Gear Review: Zensah Calf Compression Sleeves

Zensah Calf Sleeves

One of the running trends that I’ve noticed over the past year is the growing number of people wearing and raving about compression sleeves and socks. Compression product manufacturers like Zensah have effectively used social media sites like Twitter to expand their user base, and a number of my on-line running friends love their products. Even elites are utilizing compression garments, with such notable runners as Paula Radcliff and Chris Solinsky sporting compression socks during races.

I’ve long been curious about the potential benefits of using a compression product on the run or for recovery purposes. The skeptic in me sees a trendy gimmick, but the regular use of compression products in hospital settings to help reduce edema and increase venous return suggests that there’s some substance to the theory behind their use. I will admit up front that I haven’t read the scientific literature on compression products, but thankfully fellow running blogger, coach, and exercise scientist Steve Magness just recently posted a lengthy review of the science of compression garments. In a nutshell, Steve’s conclusions are as follows:

At rest in certain populations, compression socks definitely increase venous blood flow. The question is does this happen during exercise and if so does it improve performance? I’m afraid that testing that idea during intense running is a bit too hard to do at the present moment. There seems to be a bit more consistent effect demonstrated on decreasing muscle soreness and thus enhancing recovery in a wide variety of groups. The results for performance enhancement while running due to blood flow increases and/or product removal is mixed. Although neither is well studied at this point in time.

So basically, the gist is that there are likely benefits for blood flow at rest (hence their use in hospitals), but it’s hard to extrapolate this to running conditions. Evidence seems stronger that compression can help reduce muscle soreness, though the mechanism isn’t well know. Magness also discusses how compression can theoretically help reduce muscle vibration and increase muscle power, enhance lactate clearance, and there seems to be reasonable evidence supporting the use of compression after runs to help enhance recovery. Based on all of this, I’m satisfied that there is at least enough evidence of a positive benefit to make experimenting with compression garments worthwhile.

Zensah Calf Sleeves

My own interest in compression primarily originates from some anecdotal personal experience – three of my fastest races have come while wearing running tights, including my marathon and half marathon PR’s, and my second fastest 5K. While not compression products per se, I have long found that wearing tights during and after long runs feels good, and seems to help with recovery. The realist in me says that my performance in those races is more likely related to the cold weather in which they were run (hence the need for tights), but psychology is a powerful force when it comes to performance, and I’ve always “felt” more efficient when running in my tights (have to add – my wife hates it when I say that I wear “tights”).

Since I have been running a lot of miles in Vibrams lately, my calves have been tight and sore, and I figured that this would be the perfect time to try out a compression product. I decided to get in touch with the people at Zensah to see if they would provide me with a pair of calf compression sleeves to review. They graciously offered to send me a pair, and what follows are my thoughts after a few wears.

First, the Zensah sleeves are remarkably comfortable – I got a size L/XL, and they provide just the right amount of pressure without being too constricting. I put them on when they arrived, and wound up wearing them for about 12 hrs straight – something about the compression just feels great. From an aesthetic standpoint, although my wife accused me of resembling an old man in black knee socks, I actually kind of like the look.

I’ve now worn the Zensah sleeves on a Vibram Bikila run (in which I knocked out a 5:52 mile – near my personal best), a hard Fartlek run, and an 18 mile long run in my Saucony Kinvara’s (nice shoe by the way – review coming soon). They remain comfortable on the run, and although it’s hard to say for sure, my sense is that I feel a bit less sore in the calves when I run in them. In particular, my legs felt remarkably good after my 18 miler this afternoon – the Zensah/Kinvara combo worked out great and it was the best long run I have had in quite some time (pace was just under 8:00 miles).

Perhaps the best endorsement I can give for a product is to answer the question of whether I will continue to use them. The answer to that for me is a resounding yes. In fact, I suspect I will be wearing the Zensah sleeves during my Fall marathon (Hampton Smuttynose Rockfest), and I already have plans to pick up a second pair (this time in red to placate my wife).

As per usual, the best price I have found for the Zensah sleeves is at Running Warehouse – you can follow the link below to check them out.

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Steve Fines says:

    Hey,

    2 1/2 years down the road I think an update on the science of compression socks for running / recovery would be a great post.

    They are clearly popular, but I’m curious if there is any more good data on the matter.

  2. Thomas Neuberger says:

    Peter, I have been doing some longer back to back runs lately, (18 miles Friday, 20 miles on Saturday, and 22 miles on Sunday last week) I wore the 2XU compression sleeves and I believe they saved my calves. I also used recovery socks after two of the runs. My legs seem to stay fresher, no scientific evidence but for me it works. I have done the back to back runs without the sleeves and the fatigue is worse. The sleeves are going with me to Colorado for the TransRockies Run for sure!

    -Thomas

  3. Great post! I’m using a pair of leg sleeves for a running purposes. For me, it is comfortable.

  4. Xia Taptara says:

    Thanks for the review, I was looking at a pair on Amazon.  Just start running on my forefeet for about 7 weeks, I felt my calves have to work a lot more.  I went for 10 miles today and my calves get really sore afterward.  So I think I am going to get a pair after I’ve read your review.  Cheers!

  5. I’ve run two marathons in my Zensah sleeves, and I followed each with a pair of OxySox recovery socks. I find the Zensah a little too tight to wear all day, and I wouldn’t do so outside of a run. I’ve definitely noticed that my achilles is much less tender the morning after a long run in my VFF Bikila if I’ve worn my Zensah during the run as well.

  6. I have tibial stress fracture issues… would these help?  I’ve been told that compression will indeed help, but before throwing down the money I want some opinions.  I’ve done 3 half marathons and cannot walk after.  Any suggestions?

    • If you buy from REI you are never throwing money away, just take them back if you don’t like them. Sure you might save a few bucks elsewhere, but their 100% guaratee is great. I usually buy test items there if I am on the fence for this reason.

  7. How tight should these fit?  I got the s/m and it doesn’t seem very tight.  I’ve read where people talk about them being difficult to put on cuz they are so tight; that isnt’ my experience.  I don’t have tiny calfs but knew I wouldn’t be a large and expected it to me tighter — I probably have medium size calves.

    Will this shrink when I was it?  I would mind if it shrunk to fit a little tighter but I don’t want it to shrink every time and end up too small.

    Thanks, D^2

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