With the growing popularity of compression leggings as a more attractive, flattering alternative to mix up the classic t-shirt and gym shorts combination, it’s easy to forget the real reasoning behind wearing the hyper-fitted bottoms—reducing fatigue during a workout.
For the casual wearers, this supposed side-effect of compression leggings is just a happy, but not necessary, bonus. For avid runners—who may rely on the leggings in hopes of shaving a few seconds off of a timed race—this performance-enhancing effect could be crucial in training.
Unfortunately, this side effect might be just as mythical as finding a pair of Lululemon leggings for less than $80.
The science behind leggings is fairly simple, arguing that the compression of muscles during a run lessens muscle vibration and slows the onset of fatigue—allowing you to run father and faster.
But in preliminary studies, researchers at Ohio State University have found that this might not be true.
“When your muscle vibrates, it induces a contraction that uses energy, so the theory was that less muscle vibration would translate to less fatigue,” said Ajit Chaudhari, an associate professor at the university and a study leader.
The research looked at participants running on a treadmill on two separate days—once while the participants wore compression tights and once without. Though the tights were found to reduce muscle vibration, this did not produce the performance-enhancing results that many had previously suspected.
“The reduced vibration was not associated with any reduction in fatigue at all. In our study, runners performed the same with and without compression tights,” Chaudhari said.
However, there is hope for those still faithful to the form-fitting activewear: “There is nothing in this study that shows it’s bad to wear compression tights,” Chaudhari said. “Every little bit of perception counts when running long distances, so they may help runners in ways we aren’t able to measure.”
Emma Korstanje is a freelance journalist based out of Athens, GA.