Passive recovery is one of those things we want more of in our life. Not just sitting down and drinking water, but something that will massage our body, strengthen our mind, build our muscles. As we’ve written before, compression garments hold a tantalizing possibility. Free speed. Just by pulling on the right pair of socks or squeezing into the right kind of tights, we can recover better and go faster once back on our bike.
2XU, one of the big names in the athletic compression garment business, offers Recovery Compression Tights, part of their Refresh line of clothing. Refresh is the stuff with the highest compression, garments that aren’t made for running or riding, but standing, sitting, sleeping. They do this by using their PWX Weight fabric for the panels. PWX is short for Power Weight Flex, the three properties in their compression fabrics that they adjust depending on the use. The Weight fabric is their heaviest, most compressive fabric. It’s also their warmest, though they say not warm enough to have thermal properties. The tights are stitched together via flatlock seams and the design has graduated compression built into it, meaning the lowest parts, down by ankles and calves, are the most compressive, and get less compressive as they go up your legs. This feature is supposed to enhance circulation to speed recovery.
The first step is figuring out fit. They have a size chart that incorporates both height and weight. Pretty cool. We wish that the same could be done with cycling bibs and jerseys. At 5’9″ and a bit under 150lbs, we’re pretty much in the middle of the small range.
Getting them on is work. The first issue is making sure we’re pulling the legs on straight. We found the best way to get this right is to make sure that the narrow front panel that runs from the ankle to the knee is in front. Then we bunch up the fabric so we can take a big handful of fabric for one leg through the foot and leave it bunched at the ankle. That leaves a short remaining length around the foot. This is the tightest, so work it easily over your foot and ankle. Then start towards the bottom, pulling up the fabric evenly so it isn’t bunched at the ankle, calf, or knee. Once it’s this far, start with the second leg. Repeat. With the tights on both lower legs, it’s time to pull them up to the waist. Smooth out by pulling up.
Right away we noticed that the tights don’t flex well at the knee, and if the fabric is slightly bunched before you flex the knee, that bunched fabric can get a little uncomfortable if you’re sitting for a long time. Can’t imagine running or riding in these, but sitting, standing, sleeping, and walking can all be comfortable.
We’ve heard some talk that the compression helps with thermoregulation, the suggestion being that because of the compression, they’ll help keep you cool in the summer. Maybe compared to pants, but they’re still warmer than not wearing leggings. We could wear them indoors to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit if we weren’t active. Walking in them, with shorts over, in the low 70s felt warm. Probably wouldn’t try wearing them under pants until the low 60s.
We’ve tried Skins and Zoot compression tights. In terms of feel and warmth, 2XU are very much in the middle. Skins feel thinner and lighter and cooler. We could run in the Skins. Zoot feels thicker and heavier and warmer. The Zoots were not good for running.
So long as it didn’t lead to sweating, we put them on after rides, slept in them overnight, tried wearing them for 24 hours after a hard weekend of riding. Put them on in the morning, took them off for riding, then back on the rest of the day. We’re not in a position to evaluate which compression tight works best, but in terms of feel, these have enough compression that we notice how tight they are, but not so much as to feel uncomfortable.
And we wore them days in a row without washing. Here, we don’t know how or if their anti-bacterial claims really amount to anything, but they definitely didn’t get stinky.
Washing is always an issue with stretchy fabrics. Wash on cold, air dry, and the less washing the better. 2XU claims that because they use actual Lycra in their mix, theirs should last longer than their competitors. We haven’t had them long enough to tell. Interestingly, even when they start to go, it will be by tiny increments. And 2XU guarantees their compression garments for a year.
The big question is: do they work? The problem is that even in tests, the gains are small. Real, but small. 2XU worked with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). The lab tested 12 well-trained cyclists. They tested the athletes, then a break, then the athletes rode at 70% of VO2 Max for 15 minutes, before another rest followed by a 15-minute time trial. Those who wore compression tights before the tests saw an average improvement of four watts. Looking at the chart, it seems to be an increase from 316W, so about 1.2%. In another test, they warmed up for 10 minutes, then 15 minutes at 70% VO2 Max, then a 15-minute time trial. Then into the tights for an hour and then remove the tights and repeat. The performance loss was only 0.1% with the group wearing the tights compared to 1.79% in those without. There was also a reduction in perceived muscle soreness and a lower heart rate in the cyclists recovering in compression leggings.
These improvements are not great, but they are measurable. And even four watts can be the difference between hanging on a climb and being dropped or doing well at a time trial. And feeling better enough to go out and ride some more—or enjoying time with friends or family.
We did not try to repeat any of the RMIT tests. However, we did notice our legs feeling a bit less sore on our Monday recovery rides. We also wore them before testing ourselves in our favorite 10km time trial, and we posted better power than we expected.
Sleeping seems like the best use of recovery tights. Warmth, recovery, and modesty in one package. And eight hours seems like a time frame that should lead to a greater improvement than just sitting in them for a few hours. 2XU claims they’re working on quantifying the improvement that results from sleeping.
There seems to be no harm that can come from wearing compression tights, other than strange looks directed to the wearer and some jokes at the wearer’s expense. That written, they should fit into life for any non-professional athlete rather than the non-professional altering their life to use them. So, for us, no wearing on hot days, no wearing when it means the difference between using an air conditioner for sleeping or not, no donning at social occasions, unless it’s cool enough to wear them under pants. For long drives and flights, definitely wear, provided the space is cool enough.
We’ll be wearing these 2XU Men’s Recovery Compression Tights when conditions warrant them. Won’t be living in them, but we’ll pull them out after hard training, before big events, and for travel.