Cycling demands a great deal of energy and endurance from the body. The leg muscles, particularly those of the quads are placed under heavy aerobic and anaerobic stress in training and racing. Compression leggings have been widely used as a recovery aid post exercise, but their use during exercise is much more limited. This is likely due to a lack of availability – most compression garments come in the form of leggings that aren’t practical to wear on the bike. But can compression bib shorts offer you a performance gain?
In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance1, studied the effect of compression bib shorts on 12 well trained athletes who undertook two one-hour time trials, one while wearing compression bib shorts and another wearing a control set of standard shorts. Participants Heart rate, blood lactate, VO2 and muscle oxygenation was measured at 15min intervals during the test.
The study found several significant improvements in performance when wearing compression bib shorts. An average 5.7% increase in anaerobic threshold power was observed. A 9.3% increase in cycling economy (The power output achieved for a specific volume of oxygen consumed) and the anaerobic threshold of participants was increased by an average of 5%/15W.
The most significant improvments were found during the first 15 mins of the test with the results for compression and control runs converging as time went on. This is of interests to athletes competing in short events or where maximal effort is likley to be required shortly after the start.
Positive outcomes were not limited to the short term however. A higher muscle oxygenation (mOxy) was sustained across the time trial in the compression bib shorts compared with the control shorts. This, when coupled with the fact that the average power outputs between tests was similar suggests that an increase in muscle oxygenation economy as defined by a higher power W / O2 utilisation (%) ratio (Compression bibs: 5.8 W·%−1; Control: 5.1 W·%−1) is the cause.
Improvement in muscle oxygenation economy offers potential benefits for endurance events that may be of longer duration and lower intensity.
- Scanlan, A., Dascombe, B., Reaburn, P., and Osbourne, M. (2008). The Effects of Wearing Lower-Body Compression Garments During Endurance Cycling. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance,