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In races won and lost by seconds or even fractions of seconds, we have to find whatever edge we can to get ahead of the competition. When we're pushing ourselves to the absolute limit in endurance events, our bodies need whatever help they can get to recover. That is where compression clothing comes in.

Cardiovascular fitness is a huge part of all sports, not least cycling and triathlon. You can have the strongest legs in the world, but they are no good to you on a bike unless they are being fed a constant stream of oxygen from your blood. There is only so long that muscles can function without an adequate supply of oxygen and while they do it, they create painful lactic acid. It's your cardiovascular system that oxygenates the blood and transports it around the body, and keeping this system fit and health is necessary for the fast and reliable supply of oxygen to your muscles to keep them functioning as well as possible.

The heart and lungs are the key components of the cardiovascular system, responsible for pumping the blood around and oxygenating it respectively. However, there, is one component that people often forget: the blood vessels, veins and arteries. These are the channels through which blood is transported around the body, taking oxygenated blood to our muscles and returning spent blood to the lungs to be refilled. It is important that these are working at optimum efficiency too.

If a blood vessel is clogged by excess fat or a blood clot, blood flow is impaired. This slows the supply of oxygen to muscles and the re-oxygenation of blood after use. The reverse can also be an issue. If a blood vessel dilates, the channel through which the blood is being pumped is widened and the blood moves more slowly. This is basically what happens to suffers of deep vein throbrosis (DVT). You do not need DVT to benefit from the increased blood flow offered by compression, however. The blood flow through even healthy blood vessels can be improved through compression, as athletes across the world are discovering. 

By compressing your blood vessels and optimising blood flow around your body, fresh oxygenated blood is delivered to your muscles more quickly and the blood is refilled with oxygen more quickly ready to be used again. This means you can go harder for longer without painful lactic acid build up. Even if you do go hard enough for lactic build up, increased blood flow means that the acid is dispersed more quickly afterwards. This means you are ready for the next attack quicker.

Of course, your muscles don't just need blood and oxygen when in use during a race. The reliable supply of oxygen and other nutrients is vital for muscle recovery, repair and growth post-exercise too. This is where compression really shines and allows you to get back training the day after a hard effort with minimal fatigue. 

There's no easier way of getting the benefits of compression - whether during training and competition or afterwards - than by integrating it into the clothing you're already wearing. The technology of compression clothing is advancing all the time, and is now at a point where you can receive the benefits of compression alongside the sweat-wicking and temperature control of normal baselayers. 

If you're looking to get into compression for the first time, there's no better place to look than socks or calf guards. The veins in our legs are already the place where blood flow is most strained. It's the furthest point away from our hearts and the blood is being pumped against the force of gravity. As cyclists and triathletes, the muscles in our legs are also the ones that see the most abuse. By popping on a pair of compression socks or calf guards, you'll find your legs recovering faster and more effectively ever before!

19 August 2014

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