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Get that tight right

There's a reason why superheroes wear those silly tights. They really do make you stronger. We demystify the science behind it

travel Updated: Apr 17, 2010 09:15 IST

Often in matches, you spot cricketers wearing thin fullbody tight stockings underneath their clothes even in blistering heat. You'd think they help Brett Lee or S Sreesanth swing the ball better or aid Rahul Dravid in scoring the odd sixer. But they don't. These 'stockings' are actually compression wear and they help players keep away common injuries such as muscle pulls, cramps and ligament tears. 

What is compression clothing?

Compression clothing is tight-fitting, body-moulded apparel made of lycra, microfibre and nylon that athletes wear to aid their performance. When you're jogging, stretching or running, different parts of the body experience varying pressure. Compression wear evens this out and ensures that no one part gets exhausted sooner. These are used to perform better during competition, and as a means to ensure faster and safer recovery from injuries.

How does it help?
According to physiotherapist Heath Matthews, the type of nerves 'called mechanoreceptors' are activated by the compression of the clothing. This increases the number of signals going to the brain, telling it where each body part is in space and how it is performing. This is called proprioception. Improved proprioception means that the brain is able to co-ordinate and control the body better. The heightened awareness leads to improved athletic potential.

Studies have also shown that stride frequency increases and muscle coordination improves. Says


gold medal-winning shooter Abhinav Bindra, "I found that compression wear helped the muscles fire quicker and stay engaged during long competitions."

Besides this, the level pressure induced by the clothing prevents the build-up of lactic acid, allowing players to perform better over a sustained period. It also allows for sweat to evaporate faster.

As the body cools down, muscles can cramp and compression clothing prevents this by holding these cold muscles under uniform pressure to reduce tissue damage by oscillation. It also increases blood circulation to the lower extremities of the body.

Can it help cure pains in the body?
There is specific gear meant to support the upper torso and back muscles and hold them together so body pain is minimised. Compression wear is also recommended to athletes who suffer specifically from back pain caused due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The clothing helps compress this sensitive nerve, which runs all the way down to the outer thigh, and prevents it from becoming sore.

Matthews says that people suffering from chronic pain can also benefit from compression wear. "The stimulation of mechano and thermo receptors leads to inhibition of pain fibres that send messages to the brain." He adds that the increased temperature also eases conditions like osteoarthritis due to the increased motility of joint fluid.

Athletes often wear tights on long distance flights to prevent cramping and muscle discomfort arising from sitting in a cramped space. Cricketer Yuvraj Singh also wore compression clothes for a long time after his knee injury. The lower-body garments help reduce muscle fatigue by lending support to tissues and prevents venous thrombosis by promoting blood flow.

Are they comfortable to wear and available in different sizes?
Compression wear can be worn by both women and men, and should be closefitting but not constrictive. The design, material and snugness will vary according to the brand and the activity you want it for, so try out different types and sizes before zeroing in on one. Some garments offer extras like a protective cup in the groin area for men and extra groin support for women, while some offer protection against body odour.

Know the benefits of compression wear:
Compression wear prevents the build-up of lactic acid in the body, preventing post workout pain. When you're cooling down, it holds muscles together,decreasing chances of pulls and cramps. Blood circulation to the lower extremities of the body increases, preventin It also increases bioactivity, restores original metabolic balance and aids in recovery. Athletes also wear them on long distance flights to prevent muscle discomfort.
Get it from:
You can buy it from any Nike or Adidas store. A pair of tights costs about Rs 1,800. Log on to


to buy the really good stuff.