Product Review: Using Compression Garments to Potentially Enhance Climbing Performance & Recovery

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Climbing in the gym wearing SKINS compression sleeves.

I have been wearing compression sleeves off and on for my arms both during and after exercise for perhaps a year – not consistently, but more during the colder months because I like the extra warmth they provide without the bulk and restriction of movement added by a shirt. Plus, armpits are sweaty, and I hate that too-hot feeling that builds up when I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt – compression sleeves help ameliorate this, keeping my arms warm enough without adding a gross, overheating feeling. I also must have read something about the potential benefit of compression at some point while doing some research on recovery that made me decide to get some compression sleeves. I figured they probably wouldn’t hurt, and with the potential to help, why not?

After all, according to the 2013 review “Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery,” published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, “…the application of compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations with consideration of the effects magnitude and practical relevance.”

In November, I received two compression items – A400 tights and compression sleeves – from SKINS at no cost. The company reached out to offer this, and given my interest in improving my climbing (and training!), I was excited to try out these products for myself. While I’d used several other (less-expensive) brands of compression sleeves and already knew I liked them for the reasons I detailed above, I had never worn compression tights before I received the A400 tights. My product testing reflects purely my personal reactions and observations, and I received no compensation for writing this beyond the two products I received to test.

  • Test #1: The day after my heavy weight-training day. I received the SKINS products yesterday after my training was done. I put them on at 6 a.m. this morning under another layer (since it’s cold here!). I started my day out with some light pull-ups, a more endurance-focused/recovery-training session, very short. Then it was off for my day, which included teaching five yoga classes and running errands in town. By the time I took the SKINS off, it was after 8 p.m. at night. I have to say, I was a little wary about wearing the garments consistently for 14 hours – but they were so comfortable that I didn’t ever think about it. My DOMS has been a lot lighter so far this training season than it used to be – but maybe the SKINS helped with it, too. Again, for me it’s a case of why not? If they have the potential to enhance my recovery and do no harm and cause no discomfort, then I’d rather stack the odds in my favor than not.
  • Test #2: Wearing SKINS during a climbing day. I wore the tights under my normal climbing pants and the sleeves under my shirt on a cold winter climbing day. One thing I really appreciate about these particular compression garments is that they feel lightweight, form-fitting and supportive while also adding an extra layer of warmth. They don’t restrict range of motion, which is of huge concern to climbers and other athletes whose sports require this freedom of movement. I’m not sure they helped my performance (since I was fatigued on this day and it was cold), but they definitely helped keep me warm and didn’t hinder my performance. Anything that might help my performance and that I don’t notice getting in the way when I’m climbing gets a thumbs up. I’ll definitely try them again when I’m climbing – or at least the arm sleeves, since I view these as much more relevant for potential sport-climbing performance enhancement than the tights. I think I could ruin the tights climbing in them pretty quickly because of the nature of the game (rock meets fabric and if fabric isn’t super burly, rock often wins! And my legs as a whole make way more contact with the rock than my arms when I climb).
  • Test #3: Wearing SKINS during weight training. I’ve worn SKINS multiple times during weight-training sessions at this point. After having them for a couple months now, I am drawn to select them as my base layer when lifting, both the tights and the sleeves. It’s my impression that I feel more supported when I lift wearing these compression garments. Even if this is all in my head (which I’d venture to guess it’s not), I’ll take it! Anything this simple that can help my training efforts is worth it.

Overall, then, my impression of the SKINS products I received to check out has been a positive one. As a company, SKINS appears to take its commitment to providing the best compression science available in its products to its consumers seriously – which may perhaps account for why certain SKINS items (like the arm sleeves) tend to cost more than some of the competitors’ products out there. In other words, it seems that you might just get what you pay for (at least up to a certain point) when it comes to compression garments, and paying a whole lot less might mean that you’re getting an item marketed as a performance/recovery enhancing compression garment that could actually have little to no impact on your climbing/training/recovery.

Does this mean you must use SKINS products to get worthwhile compression results? I’m sure it doesn’t, but it does mean that you should try to make sure the products you choose do actually compress enough to make a difference. According to literature provided to me by SKINS, their compression garments provide between 8 and 20 mmHg, meaning light to medium compression from a medical point of view, a “level of compression [that] has been shown to elicit physiological benefits while also being sufficiently comfortable to wear during and after sport.” As the article Compression garments: Do they influence athletic performance and recovery? points out, “…caution should be taken when choosing the correct compression garment for your sport and ensuring the garment provides enough pressure to promote venous return.” This article also reflects my current belief about compression garments – why not use them, since there is no evidence that they harm performance, even if you’re not certain that they help? For the climber interested in peak performance and recovery, adding a decent, lightweight, comfortable pair of arm compression sleeves into his or her training, climbing and recovery toolbox seems like a no-brainer.

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