Our quest for faster recovery never ends. This mission is of a piece with going faster on the bike. Riding faster is comprised of many elements, not the least of which is the amount of fatigue we’re feeling before we even get on the bike. And while fatigue is an important component of gaining fitness, it also slows you down on the bike. Faster recovery is better recovery is greater freshness is greater ability to push oneself on the bike is that wonderful feeling when you’re rolling as the wind.
Last year, we tested out the Craft compression socks. This spring we’ve been playing with the 2XU version, formally known as the 2XU Compression Recovery Sock. We’ll try not to repeat ourselves too much in this review. Head over to the other one for a primer and then return.
The 2XU’s are Black. With a Red stripe at the top. If nothing else, the Black goes better with shoes and sandals. And the Red stripe is a bit thicker than the rest of the sock, making it easy to find the front in the dark when you’re a bit embarrassed to admit to your bedmate that you’re sleeping in socks in the summer.
2XU is pronounced “Two Times You,” explained by their tagline “Human Performance Multiplied.” We like the sentiment. It’s an Australian company; probably not coincidence that Skins is also based Down Under. There might be something in the water that has Australians innovating on compression garments. It also might be that the country takes sport very seriously. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), a research and sports training entity is an arm of the Australian Government’s Australian Sports Commission. This kind of government involvement could be part of the reason Aussies “punch above their weight” in cycling and other sports. Most Aussies in professional cycling seem to have done time on AIS teams or at AIS facilities.
The AIS, probably not coincidentally, has done a fair amount of research on compression garments. 2XU is currently their official supplier of compression gear, while Skins has the endorsement of the Australian Physiotherapists Association.
The research lit that 2XU has shows that compression works for both during exercise and as recovery from exercise. They even produce a sock for exercise, but it’s more for running and other impact sports.
Compression gear has been used for years, by some reports 150 years, but probably longer. In the recent past, it has come into use for people with deep vein thrombosis and other circulation issues. And it is from curious people who saw the medical-oriented compression gear that the sport-specific items were developed. For a number of years before compression clothing hit the market, we read about pro racers putting on stockings for airline travel. Medical compression garments can be purchased in a number of different rates of elasticity, like 10-20, 30-40, 40-50mm Hg, the higher the number, the tighter they are; you’ll both have a harder time putting them on and notice more squeeze as you go up the elasticity ratings.
The big difference between compression gear people use to deal with deep vein thrombosis and those for athletes are that the athletic products have something called graduated compression while the medical products do not. Simply put, the athletic stuff is supposed to be pretty tight at the bottom of the garments (when worn standing up) and slightly less tight near the top, whereas the medical stuff is pretty much equally incredibly tight throughout their garments. These socks have a compression rate of 18mmHg a the ankles and it goes to probably around 10 at the knee, and if you were to go with the tights, it would be down to 8mmHg at the thigh. If you look closely at the socks, the ankle is quite a bit narrower than the cuff, which should be over your calves and just below the knee. The claim is that the right amount of compression, not too tight, not too loose, better than tight all around (Skins makes the same claim). It seems to increase mobility and comfort, and if you’re going to be wearing them for a long time, both are pretty important.
Another benefit of graduated compression is that by starting super tight and becoming less tight, it is improving circulation and helping move blood flow back to the heart. But they say it’s more than just that. The improved blood flow means your muscles are getting more oxygen and the muscles are getting repaired faster and the legs should be flushing the overabundance of junk that you feel clogging your legs.
We find ourselves asking, ‘if that’s so good, why not just wear the tights and get more of that goodness?’ While the socks and tights do the same thing, the tights are probably a bit warmer to wear under pants, not the best in the summer, and a bit harder to get on and off. They also utilize some different materials; the socks are even thinner and more breathable than the tights. Think about the thinnest mesh top of a cycling sock. For the most part, they feel that thin and that breathable. If you’re traveling, the socks can help minimize swelling around the ankle and for the feet, certainly a plus for air travel.
Travel is certainly where many people use these socks. We’ve stopped off at highway rest areas en route to major regional races and seen many cyclists, both male and female, in knee-highs and clogs. It’s a little odd-looking, but any legal boost for a hard race is a good thing.
The socks pull on a bit harder than regular socks. We take this to be a good thing. First, work them over your ankle, then pull them all the way up. Once up, these stay up. At first we noticed how tight they are around our calves, but after a little while, we pretty much forget we have them on. Even sleeping in them gets pretty natural quickly. Not feeling the sheets with our toes took a bit of getting used to, but that goes away when you sleep. Waking up, our calves physically feel a bit more supple when we tug the socks off.
And then they’d often go back on right after our bike ride was over. And then stay on pretty much for the rest of the day. And night. And repeat. These can be hand- or machine-washed, but due to both our laziness and our propensity for testing out anti-odiferous treatments in socks, which these 2XU’s boast, we’d wear them near daily and then wash once a week. Granted, they spent more time in sandals and beds than closed-toe shoes, but the aroma of homelessness never appeared. 2XU recommends air-drying, but we had no trouble drying them on low heat with our other cycling gear to no obvious problem. In fact, the only signs of wear seem to be from sandal straps.
As with the Craft socks, the recovery experience is not dramatic between wearing them and not. We did a few nights where we socked one leg and left the other bare. The covered leg felt a bit looser in the morning. Wearing the 2XU’s under long pants in the summer is pretty much a no-brainer and will definitely be added to our recovery strategies. Knee highs. Never thought we’d be indulging in that style again.