Compression Calf Sleeves: Do They Really Work?

compression calf sleeves

The results of a recent survey showed that 12 percent of adults in the U.S. have recently competed in an endurance sport at some point in their lives. Of the people in this group, 17 percent have competed in a triathlon.

If you’re part of this 17 percent, you know how taxing triathlon training can be, and you’re probably eager to learn about new tools that can help support your training and recovery.

Of the different recovery modalities out there, compression calf sleeves are one of the most well-known. But, do they actually work? Some people swear by them, while others say their effects are all in the user’s head.

Read on to learn more about compression sleeves and whether or not they’re effective for triathletes.

What are Compression Calf Sleeves?

Compression sleeves are essentially a pair of footless socks. They’re worn on the lower portion of the leg and cover the calf and shin.

If you’ve been running, cycling, or training for a triathlon for a while, you’ve likely seen people wearing compression sleeves at some point, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

How Do Compression Sleeves Work?

As their name suggests, compression sleeves work by providing gentle compression for your legs. This compression helps improve blood flow to the legs.

When more oxygen-rich blood flows to the legs, this helps push out deoxygenated blood, lactic acid, and other waste products that can promote muscle soreness, inflammation, and swelling.

Research shows that runners who wore compression sleeves experienced a 40 percent increase in arterial blood flow during activity and a 30 percent increase during recovery.

This implies that blood was flowing faster through the veins, meaning that deoxygenated blood and waste products were making their way back to the heart faster. This, in turn, increases the runner’s recovery rate and decreases muscle soreness.

Benefits of Compression Calf Sleeves

A reduction in post-workout inflammation and soreness and improved recovery are the main reasons why most people use compression calf sleeves. But, there are lots of other benefits that come with using these tools, including the following:


Wearing compression sleeves while you run can help keep your legs free from dirt and safe from scratches and dangerous plants like poison ivy. If you do a lot of outdoor or trail running, this can be especially beneficial.

Added Warmth

When the weather starts to cool down, compression sleeves can provide an extra layer to help you stay warm while you run.

Improved Performance

There are also some studies that suggest wearing compression sleeves while you train can help improve your performance.

One German study, for example, showed that runners who wore compression sleeves were able to run for longer periods of time and hit higher speeds during maximal treadmill tests. Participants’ speeds were also higher at anaerobic thresholds.

Researchers involved in an Australian study also found that cyclists experienced an increase in the concentration of oxygen in their muscles when they trained while wearing compression sleeves.

There was no difference in performance between those who wore compression sleeves and those who didn’t. But, the physiologic changes were still noteworthy.

How to Use Compression Calf Sleeves

If you’re interested in experiencing the benefits of using compression calf sleeves, it’s important to make sure you’re putting them on properly.

They’re pretty hard to get wrong, but there are some things you ought to do when shopping for and wearing them.

First, make sure your compression sleeves aren’t too long. Remember, they shouldn’t extend beyond the tops of your knees, and they should lie flat against your skin with no wrinkles, bumps, or bunching.

Don’t try to compensate for your sleeves being too long by folding or rolling them down. This isn’t comfortable, and it can lead to blood flow issues or even cut off circulation (think of a tourniquet).

How to Choose the Right Compression Sleeves

It’s important to note that not all compression sleeves are created equal. These guidelines can help you choose the right pair that will help you experience the best results:

Check the Fit

First, be sure to measure your calves before buying your first pair of compression sleeves. This will help you buy a pair that fits properly.

If they’re too tight, they’ll be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. But, if they’re too loose, they’ll slide down your legs and be completely ineffective.

Get the Right Material

You’ll also need to check your sleeves to make sure they’re made of the right material.

For triathlon trainees, a sleeve made of a sweat-wicking fabric will be the best option. They’ll help you feel cool and remain sweat-free during long training sessions.

Check the Construction

Look for compression sleeves that were made using a seamless construction. This will make them more comfortable and provide targeted support. They also won’t leave any unsightly lines on your legs when you take them off.

Consider the Color

Color matters, too. Not as much as issues like fit and construction, of course, but it does still make a difference.

Look for a pair of compression sleeves that make sense for the type of activity you’ll be participating in.

White or light-colored sleeves aren’t ideal for outdoor or trail running or cycling, for example. You might also want to wear a brightly colored pair that will help you be more visible during your train sessions.

Looking for More Recovery Tips?

If you’ve been interested in giving compression calf sleeves a try, be sure to keep this information in mind.

It will help you decide whether or not compression sleeves are a good fit for you, and you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to choose between the different options available on the market.

Compression sleeves are great for improving performance, as well as post-training recovery.

To learn more recovery tips and tricks, be sure to check out the lifestyle section of our website today. You’ll find plenty of articles that will teach you everything you need to know about living a healthy lifestyle that supports your triathlon training endeavors.