Compression garments are a form of skin tight, elasticated sporting apparel usually made of a Nylon Elastane blend.
It is thought that “wearing a compression garment after resistance exercise facilitates the recovery of muscular strength” (Goto and Morishima, 2014). This conclusion has been backed up by multiple studies (Jakeman et al, 2010), (Hill et al, 2014). In my opinion it appears to have a greater body of scientific evidence supporting it than other muscle recovery mechanisms. Such as; foam rolling, hydrotherapy, cryotherapy or active recovery.
A recent study examined the changes in muscle oxygenation (StO2) in response to varying compression levels in commercially available compression sleeves (Dermont et al, 2015). It concluded that compression garments were effective at reducing muscle soreness. It also found that “higher compression pressures were associated with higher StO2”, leading to improved recovery. Other published papers back up these findings and are consistent in their results (Kraemer et al, 2001). A study in 1995 was one of the first to prove that “IPC is effective in temporarily decreasing the swelling and stiffness after exercise induced muscle injury” (Chleboun et al, 1995).
Muscular compression seems to be an effective method of aiding recovery. There also appears to be a direct correlation between the level of applied pressure and the rate of recovery. So pay close attention to the level of compression of your garment when making a purchase. The 2XU elite compression 1050 garment and 2XU standard compression 700 garment provide the highest compression of any tights on the market. 7 and 5 Newton’s respectively. Average compression levels appear to be around 3.5N for tights.
Compression garments do not improve physical performance. There have been numerous studies, not one recorded positive results. Therefore wearing them during exercise provides no benefit. That said many athletes do choose to wear them during exercise because they can keep you warm. Some products even have sweat wicking properties. They are meant to be worn immediately after exercise. However wearing them during exercise means that you don’t need to get changed at the end of your training session.
This post on LifeHacker doesn’t go into too much detail but is still quite a good read and tells you what compression garments can and can’t do.