Cost: $39.99 (leg sleeves); $49.99 (socks)
Source: company website
How obtained: purchased sleeves;socks,sample from company
RBR advertiser: No
Time tested: 4 months
An Introductionto Compression
My introduction to compression came at last year’s Interbike trade show. Near the end of my 2nd day pounding the mostly concrete floor for hours on end, my legs felt like I had just ridden a double century.
Knowing I was leaving the next day to ride a 530-mile, 8-day tour, I made my way back to the Zensah booth — which I had previously visited — and bought a pair of leg sleeves. Slipping on the ankle-to-knee sleeves at the booth, I felt an immediate improvement in my legs. According to Zensah, the proprietary fabric “incorporates silver ions to help thermo regulate skin temperature and fight bacteria.”
I wore the sleeves on my flight to San Francisco, and I wore them after every day’s ride on the California Coast Classic. They really seemed to help keep my legs feeling fresh. It’s not a ton of miles, but averaging a metric century every day for 8 straight days, with a lot of climbing, does have a cumulative effect on the body. My knees, especially, feel tired after most hard rides.
The leg sleeves did the trick. I started every day feeling ready to ride, never experiencing that leaden legs feeling that sometimes occurs when you’ve overtaxed the lower body — whether through riding or pounding the concrete.
How Compression Works
While I found many “clinical” descriptions in my research of how compression works (such as “a higher venous blood return to the heart” and “a higher evacuation of metabolic waste products and better oxygen supply in the muscles”), I’ll relate the more easily understood layman’s explanation from one of Zensah’s brochures:
Gravity can cause a build-up of fluid in the muscles and surrounding tissue, which increases swelling and recovery time. Exercise causes muscle damage, including micro-tears leading to inflammation.
- Stabilize muscle tissue
- Keep swelling of muscle fibers at a manageable level, allowing the muscles to rebuild themselves.
- Lessen inflammation
- Reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
The beauty of compression is that it allows athletes to wake up the next day feeling fresh, reducing aches and pains.
(Full disclosure, the medical community is certainly divided on whether compression provides real — or imagined — recovery and performance benefits. But most do agree that what matters most is the “perceived benefit.” If a user believes compression helps, then it is actually helping, even if it’s just a mental boost. One of RBR’s Health Matters physicians told me he’s worn compression gear for years. And many pro cyclists use it religiously.)
Part of my Regular Recovery Routine
I liked the sleeves so much, I doubled down when I returned from the CCC and got a pair of Zensah’s compression socks to wear through the winter. The socks are thicker, and fit me tighter, which I actually like a little more than how the sleeves fit.
The socks, though, unlike to easy-to-slip-on sleeves, are practically a workout to put on, and take off. But to me, they provide the same feeling of almost immediate relief — especially in my knees. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that compression also seems to help mitigate my “loose kneecap” (the problem I have with my patella sliding out of the groove in my femur and needing to be “popped” back into place by flexing my knee).
Compression is now a regular part of my recovery after almost every ride — but especially after hard rides that are more taxing. After I get cleaned up, I typically put on either the socks or thesleeves, and wear them for at least a few hours. They provide my knees and legs a sense of recovery and freshness that I do not feel when I don’t wear them.
Now that the weather’s really starting to warm up in Atlanta, I’m switching exclusively to the sleeves until the fall. The socks are just too thick to wear during our warm spring and hot summer.
(I’ve actually seen more and more runners wearing leg sleeves while they run, and these sleeves could certainly be worn while cycling. Compression is not just for recovery. THere’s a wide array of compression cycling socks on the market made to wear while on the bike, as well.)
Not Exactly a Fashion Statement
On the topic of wearing the sleeves in warm weather: You can’t be vain and wear shorts and leg sleeves. They do not make a great fashion statement! Your spouse and kids are apt to call you “old man,” “grandpa,” or the gender equivalent. Mine show no mercy, but I don’t care. I know what they do for me, and That’s all that matters.
The socks I got, black with a white argyle pattern, are actually stylish enough to wear with most anything. When I showed them to a friend at a party (I was wearing them for the evening after a long, hard ride that day), she immediately asked for the brand name so she could buy some for her father, who was looking for a more “fashionable” compression product.
Not Cheap, But a Valuable Tool
At $50 for a pair of socks, and $40 for a pair of sleeves, Zensah’s compression products are not inexpensive, to be sure. But as a regularly used tool in your recovery arsenal — made from quality materials that have worn well during the testing period — I’m guessing the cost might be well worth it to you. I’m a believer.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.