What are compression clothes and why are they popular?

words Al Woods

When we think about compression wear, the image of The Rock flexing his bulging muscles in his trademark Under Armour gear may come to mind. However, compression clothing has existed way before the idea of Instagram was born.

In the 1950’s, German-born Conrad Jobst developed the first custom gradient compression garment to treat the symptoms of venous insufficiency. This is a condition where blood from the legs have difficulty returning to the heart and can be painful as blood accumulates in the legs.

To this day, medical grade compression garments are prescribed by doctors to treat lymphedema. What you see on the shelves with the “compression” label may not have the same health benefits. But that doesn’t mean it’s worthless! 

In this article, we’ll talk about the concept behind compression clothes and how they have exploded in popularity over the years such as in the case of men’s compression tights.

compression clothes

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay 

So, how do they work?

Your body relies on muscle contraction to pump the blood from your veins to the heart and flush out lactic acid and other toxic byproducts in the area. Graduated compression clothing works by being tighter towards the extremities such as the ankles or the lower calf, thus adding additional pressure to improve blood circulation as it goes upwards. For medically-graded compression wear, there are various compression ranges denoted in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).

Another purpose of compression clothes is to act as a “stabilizer” for your muscles. When you are doing high-impact exercises, opposite forces from the ground cause vibrations in your muscles and can cause microtears and accumulation of waste products. Compression pants aim to limit this vibration and reduce the chances of getting injured from muscle fatigue.

Why are they popular?


Whether sports-oriented compression wear has been scientifically proven to enhance performance is still up for debate. But what most of us can’t deny is that these are very comfortable for harsh workouts. Take it from me who used to live in the tropics where most gyms aren’t climate controlled. 

Compression wear is usually made from sweat-wicking fabrics such as nylon and polyester. This keeps your body dry and prevents chafing. Furthermore, some have plenty of tiny ventilation holes in areas the body releases more sweat. The heavy, hot, and smelly situation you get when working out in cotton doesn’t happen in compression wear! 

The fact that they hug your body also ensures you have complete freedom of movement when executing your workout. 


Social media has definitely driven the hype surrounding compression wear. From your favourite Gymshark athletes to Dwayne Johnson, lifestyle brands are constantly coming out with new, striking designs that catch the eye of the average user. Thirty years ago, it would be weird seeing people running in hot pink compression shorts, but nowadays no one will bat an eye.

There’s certainly a culture of fashion within the fitness community that’s driven by social media. It’s no surprise that consumers want what’s hot!

They Make People Feel Good

You don’t have to be a supermodel to look good in compression wear. Some are designed to highlight specific areas of your body (eg; chest and shoulders) and make them pop out, giving the illusion of better muscle proportions. 

Some people think this is bad as it gives wearers a false idea of what they look like. But on the flip side, it does motivate people to work harder to achieve their goals!


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