The Compression Battle: Socks vs. Sleeves

Which should you wear? And when?

Which should you wear? And when?

It’s the night before a big race and as you reach into your sock drawer to pull out your essential equipment you see your compression socks and your compression calf sleeves. Which do you choose?

The choice is yours, explained Johnny West of 2XU. During activity, wearing a compression sleeve or sock  “comes down to personal preference,” said West.

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However, there are some benefits to wearing a sleeve instead of a sock during activity. First and foremost, wearing a calf sleeve allows runners to wear their tried and trusty socks. “You can get the benefits of wearing a calf sleeve but still wear your favorite sock or Vibrams,” Brandt Furgerson of CEP said.  “I wear sleeves for trail running so I can wear a dry max sock in case it’s wet out.”

Runners can be particular about their gear and are usually skeptical when it comes to changing. The sleeve allows them to try out compression while still wearing their favorite running socks. “A lot of runners are very particular about their socks,” West said. “I prefer to wear the calf guard when I’m running.”

During a triathlon, wearing compression sleeves instead of compression socks can be the difference between placing in your age group or spending all your time on your transition mat.

“If you’ve ever tried to put a dry sock on a wet limb it turns into a complete mess,” said Furgerson.

To avoid this mess, Furgerson explains that he always wears calf sleeves during a sprint or Olympic triathlon as it not only helps to aid performance and post-race recovery, but also helps facilitate a faster transition from the swim to the bike. “I wear them under my wetsuit and it peels off so much faster,” Furgerson said. “Plus, I don’t have to put them on in T1.”

While sleeves appear to be the optimal choice for wearing during activity, wearing compression for recovery, on the other hand, is an entirely different ball game. “I think you have to look brand specific,” explained West. For example, 2XU manufacture socks and sleeves for recovery that are made specifically to refresh the leg and support blood flow after activity. CEP, on the other hand,  does not recommend wearing their calf sleeves for recovery. The type of medical compression grade their garments are made of promotes increased blood flow to the foot during activity, but not while at rest.

Check with the recommendations of your compression sock or sleeve’s manufacturer to find out how you can squeeze the most benefit out of your compression gear.