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Effect of Lower-Limb Compression Clothing on 400-m Sprint Performance

Faulkner, James A.1; Gleadon, David1; McLaren, Jason2,3; Jakeman, John R.4

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 3 - p 669–676
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2f50
Original Research

Faulkner, JA, Gleadon, D, McLaren, J, and Jakeman, JR. Effect of lower-limb compression clothing on 400-m sprint performance. J Strength Cond Res 27(3): 669–676, 2013—This study investigated the effects of wearing a variety of lower-limb compression garments on 400-m sprint performance. Eleven 400-m male runners (23.7 ± 5.7 years, 1.78 ± 0.08 m, and 75.3 ± 10.0 kg) completed six, 400-m running tests on an outdoor, all-weather running track on separate occasions. The participants completed 2 runs with long-length lower-limb compression garments (LG; hip-to-ankle), a combination of short-length lower-limb compression garments (SG; hip-to-knee) with calf compression sleeves (ankle-to-knee), or without compression garments (CON; shorts), in a randomized, counterbalanced order. Overall lap time and 100-m split times, heart rate, and ratings of perceived exertion (RPEs) were measured during the 400-m run. Blood lactate concentration, visual analogue scales for perceived soreness, feeling and arousal, and scales for perceived comfort and tightness when wearing compression garments, were assessed before (preexercise, post–warm-up) and after 400-m performance (post, 4 minutes postexercise, after a warm-down). Statistical analysis revealed no differences between conditions in overall 400-m performance, 100-m split times, or blood lactate concentration (p > 0.05), although there was a trend for an increased rate of blood lactate clearance when wearing compression garments. A significantly lower RPE (p > 0.05) was however observed during LG (13.8 ± 0.9) and SG (13.4 ± 1.1) when compared with CON (14.0 ± 1.0). This study has demonstrated that lower-limb compression garments may lower the effort perception associated with 400-m performance, despite there being no differences in overall athletic performance.

1School of Sport and Exercise, College of Sciences, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

2iSPORT Biomechanics, Sydney, Australia

3Skins Compression Garments, Sydney, Australia

4Department of Sport and Health Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom

Address correspondence to Dr. James A. Faulkner, j.faulkner@massey.ac.nz.

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Introduction

It has been demonstrated that graduated compression clothing can have positive effects on muscle oxygenation, venous pooling, and edema (5,14). Recently, there has been an increase in the use of graduated lower-limb compression garments within athletic populations both during (2,6) and after exercise (18,20). To date, the effects of compression on short, explosive movements, such as a maximal vertical jump (8,19), prolonged exercise (2,6), and recovery after strenuous and damaging exercise (12,18) have been considered. Research has indicated some positive effects from the use of compression garments on recovery, particularly after strenuous exercise, and during prolonged aerobic activities, as a result of both physiological and mechanical mechanisms (6,13,18). However, during high-intensity exercise that relies predominantly on the use of the adenosine triphosphate phosphocreatine (ATP-PC) system, lower-limb compression clothing has conferred few significant beneficial effects on performance, particularly in relation to physiological markers, which may be a result of the duration of activity (8).

The benefits associated with compressive clothing have included improvements in venous hemodynamics (17), muscle oxygenation, and limb blood flow (6,23,24) and a lower heart rate during prolonged exercise (2). Positive alterations in proprioception, muscle coordination, and propulsive force have been associated with some of the beneficial responses observed (6). Other suggested mechanisms for performance and recovery improvements from wearing compressive clothing include the creation of a dynamic cast around a limb, promoting muscle alignment, reductions in muscle oscillation, and a reduced incidence of low-frequency fatigue (6,8,18,19), and a lower energy cost of running (2). The reductions in muscle oscillation and low-frequency fatigue may allow an individual to compete at an optimal level for an extended period of time without exhibiting pronounced indicators of fatigue. This is observed in noncompressed conditions because of an improved efficiency in muscle action (8), though the event duration may be an important feature. Although recent studies have considered the effects of lower-limb compression on explosive (ATP-PC energy system) and prolonged exercise (oxidative metabolism), investigation into exercise modalities lasting upto 120 seconds, and as such predominantly fueled by nonoxidative metabolism, is sparse. The increased blood flow associated with the use of compression garments (6), which would contribute to an improved ability to shuttle lactate to nonworking musculature (7,23), may facilitate a faster recovery following this type of exercise performance.

Research has also indicated that the use of compressive clothing can affect perceptions of performance and postexercise recovery, particularly with regard to perceptions of muscle soreness (20). Although the effects of compressive clothing on perceptions of soreness have been extensively considered within exercise-induced muscle damage research (18,20), for example, the influence of compressive clothing on perceptual indicators of comfort and performance has not been fully established during events lasting between 10 and 120 seconds.

As a result of the positive effects of research, which focus on prolonged exercise modalities and recovery, there has been an increase in the use of garments with specific compressive qualities, which has exceeded the relative paucity of scientific underpinning for its usage. As such, research is required to support or refute the use of such clothing across a range of athletic disciplines. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of lower-limb compression on a 400-m run performance and to determine whether its use significantly influences physiological and perceptual indicators of intensity and performance. The null hypothesis (Ho) was that the compression garments would not lead to changes in 400-m performance, physiological markers or perceptual indices. The experimental hypothesis (H1) was that the compression garments would contribute to changes in each of the aforementioned markers.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

In this study, a randomized mixed-model experimental design was used. The participants completed 6 × 400-m performance tests, on an outdoor all-weather tartan running track in the fastest time possible. Exercise tests were completed either with long-length lower-limb compression garments (LG; hip-to-ankle), a combination of short-length lower-limb compression garments with calf compression sleeves (SG; hip-to-knee), or without compression garments (CON; shorts). Each aforementioned condition was undertaken twice, with a minimum 72-hour recovery period between tests. Overall performance and 100-m split times (0–100, 100–200, 200–300, and 300–400 m) were monitored in each test condition to determine whether the compression garments influenced athletic performance. Physiological (heart rate, blood lactate) and perceptual (ratings of perceived exertion [RPEs], visual analogue scales [VASs] for perceived soreness, tightness and comfort, feeling scale [FS], and felt arousal scale [FAS]) markers were monitored before, during, and after performance, to investigate whether the compression garments contributed to changes in these indices.

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Subjects

Eleven men (23.7 ± 5.7 years, 1.78 ± 0.08 m, and 75.3 ± 10.0 kg) who completed regular training ≥3 times per week specific to 400-m running (season best 2011; 53.94 ± 2.67 seconds) volunteered to take part in the study. The study was conducted during the Southern Hemisphere's autumn and winter months (May to June), between 2 PM and 4 PM. The participants had been training for approximately 2 months before testing. The participants were asked to maintain a normal hydration and nutrition pattern to ensure ecological utility. All the participants were asymptomatic of illness or disease and free from acute or chronic injury, as established by a participant activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) and health assessment procedures (blood lipid profile, blood pressure, etc.). The participants provided written informed consent before the start of the study. Research was conducted after ethical approval from the institutional ethics committee. A priori calculations of statistical power indicated that this sample was appropriate to achieve a statistical power at or above 80% on measures of functional performance (18).

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Procedures

The following environmental conditions (mean [SD]) were recorded from the testing sessions: atmospheric pressure 751 (6) mm Hg, temperature 16.2 (2.9) °C, wind speed 2.5 (1.4) mph, and humidity 59.1 (14.6)%.

After the health assessment (i.e., PAR-Q) and a habituation session with the testing procedures, the participants completed six 400-m performance tests in the fastest time possible. Before each 400-m exercise test, the participants replicated a precompetition warm-up, which included aerobic exercise (jogging) and dynamic and static stretching. The participants started each exercise test 1 m behind the start line and were provided a 3-2-1 countdown by the investigator. The participants completed 4 of the 6 exercise tests wearing lower-limb compression clothing (Skins, Sydney, Australia). Exercise tests were completed either with A400 (Memory MX Fabric; 76% nylon tactel microfiber, 24% elastane) LG, a combination of A400 comfort (Memory MX Fabric; 76% nylon tactel microfiber, 24% elastane) SG with calf compression sleeves (CS), or CON. Compression garments were fitted to meet manufacturer recommendations, based on height, weight, and girth measurements. The participants performed 2 trials in each of the aforementioned conditions, in a randomized, counterbalanced order.

Before and after each 400-m exercise test, the participants were custom fitted with the dynamic compression garments based on a functional fit system provided by the manufacturer. Individuals wore either a calf sleeve and half tight garment combination (SG and CS) or a full leg, long tight garment (LG), depending on the day of testing. Static compression was measured between the subject and each garment and was measured using a PicoPress pressure monitor (Microlab Ellettronica Sas, Italy). Compression was assessed at 8 anatomical landmarks (achilles, musculotendinous junction of gastrocnemius and achilles [MTJ], medial gastrocnemius, lateral gastrocnemius, midiliotibial band [ITB], midquadriceps, tensor fascia latae, and midgluteal) (21).

Infrared timing gates (Multi-channel Timing System, Sportstec, NSW, Australia) at 0, 100, 200, 300, and 400 m allowed overall performance time and 100-m split times to be monitored in each test condition. Heart rate (Polar, Kempele, Finland) was recorded before, during, and after each exercise test, whereas perception of exertion using the Borg 6–20 RPEs scale (4) was retrospectively considered for each 100-m split. Blood lactate was measured before and after each exercise test (Lactate Pro, Arkray Factory Inc., Shiga, Japan), along with a series of perceptual indicators, including VAS for perceived soreness, tightness and comfort (compression garments). The FS and FAS were also assessed before and after each 400-m exercise test.

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Measures

Blood lactate: After cleaning with a sterile alcohol swab, a finger prick capillary puncture was made using a Haemocue lancet (Haemocue, Sheffield, United Kingdom), and approximately 5 μL of sampled whole blood was aspirated into a Lactate Pro, which was calibrated before each measure. Blood lactate was assessed on 5 occasions. Two measures were obtained before the exercise tests; on arrival at the athletic track (Pre) and after a standardized warm-up (WU'), while 3 measures were obtained after the completion of the 400-m exercise tests; immediately (Post), and 4 minutes after exercise (Post_4, and after a 400-m warm-down (WD). These assessments were undertaken at staggered time points to mirror the processes undertaken by athletes before and after competition.

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Perceptual Markers

Ratings of perceived exertion: The participants were perceptually anchored to the Borg 6–20 RPE scale (4) before each of the exercise tests (i.e., RPE 9, 13, and 19). After the receipt of standardized written and verbal instructions on how to identify and report overall feelings of exertion, the participants retrospectively reported their ‘overall’ feelings of exertion for each 100-m split on the completion of the exercise test.

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Visual Analogue Scales

Each of the following markers was measured at Pre, WU, Post, Post_4, and WD.

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Perceived Soreness

Perceived soreness was measured using a 10-cm VAS, with 0 (no pain) and 10 (worst pain ever) used as verbal anchors at the 2 extremes. The participants were asked to assume the position of an unweighted squat at approximately 90° of knee flexion and mark perceived soreness on a horizontal line from 0 to 10.

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Perceived Tightness and Comfort of Lower-Limb Compression Garments

A similar scale to the perceive soreness VAS was used to determine perceived comfort (2). A scale ranging from 0 (uncomfortable) to 10 (very comfortable) was used before and after the 4 exercise tests that incorporated the use of lower-limb compression clothing. The participants reported an overall perception of comfort during LG and a specific perception pertaining to the SG and CS. The perceived tightness scale was also used during both conditions. This scale was 10 cm in length with verbal anchors of ‘extremely slack/loose’ and ‘extremely tight’ noted at either extreme of the horizontal line. In the middle of the verbal anchors, there was a vertical line denoting an ‘optimum’ perception of tightness.

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Feeling Scale and Felt-Arousal Scale

The FS indicates the level of pleasure or displeasure using an 11-point scale ranging from −5 (very bad), 0 (neutral), to +5 (very good). The FAS was used to measure perceived activation or arousal. The scale ranges from 1 (low arousal) to 6 (high arousal).

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Statistical Analyses

Paired sample t-tests were used to compare 400-m performance (overall and split) times from trials 1 and 2 for each condition. Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) were also used to assess the consistency of the overall 400-m performance times between all trials. A 1-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine whether the compression garments significantly influenced overall 400-m performance times between conditions (LG, SG, CON). A 2-way repeated measures ANOVA (Condition [LG, SG, CON] × Distance [0–100, 100–200, 200–300, and 300–400 m]) was used to examine whether the compression garments influenced the 400-m split times. A similar analysis was also used to assess whether the compression garments moderated the heart rate and RPE response during the time trials. A series of 2-way repeated measures ANOVAs (Condition [LG, SG, CON] × Time [Pre, WU, Post, Post_4, WD]) were used to compare the influence of compression garments on blood lactate, VAS for perceived soreness, FS, and FAS, before and after the 400-m time trials. To assess perceived comfort and tightness between trials for LG, SG, and CS, separate 2-way repeated measures ANOVAs; Trial (1,2) × Time [Pre, WU, Post, Post_4, WD], were used. A similar analysis was used to compare the composite perceived comfort and tightness scores from trials 1 and 2 for LG, SG, and CS across time. Furthermore, ANOVA was used to compare static pressure preexercise and postexercise at 8 sites when wearing LG, SG, and CS. Where assumptions of sphericity were violated in the preceding analyses, the critical value of F was adjusted by the Greenhouse-Geisser epsilon value after the Mauchly test to reduce the risk of type 1 error. Alpha was set at 0.05 and adjusted accordingly. All data were analyzed using SPSS (16) for windows.

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Results

A series of paired sample t-tests revealed no differences in split times (Table 1) between trials 1 and 2 for each Condition (all p > 0.05).

Table 1

Table 1

The ICCs revealed strong correlations for overall 400-m performance time for all trials and conditions (≥0.83; Table 2). Accordingly, the data presented in the following analyses are a composite of both trials.

Table 2

Table 2

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Physiological and Performance Markers

The ANOVA revealed no differences in 400-m performance among LG (58.05 ± 3.11 seconds), SG (58.24 ± 3.24 seconds), and CON (57.94 ± 3.53 seconds) (F (2,42) = 0.31, p > 0.05). There was no condition main effect (F (2,46) = 0.89, p > 0.05), or Condition by Distance interaction (F (3.0,62.2) = 1.70, p > 0.05) for 400-m split times. A Distance main effect was however observed (F (1.2,28.6) = 26.55, p < 0.001), with significant increases in running duration for each consecutive distance marker (0–100, 100–200, 200–300, and 300–400 m; Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Similar findings were observed for heart rate, with only a Distance main effect reported (F (1.4,6.0) = 89.57, p < 0.001). On an average, heart rate increased from 168 b·min−1 (95% confidence interval [CI] 158–180·b·min−1) at the completion of the first 100 m to 188 b·min−1 (95% CI 178–197 b·min−1) at the completion of the exercise test (400 m). As expected, a Time main effect was reported for blood lactate (F (2.3,49.1) = 232.09, p < 0.001), with a peak in blood lactate occurring 4 minutes (Post_4) after the completion of the exercise test (Figure 2). There was no Condition main effect (F (2,42) = 0.41, p > 0.05), or Condition by Time interaction (F (4.4,91.8) = 1.32, p > 0.05) for blood lactate.

Figure 2

Figure 2

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Perceptual Markers

Significant Condition (F (2,42) = 3.81, p < 0.05) and Distance main effects (F (1.5,30.7) = 155.04, p < 0.001) were observed for RPE. The average RPE for CON (14.0 ± 1.0) was greater than that for LG (13.8 ± 0.9) and SG (13.4 ± 1.1), whereas, as expected, perceived exertion increased with each distance marker (10.7 ± 0.9, 12.8 ± 0.9, 14.7 ± 1.1, and 16.7 ± 1.2 for 100, 200, 300, and 400 m, respectively). A Condition by Distance interaction was also demonstrated (F (6,126) = 2.38, p < 0.05), with a lower RPE observed at the completion of SG (15.9 ± 1.7) compared with CON (17.4 ± 1.0) or LG (16.8 ± 1.6). Despite an expected change in VAS for perceived soreness (Figure 3) and FAS across Time (p < 0.05), there was no Condition main effect or Condition by Time interaction for VAS, FS, or FAS (all p > 0.05).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Analysis of variance revealed no differences in perceived comfort and tightness across Test (trials 1 and 2), Time (Pre, WU, Post, Post_4, WD), or Test by Time for LG (all p > 0.05). However, SG was perceived to be more comfortable (F (1,10) = 4.91, p < 0.05) and provided a more optimal tightness (F (1,10) = 7.36, p < 0.05) during trial 2 compared with trial 1 (Table 3). Although there were no Test or Time main effects for CS (both p > 0.05), a Test by Time interaction was observed for perceived comfort (F (2.6,26.2) = 3.31, p < 0.05). The participants perceived CS to be more comfortable after the 400-m exercise test (Post) compared with that in beforehand (WU) in trial 2. In trial 1, CS was perceived to be less comfortable after the exercise test (Table 3). Two-way repeated measures ANOVAs revealed no Condition (LG, SG, CS), Time or Condition by Time interaction for perceived comfort or perceived tightness (all p > 0.05) between the 3 compression garments.

Table 3

Table 3

The PicoPress revealed Condition main effects at the following sites: Achilles, MTJ, medial and lateral gastrocnemius, and tensor fascae latae, with LG providing lower compressive qualities than SG or CS (all p < 0.05; Table 4). A Time main effect was observed for the following sites: Achilles, MTJ, medial and lateral gastrocnemius, ITB, and midquadriceps (p < 0.05), with a lower level of compression observed on completion of the exercise tests. A significant Condition by Time interaction was only observed for midgluteal (F (1,8) = 5.50. p < 0.05), with a greater change (decrease) in compression observed for LG compared with SG.

Table 4

Table 4

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Discussion

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of different compression garments (LG, SG, CS) combination on athletic performance and physiological and perceptual markers in competitive 400-m athletes. There were no significant differences in individual 100-m split times, heart rates, and blood lactate profiles between conditions. The H0 was accepted because no significant differences in 400-m performance times were observed when exercising with or without (CON) compression garments. This was not only observed for the overall performance time (mean [SD]; 58.05 [3.11], 58.24 [3.24], 57.94 [3.53] seconds for LG, SG, and CON, respectively), which was on an average within 6% of participants' 2011 season best time but also for individual split times. As previous research has suggested that a 2.5% difference in athletic performance is highly significant (15), the 0.2–0.5% mean difference in overall performance between conditions may be considered trivial. In congruence with the above, strong Pearson correlation coefficients (r = 0.79–0.92) and ICCs (≥0.83) were observed between trials.

Previous investigations have indicated that compressive clothing can facilitate limb blood flow, increase muscle oxygenation, and reduce muscle oscillation during movement, all of which may be beneficial to physical performance (6,8,19). Such adaptations, however, have typically been observed during exercise of a prolonged duration, where the cumulative effects of fatigue on athletic performance may be better observed (9). In this study, the similarities in overall performance and 400-m split times may have been because of the short duration of the athletic event (<1 minute). Further research is needed to identify the effect of compressive clothing on performance across a range of exercise durations. Benefits of wearing compression clothing may therefore become apparent only when a critical lower limit of exercise duration (and exercise intensity) has been achieved.

A purported benefit of wearing compression garments during exercise is its ability to remove blood lactate. Berry and McMurray (3) demonstrated that when wearing compression garments after an exhaustive exercise bout, a decrease in venous lactate may be observed. As previous research has also suggested that compression garments may elicit an increase in blood flow (6), it has been hypothesized that a faster recovery may be facilitated when wearing compression garments in recovery because of the resultant increase in the ability to shuttle lactate around the body (7). In this study, however, compression garments did not have any impact on lactate clearance at any time point subsequent to the 400-m tests. This finding is similar to that reported from longer duration aerobic exercise (2). It must, however, be recognized that there may be a practically significant effect (trend) in the rate of blood lactate clearance after an aerobic (400-m) WD. Figure 2 demonstrates approximately 2 m·mol·L−1 change in blood lactate concentration for LG and SG but not for CON. Although not statistically different when considering traditional hypothesis testing procedures, it would be of interest to examine the effect of a longer recovery duration on lactate clearance after short-duration, high-intensity exercise (i.e., 400 m). This may be practically important with regards to informing coaches and athletes of the length of time required to elicit an appropriate recovery strategy during training.

Participants' subjective perception of exertion significantly increased throughout the 400-m exercise tests, coinciding with a linear increase in the heart rate (10,11) and slower split times with each 100-m increment. Despite the observed similarities in exercise performance, VAS, FS, and FAS, differences were revealed in the participant's subjective perception of exertion between conditions. The LG and SG conditions provided a statistically lower overall perception of exertion than the CON condition did. Participants' overall RPE from LG and SG was approximately 2 and 5% lower, respectively, than that observed during CON. This is in contrast to research which has shown that during longer duration treadmill exercise (40 minutes), compression garments of both a high and low compression induce a similar perception of exertion as a control condition (2). It is plausible that the lower RPE may have been because of an improved limb blood flow, increased muscle oxygenation, reduced muscle oscillation, or a combination of these factors as observed in previous studies (6,8). This finding is particularly pertinent as exercise intensity (400-m race-pace) is dictated by an individual's own subjective perception of exertion.

It was also of interest to note that the change in RPE was significantly less during SG than either LG (∼1.0 unit) or CON (∼1.5 units) within the final 100 m of the exercise tests (300–400 m). It may therefore be suggested that during athletic events that are primarily fueled through nonoxidative metabolism, such as the anaerobic energy system (i.e., 400 m), SG may induce an improved perception of exertion, particularly within the final portions of athletic competition. Although further research is warranted to determine the magnitude of this effect, compression garments may allow coaches and athletes to maximize their performance potential by altering the volume of work undertaken as athletes may perceive exercise to be easier (lower RPE) when wearing compression garments, and as such may be able to exercise at a higher physiological intensity or enable them to complete a greater volume of work during training.

It was also revealed that SG was perceived to be more comfortable (higher values) and provided optimal tightness (values closer to ‘0’) before and after the second trial (Table 2). In association with the SG exercise tests, the participants perceived the CS to be more comfortable after the completion of the second exercise trial. Some of these differences in perceived comfort and tightness may be associated with the static compression of these particular compression garments. This study demonstrated that a combination of SG and CS provided a significantly greater compression than LG at 5 (Achilles, MTJ, medial and lateral gastrocnemius, tensor fascae latae) of the 8 assessed anatomical locations. The static compression elicited by CS was approximately 6–10 mm Hg greater than LG, whereas SG was approximately 1–2 mm Hg higher at the tensor fascae latae. These findings are in accordance with recent observations (21) and may have contributed to the lower perception of exertion observed during the SG condition. Although research has suggested that LG may be a more pertinent compression garment for recovery (13,18), during training and competition, a combination of SG and CS may be more suitable for athletes. This study is one of few to record and report the actual compressive qualities exerted by the compression garments, particularly in a dynamic state. Future research should be encouraged to report compressive qualities, to facilitate protocol standardization and accurate comparison of data (21).

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Practical Applications

In this study, both LG and SG had no effect on overall 400-m performance, or individual 100-m split times. Despite statistically similar heart rate and blood lactate responses between conditions, a lower overall perception of exertion was observed when wearing long garments, or a combination of short garments and CS, when compared with a CON condition. Furthermore, this study has demonstrated that short garments and calf sleeves are perceived to be more comfortable, and elicit a more optimal tightness, than do the long garments. The lower perception of exertion when wearing compression garments may elicit a positive training and performance effect. When wearing compression garments, athletes could either train at a higher physiological intensity to elicit a higher perception of exertion, or complete a greater volume of exercise because of perceiving the exercise to be easier. Furthermore, because there was an evident trend for a reduced blood lactate after a WD when wearing compression garments, this may also be an important consideration for performance capabilities.

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Acknowledgments

No external sources of funding were received for this study, although the authors wish to thank Skins for providing the compression garments for this study. Jason McLaren is currently the research director for Skins. The authors declare no conflict of interest and state that the results of this study do not constitute endorsement of the product by the authors or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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    Keywords:

    perceived exertion; exercise performance; blood lactate; postexercise recovery

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