I consider myself a little late to the compression scene. Many runners have been rocking compression socks and calf sleeves for over a year while I wasn’t totally convinced that they could provide much benefit.
After reading a great analysis of the research behind compression socks by Steve Magness I was more interested in testing a pair to see if I liked them. It seems that there’s enough research to support the claim that compression sleeves can actually reduce soreness and improve recovery. I also started seeing a ton more runners wearing them – like Paula Radcliffe and Chris Solinsky.
The folks at CEP Compression (Compete, Endure, Perform) sent me a pair of calf compression sleeves to review recently. I’ve worn them for an easy run, a workout, and for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. My goal was to test them during easy runs and very damaging runs like the race itself.
My Experience with CEP Calf Compression Sleeves
I needed to give a measurement of my calf at its widest (14 inches) so these calf sleeves are customized to my leg size. My initial reaction when I put them on was that they were tight. The feeling of your lower legs being hugged by the compression sleeves is actually very pleasant. They make me feel much more aware of my body when I’m running.
During my first run with the calf compression sleeves, I felt great. It was a short run and I was trying to go slow and enjoy myself. Wearing the calf sleeves makes you feel like you should be running fast so it was difficult for me to keep the effort level down. This is entirely mental but I think very important: they made me feel fast. Everyone’s looking for a performance booster and the mental aspect of performance shouldn’t be overlooked.
About a week later I ran a 30 minute tempo in Rock Creek Park on mostly level dirt trails. I wore the calf sleeves and I got the same fast feeling. I managed to run faster than I normally do on my traditional tempo loop. Whether that can be attributed to the sleeves or not is up in the air – but I think they helped.
For me, one of their main benefits is the feeling of tightness during running. That feeling makes me feel fast and want to work hard. There also seems to be some good research that shows they can help reduce muscle damage when you wear them for a long run or hard workout. While reducing muscle damage isn’t always a good thing (you need some damage to encourage adaptation), they can be used successfully during hard training when you need extra recovery.
Following my two good experiences with the CEP calf compression sleeves during a long tempo and an easy run, I wore them for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. If you read my previous race report, you know that the race was a bit of a circus: I took the wrong train getting to the race, needed to wait in a 30 minute line for the bathroom, and only had time for 12 minutes of warming up.
Needless to say, I was not ready to race when the gun went off. Regardless, I settled in to my goal pace of just under 5:30 per mile. After about 2 miles of racing, my shins were throbbing. After 7 miles, my right soleus just under my calf muscle began to tighten up significantly. I wasn’t able to accelerate despite the pace feeling easy aerobically.
Even though I had significant problems with my lower legs during the race, I don’t think the compression sleeves were the culprit. My short warm-up and lack of strides are the two better candidates. I also regret not doing any workouts on the roads before the race. Running a 10 mile road race with barely any road running is going to subject your body (especially your lower legs) to significant stress that it’s not used to. Lesson learned.
Are Calf Sleeves For You?
Let’s face it: they look weird.
I get funny looks when I’m cruising through the trails in Rock Creek (may or may not be related to the calf compression sleeves). But I prefer them to standard compression socks exactly because they lack the foot. I have a different pair of compression socks and I get hot in them fairly quickly. I’d never wear them during a hot summer but the calf sleeves aren’t as bad.
If you want the feeling of compression but are worried you may overheat during the warm summer months then calf sleeves are for you. You can wear lighter socks (I go with Wrightsock Coolmesh socks) or even go barefoot in your shoes. Compression calf sleeves are also perfect for you minimalist runners who run in Vibram FiveFingers. Last I checked, toe socks don’t come in a compression variety and FiveFingers aren’t really made for socks anyways.
I continue to run in the CEP calf compression sleeves despite the debacle at Cherry Blossom. They’re fun to wear and the proprioceptive feedback I get helps me mentally switch it on when I need to run fast. Based on my experiences wearing them for hard workouts, I think my legs recover faster. The sleeves seem to minimize damage and I’ll still be wearing them when I need that.
After logging about 40 miles in them, my one complaint is that the material may not hold up if you tend to kick your calf muscle when running. I’m slightly bow-legged and I think this is common for a lot of runners. If you finish a run and have a bit of mud on your calves then you kick yourself a bit. This isn’t necessarily the fault of CEP; after all, they’re not designed to be kicked by a running shoe a few times during every run. But it will wear them down a lot faster.
At the end of the day, I give CEP calf sleeves a big thumbs up. If you order, make sure to measure your calf appropriately or else they won’t fit right. These calf sleeves are available on the cheap at Amazon.com.
Have you tried CEP compression socks or sleeves? What’s your experience? Are the calf sizing charts correct?