Running Compression Socks – What Triathletes Should Know

runner-wearing-compression-socks-by-triitalian.jpg Compression socks are the newest rave on the triathlon scene as people seek every advantage and benefit possible through the best gear.

If you watched any of the Kona Ironman on TV, you noticed that many of the elite triathletes were wearing compression socks.

Even triathlon guru, Joe Friel, discussed the issue of compression socks on his blog.

So, what follows is a crash course on compression socks to bring you up to speed and help you make an informed decision about using them.


How Compression Socks Work

The unique characteristic of compression socks is their graduated pressure application.

The body pumps blood to all of the extremities as equally as it can. Over time, however, gravity often causes blood to pool in the lower legs and feet, causing circulatory problems. This blood pooling can cause fatigue and leg cramps.

This is where compression socks come in. Compression socks use stronger elastics to create significant pressure on the legs, ankles and feet. Compression socks are tightest at the ankles, gradually becoming less constrictive towards the knees. By compressing the surface veins, arteries and muscles, the circulating blood is forced through narrower channels. The arterial pressure is increased, causing more blood to return to the heart and less blood to pool in the feet.

Although compression socks were originally marketed to those with compromised circulatory systems, many people now find their everyday use beneficial. For example, passengers on long air flights wear compression socks to prevent circulatory problems like deep vein thrombosis, leg cramps and edema. Those with occupations requiring long periods of standing have also found the use of compression socks to be helpful. Compression socks have been widely accepted in clinical and post-surgical settings for the treatment of edema, lymph edema, phlebitis, varicose veins, spider veins and deep vein thrombosis.

Long Distance Runners Wear Compression Socks

Compression socks found their way into long-distance running.

Running legends such as Lornah Kiplagat, Gete Wami, and Paula Radcliffe swear by them.

It is believed their benefit to running includes:

  • improved oxygen delivery to muscles
  • accelerated lactic acid removal
  • stabilization of the lower leg for greater muscle efficiency
  • enhanced venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity
  • cramp prevention
  • minimized muscle fatigue as a result of more compact muscles, which enhances balance and proprioception and reduces muscle fatigue

How Compression Socks Help Triathletes

So you can see why a triathlete would be interested in compression socks.

The run portion is the last segment of triathlon and is normally when fatigue and cramps become an issue.

A triathlete also logs a lot of training miles on the road running. It makes sense to do whatever you can to help train and perform well, even if it means wearing those silly looking socks.

But do they really work?

Studies Of Athletes Wearing Compression Socks

triathlete-wearing-compression-socks-by-Mal-Booth.jpgThere doesn’t seem to be a conclusive answer. On the one hand, you have a lot of runners and triathletes who use them and say compression socks work for them. That shouldn’t be taken lightly. There’s no reason why they would say so if it weren’t true.

However, a study done by the American College of Sports Medicine suggests there is no statistically significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate or minute ventilation between treadmill runners who wore compression socks and those who did not. The study did, however, show a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise when wearing the compression socks, suggesting that compression socks might speed recovery after a strenuous workout or a race. As one runner put it, “So wear them in a race if it suits you, but definitely wear them after the race.”

There is other research on the enhanced performance benefits of compression socks. James Greenwood breaks down a study done in Germany to “determine the effect of below the knee compression stockings on running performance in men runners.” The findings established a correlation between the compression socks and improved performances by the participants.

Popular Compression Socks Used By Triathletes

It appears there’s enough ammo for any triathlete to at least experiment with compression socks to see if they are beneficial.

A few of the most popular compression socks used by triathletes include:

What has been your experience with compression socks? Is there a certain kind you would recommend? Please share your experience it might help someone else in their decision. Thanks!


It wasn’t too long ago that I was exploring the idea of doing my first Triathlon. If I can do it, you can too! I’m over 40 years old. But I don’t give up easily.

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  • 4jolene

    I’m a long distance runner and have been wearing compression socks for almost 10 years now and they absolutely work. I’ve struggled to find the perfect pair though – have mostly used medical socks until recently. I’ve teamed up with some of my training partners to create our own sock. We are working directly with a US medical company, but have designed a sports sock that doesn’t lose any of the medical technology. Check out our website: Socks are very reasonably priced and they are excellent quality. Email me if you have any questions.

  • Harry Taylor

    It’s not quite this simple. Venous return is achieved through your contracting muscles compressing your veins and pushing blood upwards, assisted by one-way valves which stop the blood travelling back the other way. More compression is likely to help with this. Your blood flow from the heart, however, is a) travelling through arteries which are not so near to the surface of your legs and b) pumped by your heart as well as assisted by gravity. The two systems are not the same and thus are not affected in the same way by compression: the battle is mainly about getting the blood back! Medically, compression socks are worn by those with poor venous return.

  • Melissamarie_b

    I use compression, and I think SIGVARIS makes an awesome Athletic Recovery Sock. You can use it while working out and after.

  • Sebastian

    I am with SLS3 and we have a compression sleeve that you can wear under your wetsuit. The material we use absorbs almost no water so they are almost dry when you exit the water – they do NOT roll down when you take your wetsuit of. In a longer race like an Ironman it makes more sense to use a full sock because you also want to include the foot part in the compression.

  • Dougstanley74

    I love it when engineers make sure to tell everyone they are engineers and then try to apply their engineering education to the medical field. I don’t go to my civil buddies and tell them how to design a bridge because I know cardiology. Engineers are great. They always know what can’t be done or tell you it should be done differently.

  • crazycraig20

    i am relative newcomer to tri having done 2 sprints last year and have just done bala middle i am 51 and have trained relative hard for bala on the second half of the swim started to feel slight tensing in my calf muscle when my calf seemed loose and relaxed, after only about 5 mile on the bike i got severe cramp which i have never had before even after long hilly rides i can rule out fatigue at that distance i would appreciate any suggestion would compression socks help to stop my calfs flopping about on the swim?
    cheers craig

  • Daniela

    I’d like to know the percentage of triathlete wearing compression socks nowadays. It is becoming more and more popular for sure. In the list of brands, I would definitely add Zensah but I think most of us prefer CEP. is a great place to buy: