You may have seen travelers wearing them in the airport, or have heard the benefits they provide during long travel stints. Or you may have seen runners wearing them during or after their race in a variety of bright colors, shapes, lengths, and fabric types. You may have hardly seen or heard about them at all. Regardless, the benefits that compression socks can provide for you are worth considering.
So, are compression socks good for running? In spite of the lack of studies, many runners swear by compression socks and say they are good for running. Meb Keflezighi, Olympian, Boston Marathon Champion, and all around class-act is a prime example of a world-class athlete who swears by compression socks, so much so that he is a brand ambassador for CEP, a popular compression clothing company. He says on the website, “Once I put (compression socks) on, I fell in love with them.” He mentions how they aid in blood flow and circulation. In every race that I’ve witnessed him run, he’s always had compression socks on. So they can’t be entirely non-beneficial.
With all of that being said, it’s safe to say that compression socks are worth trying out if you’re interested in the benefits they provide. But where do you start? What compression socks will be right for you?
Lucky for you, I did the heavy lifting and narrowed down some options based on budget, purpose, etc. Keep reading for my hand-picked suggestions.
Which compression socks are best for running?
Introductory: Go2Socks Elite Compression Socks
These socks are great for beginners because they are at a lower pressure than most athletic compression socks, with a range of 15-20 mmHg. Jumping into a higher pressure range right off the bat, while trying to run in them, may cause pain and discomfort. For me, I’m unable to wear higher pressure compression socks whilst running because they make my feet fall asleep 5 minutes into a run.
This isn’t the case for everybody! Try these socks out, see how they feel, and if you’re not feeling any benefits, try a higher pressure pair and save this pair for your travel days.
- Pros: lower pressure than most compression socks means they’re easier to wear, calf support, breathable and affordable, many color and style options.
- Cons: May not have a great fit (looser in some areas, not tailored to all calf shapes and sizes, not great arch support).
Long Distance: PRO Compression Marathon Elite Socks
With marathon in its name, you best believe these are ready to go the distance. They are equipped with extra padding on the heels and toes, extra calf support, and with ‘graduated compression’– meaning the compression loosens up toward the knee to allow for blood to circulate up the leg.
With these extras comes an increased price, however. And the pressure was not readily available on their website: a disclaimer on their states to expect them to feel tight when you first put them on (which is true of all compression socks, but if they feel If you’re running long distances and need something to go that extra distance with you, this is the pair!
- Pros: extra padding and support, moisture-wicking and high quality material. Many color and style options. Good for running and great for recovery.
- Cons: May get too hot during warm summer months. Expensive, but not abnormally so. Not much information on the website about pressure, material, etc.
Affordable: Physix Gear Compression Socks
I know, I know. I suggested more affordable socks earlier. Why would I have my best affordable pick be more expensive than another? Because the quality of these socks makes them the best affordability, given all that you get. And they are truly on the lower end of the compression sock price spectrum.
These socks have heel padding, a graduated fit, moisture-wicking material, feature 20-30 mmHg of pressure, and have a sleek and stylish look. I would much rather say that these compression socks are truly affordable over a dinky $10 pair that won’t last three runs or won’t give you the compression you need. In the end, those cheap pairs become more expensive.
- Pros: good amount of pressure, sleek styles, graduated fit, extra padding and support, good for running and recovery.
- Cons: No visible arch or calf support.
Best Overall: Zensah Tech+ Compression Socks
I’ve tried many pairs of compression socks, and these are the only pair that I can run comfortably and recover well in. I’ve only ever felt too hot wearing these on a 100+ degree day, and even then, these socks don’t hold moisture and are very breathable (the heat was more so in my feet, which may have also been because of my shoes).
These socks feature a graduated fit, a dense fabric made from a 200-needle count machine, heel and toe support, and breathability. I recommended these socks to my teammates and continue to recommend them to runners and non-runners alike.
- Pros: Breathability, support, moisture-wicking and light padding.
- Cons: There isn’t a lot of heel padding. Wouldn’t rely on these to cushion my heel throughout the day, if that was what I was looking for.
A notable mention would be CEP Run Socks 2.0 for the best overall compression sock. The reason why it didn’t make my top cut is because I could never wear them running – like I said before, they would make my feet fall asleep. They do have a higher pressure, so they are fantastic to recover in.
My legs would feel totally massaged by the end of the day wearing these. And I know many runners who swear by them (Keflezighi!) They are at a higher price point, but I would still recommend them to the serious buyer.
Proper Size and Fit
Let’s go over sizing and fit. This part is important so that you’re getting the benefits without being smothered by them to the point of pain. Compression sock sizes are typically measured by the width of your calf muscle at its widest point. So you will need some measuring tape to determine your size. Some companies, such as Zensah, determine size in shoe size.
Once you figure your size out, I’d recommend going to your local running store or nearest athletic store that sells compression socks and try some out. Even if you’re planning on buying a brand that store doesn’t sell. It’s important to get the feel of a compression sock: walk around in them, do a few calf raises (to see if you experience pain/discomfort with your calf flexed and working), etc.
They should feel snug, but not suffocating. Movement shouldn’t be a challenge, or rather, your range of motion shouldn’t be limited by the tightness of the sock.
Many companies offer a generous return policy, so don’t be afraid to try a pair from online.
And when it comes to testing them out in a run, start slow and short. Don’t plan on donning your brand new pair for the first time on your 10 mile run, or during your long fartlek session. That’s a recipe for pain/injury.
Benefits of Compression Therapy
The benefits of compression therapy goes beyond assisting runners. People who are bedridden, experience difficulty moving or walking, or have ailments such as diabetes or varicose veins use compression socks to improve their circulation.
That’s a lot of people wearing long, incredibly tight socks. You may have noticed, however, that the people mentioned are largely sedentary while using compression socks. This begs the question: are compression socks good for the act of running, versus simply wearing them whilst resting to improving recovery?
Wearing compression socks while running increases circulation and acts as a funnel to push blood back up to your heart, providing more oxygen to the muscle that needs it most as it’s hard at work. In addition, compression narrows your veins, thus increasing the velocity in which your blood travels, which will in turn flush out lactic acid (the stuff that makes you sore).
Swelling is also reduced in your lower extremities while wearing compression socks, which is great for those who experience problems with water retention or excess swelling when it gets hot outside (me!).
In essence, compression socks are safe to wear both on the run and on the couch.
Sounds like the perfect type of gear for a runner, right? However, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of studies supporting the benefits of compression therapy for the ailments I described earlier, there aren’t loads of studies conducted on the benefits of running performance and compression socks. Even less so for the benefits of wearing compression socks whilst running.
Running Performance Benefits – Perception Vs. Reality
Without a doubt, there are benefits to compression therapy. But the big question is… do these benefits also translate to improved running? One study that researched and averaged the results of multiple studies testing said benefits whilst running and recovering concluded that there is a slight increase in endurance performance due to “running economy, biomechanics, perception, and muscle temperature.”
One key word that caught my eye in the summary of the studies’ conclusion is ‘perception.’ Often, the gear we wear to aid our performance, while it has physical benefits, often has a greater mental benefit. Meaning you feel/perform better simply because your mind believes that gear will benefit you.That’s wild!
So, my advice would be to give them a try. If you feel better wearing them, do it. If not, at least you gave them a shot.
Up Next In Trail Running:
Emma is a semi-professional runner for the Hoka One One Aggies, based out of beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. She is an NCAA DIII All-American, has made multiple top-10 all-time performance lists for track and field and cross country for her alma mater, Linfield College, and graduated with a degree in creative writing with honors. When she’s not running, working, or in physical therapy, she enjoys going to the beach, fishing, or lazing around watching Netflix with some Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream.