by Hunter Pronovost
When a serious new type of product hit’s the sporting market ( especially in cycling ) you can guarantee a couple of things:
# 1 Its going to claim to make you go faster.
#2 It will have a heritage of Professional use and backing before hitting the selves for public use.
High-tech compression clothing falls right into these categories. At the forefront of compression garment technology are SKINS and 2XU. Both companies surprisingly have Australian roots, but those details I suspect could make for another story all together. This review is for SKINS Recovery + Travel Tights. While SKINS makes a full range of active clothing wear, what I imagine most appeals to cyclists are the claims that SKINS ( and 2XU for their part )make regarding faster, better recovery thru use of their products. It was the pro's use of the recovery products that first piqued my interest maybe a year and a half ago. When you race ( and train ) hard for weeks on end, 200+ days a year, maximizing the time you have to recover is an issue I would venture to say that every pro team has addressed. I have also seen reports of teams using electric leg compression systems to rest and sleep in. These systems costing thousands of dollars. So there has got to be something said for the technology of recovery wear.
Why should YOU care about recovery wear? After using the SKINS Recovery tights for a couple months, my 2 reasons would be: #1 They make you a better rider when you are off the bike ( I’ll explain that in a bit ) and #2 They make air travel more comfortable.
These are the tights I am talking about today.
And while I have been using them for a while after the longer base mileage days, I didn’t want to write about them till I had a chance to wear them on a plane. If even a tenth of the traveling population, athletes or not, bought these to be better off after any flight over 2 hours, SKINS would be on the way to attaining Fortune 500 status. No one is comfortable for such amounts of time in plane or car, and as far as making that time better, these work…. Plain and simple. But I digress…..
SKINS work using a technology called “BioAcceleration”. It’s complicated to explain yes, maybe even just as complicated to manufacture. SKINS has a killer website that has a F.A.Q. section that goes on as long the winter Olympics opening ceremonies. I recommend sucking some their servers bandwidth for a spell to find out all about the tech. But basically, the tights use varying direct compression on the skin to put just the right amount of pressure on the vascular system to maximize blood flow and therefore… aid recovery. Regular lycra, yuck, squeezes skin circularly like a tight fist. This harder to make lycra (cant we come up with a better word for this yet?! ) presses down on skin more like a bear hug, uniformly and direct.
The Recovery tights cost approx $119. Pricey yes, but as soon as you take them out of the box, you know you are dealing with a superior product. For a seemingly simple tight, they have a couple of intelligent features that you will appreciate. The bottom of the tights actually go around a heel loop. This and slightly greater compression is what makes these different from the regular SKINS long tights. The heel loop keeps them in place and because it feels different from anything else you wear, reminds you what they are doing…. Basically squeezing your legs in the right spots. All in all, these end up feeling quite different from a standard tight, especially when you figure in the snugness. The foot loop also keeps them from bunching up, which of course adds to their effectiveness. They also have an intelligently designed seam sewed right down the middle of the leg. This is a good feature. Without this it would be easy to have the tight twisted on your leg. How much less effective at recovery a twisted tight would be is probably debatable but these details at least make you think that the tights are working well.
Like I said at the outset, if these tights succeed only in making you more aware of the efficient recovery that should take place after a hard workout, then they still are probably worth it. I found myself reminded to drink a little more water than I usually might have. And the urge to stretch a couple of times was there when in the past it never comes to mind. I attribute this thought process to wearing the tights. But alas, they do indeed do more than simply feeling a little strange on the skin. There is a reason why the pro’s wear them.
My Legs were slightly warmer then if I had just a pair of standard tights on. This is probably due to the increased circulation the compression provides. It wasn’t anything that was unbearable in normal conditions, but a quick stroll thru the airport terminal made me a little warm. Unless you absolutely can not deal with warm legs and waist, it’s not a deal breaker.
Nothing will completely take away the bloated, dead feeling in your legs that the stale air, pressurized cabin, and long times in small seats of air travel hits you with. However, these helped. Notably, my feet felt better and less swollen. In my opinion, feeling better after a flight is reason enough for a frequent traveling athlete to buy a pair of these. Really, any frequent traveler will see real benefit from them.
As far as what they did for me bike-wise, I am not about to proclaim they made huge changes to my overall performance. There are so many things that make up quick, quality recovery. But I am certain they were doing something to ease dead legs the next day. The changes were no doubt minor, due somewhat to the fact that my endurance pace isn’t extremely hard. Interestingly, I can ABSOLUTELY say there was less soreness after a hard day snowboarding. I wore these after getting home every night from the steep slopes of Utah and whereas in the past I’d be hurting the first runs of the next day as my muscles warmed up and I worked thru the soreness, this trip I was feeling the previous day’s effort much less.
It’s proof to me that smart skin compression aids in the muscles natural ability to start rebuilding as soon as the workout is over. Save up your pennies and get a pair. If you are like me and like to stack hard spring workouts back to back, these will DEFINITELY make you a stronger, smarter rider.
UPDATE: For some more on this subject and a look at a Louis Garneau's leg recovery tights, see here