What are compression garments?
If you are new to working out, you might have heard about compression garments. These garments can be classified as weight loss accessories, and some gym-goers and trainers believe that they are an important part of everyday workouts. However, before deciding to invest in them, it is best to learn ‘what are compression garments?’, how do they work, and what are some of their benefits.
Despite their ‘fancy-sounding’ name, compression garments look like any other workout clothing. You can see them worn around the gym, find them for sale at a sporting goods store, or online on websites that specialize in workout equipment and accessories. The difference between these clothes and your usual workout leggings, shorts, or sports bra is that these body compression garments are made to fit tightly around your body.
They are not restricting; instead, their job is to support and hold you in. While they are quite tight, they are made to allow you to move properly and allow circulation of air; thus, you will not end up feeling uncomfortably warm during a workout.
What is compression clothing made of?
Compression garments are often made of fiber blends containing a more or less large quantity of elastane, aka spandex (2). Think of shapewear (worn by many women and some men), and you have a good idea of what these clothes feel like. Like shapewear, they often come in ready-made sizes but can be custom made if need be.
These closely-fitting leggings, shirts, shorts, socks, and more are meant to enhance performance during a sporting activity as well as recovery afterward. A famous example is compression socks worn by runners to prevent cramps and swelling in their calf muscles. These articles of clothing are available for different body parts, including the abdomen/trunk, wrists, legs, arms, and more.
Different kinds of body compression garments
An important fact to note is that there are two significant types of body compression garments:
- Medical grade.
- Compression garments for weight loss and high-performance sports.
Medical grade compression garments are used post-surgery to ‘hold in’ the body part that was operated on and provide stability. They can also be used after body contour surgeries like liposuction or a Brazilian butt lift to support the new shape and prevent excessive scarring.
These medical compression garments can also be used for non-surgical procedures. They are utilized to reduce lymphedema, prevent thrombosis and emboli in immobile patients, and treat edema (1). Deep vein thrombosis is an especially life-threatening condition that causes blood clots in a vein deep inside your body. These clots (that are the blood that has turned solid inside the vein) usually occur in the thigh or lower leg, but they can also form in other parts of the body (9).
While there is not much research on compression garments for weight loss, these same types of clothing have been used for many years by high performing athletes. They can be worn to prevent chafing and rashes, ease muscle stiffness, and quicken recovery time after a practice session. They also increase blood flow speed to certain body parts by compressing the tissues and underlying veins, thus creating a pressure gradient (2).
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What do compression garments do for you?
If you are considering investing in these clothes, then it is best to determine the answer to the question ‘how do compression garments work?’. It is crucial to note that compression garments for weight loss do not actually make you lose weight. They are not a magic pill that you swallow and wake up slimmer. Wearing these items of clothing will not magically make you lose fat either.
Weight loss is achieved only through a calorie deficit and exercise. You must first reduce your food intake by 500 to 1000 calories a day (creating a 3500 to 7000 deficit a week) (6) and workout for at least 30 minutes each day to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week. That being said, here are some benefits of wearing compression garments for weight loss (4).
Loss of water weight through sweat
Have you ever stepped on a scale after drinking a cup of water and seen a different number from what you saw on an empty stomach? This is known as water weight and is one of the many reasons you notice weight fluctuations throughout the day. These compression clothes, especially full-body ones, will make you sweat more, thus losing the water weight. However, this is only a temporary solution; as soon as you rehydrate, the weight will come back.
Reducing the appearance of cellulite
Many people workout hoping to minimize the appearance of cellulite. However, cellulite can be incredibly hard to get rid of forever. Wearing a compression garment acts as a micro-massage that breaks up cellulite and smoothens the problem area.
Increase blood flow in the body
When working out, the acts of compression provided by these clothing items boosts blood flow and oxygen delivery to the tissues. This makes your workouts more efficient and less tiring. When you do not feel completely drained after a workout, you are more likely to feel encouraged to exercise again the next day. Working out consistently is one of the ways to lose weight.
Prevents excessive jiggling
One of the reasons that most overweight people avoid going to the gym is the number of stares they get from others. While some people might be curious, some looks can show disgust or disdain, things that anyone wanting to better their health does not want to see. Jiggling body parts could also be a more significant blow on such people’s self-esteem.
While nothing much can be done about constant staring, jiggling can be prevented or at least minimized by body compression garments. Since they are quite tight, these clothing items will hold you in keeping your body parts from moving around a lot as you do any aerobic activity.
Compression garments make you more aware of your body
Since they fit quite snugly around certain body parts, they make you more aware of how your body moves or feels as you work out. This can help you improve your posture and technique during certain workouts or sports (3).
May help prevent injury
People who are new to working out are usually quite eager to push themselves to the very limit of their endurance, hoping that this can boost weight loss. While this go-getter attitude can be a good thing as it keeps them motivated, it more often than not ends up in disaster or injury. In a bid to see faster results or get stronger quickly, people using weights can graduate to heavier weights quicker than they should.
In some cases, they could also choose to go for these heavier weights automatically. The problem with using heavier weights as a beginner trying to lose weight is that you are more susceptible to repetitive muscle use injuries such as shin splints, strains, sprains, and joint damage. Wearing body compression garments squeezes your muscles against your frame minimizing micro muscle tears caused by muscle vibration and oscillation (5).
Prevent muscle soreness
Many professional athletes usually receive massages after practice or games to prevent muscle soreness. However, for the average goer looking to lose weight, getting a professional massage after every workout session or even every week can make quite a dent in your pocket. The way that these clothes press on your muscles acts like a low-level massage minimizing the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness.
DOMS is inflammation that is caused by high-intensity exercise, which leads to tiny, microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness include tender muscles, swelling, reduced range of motion due to pain and stiffness, and more. DOMS starts 12 to 24 hours after your workout and can last up to 3 days (12). In light of this, wearing compression garments after a workout can be an effective way to reduce DOMS and accelerate the recovery of muscle function (8).
They are very breathable
Just because compression garments are made from the same material does not mean that it is not breathable. On the contrary, these clothes are made of higher quality spandex, which means they allow constant airflow. You can sweat as much as you want in them, and they will not feel heavy or stick to you like some materials such as cotton would.
These garments can help shape and contour your body to a more attractive figure (3), making you feel good about yourself. While this might seem like a small thing, a boost in self-esteem can motivate people to get up and do some workouts, lose weight, and achieve the same effect shown in the mirror without these clothes.
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What are the best compression garments?
When picking clothes, you might be tempted to go for big brand names thinking that they will work best for you. However, it might be a good idea to look beyond the name when it comes to workout gear, especially body compression garments. Here are some things you should look out for when choosing your compression clothing:
Comfort above everything
Like with your everyday clothes, your compression garments should be comfortable on you. This means that they should be tight enough for you to feel compressed but not enough that you feel restricted. Make sure that you can move and breathe freely while wearing them.
Go for some leggings
When doing many weight loss exercises, especially cardio, our lower bodies tend to take the brunt of these workouts. Some compression leggings are an excellent idea to help keep the blood flowing in your leg and prevent DOMS.
Upper body options
These come in many options such as sports bras, vests, and long and short-sleeved T-shirts. They comfortably support your chest, abdomen, and arms to keep you from jiggling. For larger chested women, a compression sports bra could be better than your regular sports bra. They minimize your breasts without making you feel like you have a weight on your chest and effectively prevent unwanted bounce.
Other benefits of different compression clothing
Compression garments for legs
These come in different types, such as socks, leggings, stockings/tights, shorts, and compression leg sleeves. They help with the pain caused by varicose veins (7), control leg swelling during pregnancy, boost circulation in your legs, improve lymphatic drainage, prevent the development of deep vein thrombosis, and reduce orthostatic hypotension (13).
Compression garments for upper body
These come in the form of compression garments for arms, fingerless gloves, or a gauntlet, support bras, or vests for the entire trunk area. Like all other compression garments, they help with lymphatic drainage, boost blood flow and oxygen to the arms and prevent injury.
Compression garments for stomach
These are not corsets or waist trainers. Instead, compression garments for the stomach usually look like belts. These abdominal belts can be worn under a doctor’s suggestion after a cesarean section, bariatric surgery, an exploratory laparotomy, hysterectomy, tummy tuck, or spinal surgery (14). Some of these belts are also worn by pregnant women to help support their backs and stomachs.
Please note that waist trainers and corsets will not help with weight loss, especially belly fat, and neither will they give you an hourglass figure. Instead, they are most likely to cause internal damage to your liver and kidneys, digestive system issues, and breathing problems (11).
How long should I wear compression garments after liposuction?
It is best to speak to your surgeon about this matter. However, most people are usually advised to wear their compression garments for 6 to 8 weeks after liposuction. For the first 3 weeks, you will be required to have the garment on for 24 hours and only remove it while showering. After this, you will only have to wear it for 12 hours a day;either during the day or at night. This prevents the holes made under the skin from retaining fluid, controls swelling, and helps the skin fit the new smaller shape (10).
The Bottom Line: Are compression garments necessary for weight loss?
Yes, they are. While they do not cause weight loss, they help beginners and overweight people looking to lose weight in multiple ways. Weight loss is the direct benefit of a calorie deficit diet and exercise. However, it doesn’t hurt to be comfortable, prevent injury, and look stylish while losing weight.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Compression Garment (n.d, sciencedirect.com)
- Compression Garment (n.d, sciencedirect.com)
- Compression Garments for Medical Therapy and Sports (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Compression Garments for Weight Loss (n.d, livestrong.com)
- Compression Garments for Weight Loss and Exercise (2020, verywellfit.com)
- Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Do compression stockings help to treat varicose veins? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Effect of compression garments on delayed-onset muscle soreness and blood inflammatory markers after eccentric exercise: a randomized controlled trial (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Everything You Want to Know About Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) (2019, heathline.com)
- How Long Do You Recommend Wearing the Compression Garment After Liposuction? (2009, realself.com)
- Waist Trainers: Do They Work and What You Need to Know Before You Try One (2019, healthline.com)
- What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and What Can You Do About It? (2019, healthline.com)
- What to Know About Compression Socks and Stockings (2019, healthline.com)
- What You Should Know About Abdominal Binders (2017, healthline.com)