driving, working, running errands, etc. 
  • Longevity. After wearing them several times a week for two years, they have begun to pucker (see photo at the top of this article), but I still wear them. 
Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MAX Compression Tights Knee, size small (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MAX Compression Tights Knee

Compression and support for the:

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Psoas
  • Hips
  • Glutes
  • IT bands
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Knees
  • Upper lower-legs

Yes, please! 

The Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MAX Compression Tights Knee, now named the 3/4 with Mid-Rise Waist, which I wear in size small, gives you just that. 

  • Fit: These capri-style pants are VERY compressive, exactly what I wanted for post-run recovery. Because these are so tight, they act as my express compression go-tos,  ones that I can wear for one or two hours and feel the benefit. 
  • Use: My favorite way to wear them is during cooler temperatures in the fall, winter and spring, under pants or even leggings. After taking them off, my lower half feels fresh and ready for the next run. 
  • Stretch. Though they are extremely tight, they are uber stretchy, making them easy to put on after a run. Once they are up, I do little adjusting around the waist area, which comes up almost to the belly button, and the inner thigh area, where I have to slide my hands down the legs to pull them all the way up so there’s no space between the fabric and the two upper thighs. 
  • Mid-rise height. Despite being called mid-rise, they come up, like I said, quite high. At first I was uncertain about it, but I actually like the compression on the abdominal muscles and the psoas muscle, an important hip flexor for runners. 
  • Customer service. For one, Xoskin knows how to do customer service, which is one reason why I keep coming back. Once again, after I ordered these in small, an Xoskin representative emailed me for my measurements and weight and recommended mediums, but I told them that they had recommended mediums when I ordered the shorts (reviewed above) and that I really wanted to try small this time. When I asked if I could exchange the small for the medium if indeed the smalls were too small, they told me they’d send me three mediums at no extra charge. That’s right, three pairs at no extra cost. It turned out that the smalls fit how I wanted (very tight), so I did not need to request the mediums.

Needless to say, Xoskin’s customer relations is top notch. They ended up sending me three pairs of their Mid Compression, next up on the list, for free, because no one ever orders them in small.

Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MID Compression Tights Long, size small (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MID Compression Tights Long

 Whereas the Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MAX Compression Tights Knee, reviewed above, are uber tight, the  Xoskin 4.0 Women’s MID Compression Tights Long, size small, are not so compressive, as the name indicates. 

  • I can wear these almost all day and think of them as my “long and slow” recovery pants, whereas the MAX tights are used for “short and fast” express recovery. 
  • They are stretchy, a hair easier to get into than the MAX tights with barely any adjusting, and fit smoothly underneath pants and leggings. Though the word “Long” is in their name, they sit mid-shin. They also have a high rise and reach the belly button. 
  • Customer service. Xoskin really showed their loyalty to customers when they sent me three of these at no charge. I LOVE them and could wear them every single day, especially while I’m sitting at my desk working. 

TIP: If choosing between the MID and the MAX, I would say they serve two different purposes, as you can see from their descriptions. 

CEP Recovery Compression Tights, size II (Photo/ Eric Harder)

CEP Recovery Compression Tights

While training for trail ultramarathons and marathons, I invested in the CEP Recovery Compression Tights, size II, for the ultimate hip-to-feet experience. 

  • Recovery. Simply stated, I love these! While they are a challenge to put on (don’t worry, CEP provides instructions for that), they are well worth it. Sometimes when I’m completely zapped after 20+ mile runs through the woods, my husband helps me get situated in these before I throw my legs up the wall and zone out. 
  • TIP: Sometimes I don’t feel like putting them on because it takes a couple minutes, but I still highly recommend them. If you think the effort of putting them on would deter you from using them, I would recommend the Xoskin tights reviewed above.

When training for ultramarathons and marathons, I generally use these once a week, after my longest runs, if I am at home and not moving around much, in a thoroughly resting state. 

  • Fit comparison. Unlike the Xoskin bottoms, which have a high rise, these sit on the hips like regular pants and do not squeeze the belly like the Xoskins, making them easier to hide underneath pants. While the Xoskin MAX tights act as my express compression, and the Xoskin MID act as a daily go-to, I usually wear the CEP Recovery 
  • Wear Use recommendations. Tights for three to four hours, one to four times per month, depending on where I am in a training cycle. Thus, they are an integral part of my at-home recovery routine. Additionally, I do not take these along when traveling or camping for races because they are meant for getting on, vegging out, doing nothing, in my opinion. 

3. Sleeves

OS1st QS4 Performance Quad Sleeve ITB Brace, size small (Photo/ Eric Harder)

OS1st QS4 Performance Quad Sleeve ITB Brac

Sometimes we have niggles in the smallest places of our bodies or simply don’t want a total compression experience. That’s where the OS1st QS4 Performance Quad Sleeve ITB Brace, which I wear in size small, comes into play. 

Most runners have experienced tight:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • IT bands

TIP: Wearing a sleeve as simple as this can decrease associated cramping and alleviate tightness. I notice the difference after a couple hours.

It is most useful in hot weather or while traveling, because it is easy to stow away and doesn’t overheat the body.  

Plantar Fasciitis Sleeves by Airplus

Plantar Fasciitis Sleeves by Airplus

 Plantar fasciitis (PF) sleeves are an essential item in my running tool kit because of my foot health history: 

  • 2013 - postpartum plantar fasciitis and heel spur, right foot
  • 2018 - fractured heel/ fractured heel spur, left foot
  • 2021 - strained adductor hallucis (big toe muscle) and heel spur, right foot

Thus, in an attempt to prevent and heal said issues, I’ve had many plantar fasciitis sleeves over the years, including ones made by:

Here’s why every runner could benefit from PF sleeves, not just the foot-injury prone:

  • They are the easiest and least expensive compression item to have in your arsenal 
  • They are a good way to transition into the world of compression
  • Plantar fasciitis can sneak up on you like the devil, especially when ramping up mileage, and before you know it, you’re incapacitated for weeks - better safe with PF sleeves than sorry without them (you can find them at stores like WalMart)

TIP: I like to wear PF sleeves after hot-weather, summertime runs when I’m going somewhere immediately after the run, because they fit well with open-toed sandals and are a quick, passive recovery to sneak in when life is busy. 

ProCompression Calf Sleeves, size S/M (Photo/ Eric Harder)

ProCompression Calf Sleeves

The ProCompression Calf Sleeves, which I wear in size S/M, come in a wide variety of fun colors and are often on sale, making them inexpensive and also another good place to start when adding compression to your post-run recovery. 

  • Use. I like to wear calf sleeves with low-cut ankle socks for gravel and mountain bike rides on non-running days and after hot-weather runs when I don’t want anything, not even normal socks, covering my feet.

TIP: Much like the IT Band Sleeve and PF sleeves, I always pack calf sleeves when traveling or camping for races so that I can reap the benefits while sitting during a long car ride or flight, while lounging around the campfire or during sightseeing adventures. 

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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