When I began running over 2 and a half years ago, I had seen runners in compression sleeves and compression socks, but never gave any thought to how they work and if they even help runners. As my mileage increased over the months, I began to wonder if compression worked, or if wearing sleeves would make my legs feel better during or post run.
I am really picky about socks, I don’t generally like wearing socks unless I have shoes on. The idea of compression sleeves (knee to ankle compression, nothing on the feet or toes) appealed to me, and over the last year, I’ve tried 4 brands of compression sleeves, and would like to share my impressions in the hopes that if you find yourself in need of some calf compression, you can make the right choice for you! Please note that none of the brands I mention in the following review have paid me for my views, and none have given me products to review. The thoughts below are my own.
First, a little bit about what athletic compression therapy is. Compression sleeves are reported to improve circulation in the legs, compression stimulates blood flow to decrease recovery time between runs, and can reduce muscle vibration during activity. There is also medical compression, which helps reduce edema and promote circulation and reduces swelling in the legs of people who have venous diseases. Athletic compression does these things as well, but the grade of compression is generally less, and some studies show the effect of athletic compression is just as much mental as it is physical. I agree that knowing I have compression sleeves on, and feeling the compression wrapping my calves does make me feel like it is working, but my legs and calves also FEEL better while wearing them, which is enough of a reason for me to wear them after long or hard workouts, or when I feel my calves need some extra loving. For me, compression sleeves feel like warm, cozy, comfy hugs for my calves.
I have tried 4 brands of compression sleeves, and currently own 3 brands, and would like to go into a little detail about them. CEP, Feetures, and Zensah sleeves are all sized by measuring the largest circumference of your calf, and sizing accordingly. They generally fit calves sized 9 inches to 22 inches.
CEP Compression Sleeves are my first sleeves I’ve owned, and I thought I hit the jackpot with the first pair. Now, I do not like wearing compression sleeves WHILE I run, I feel they are constricting, but AFTER I run, they are heaven! A lot of athletes wear compression sleeves during their runs, and they can be worn before, during, or after. I prefer to wear mine after, however there is no “right” time to wear them, it is personal preference of the athlete.
I have washed the CEP sleeves countless times, and they have barely stretched out and not appeared to lose any of the compression. They’ve worn well, and are a constant go-to pair of sleeves that I know will make my calves feel good. The biggest downside is that if I wear them for more than 8-10 hours (sometimes I put them on after a hard evening run and wear them to bed and during the next day), the ridges in the design of the sleeves can begin to dig into my calves.
My Zensah Compression Sleeves have been in the rotation for about 3 months, and are my least favorite based on feel, but favorites based solely on looks. I know you shouldn’t base how a product performs based on looks, but if I’m wearing shorts and am running errands, these are the sleeves I wouldn’t feel awkward going out in.
As far as compression, they are the least compression-y. I’ve washed and dryer-dried these sleeves several times, and they have retained their compression, but are the least hug-like on my calves. Perhaps going down a size could make the compression feel tighter, but you never want the compression to be too tight, and potentially cut off circulation.
I have saved the best for last. I bought the Feetures Plantar + Calf Sleeves about a month ago, and I cannot tell you enough how much I love them. Now I do not have plantar fasciitis, but there is something about the sleeves that go onto my feet, but don’t cover my toes… they are just plain comfortable.
Feetures hit a home run with these sleeves. The compression in the calves is perfect for my calves, not too tight, not too loose, comfortable, even when worn for over 12 hours. I’ve only washed these sleeves once, but they’ve held up wonderfully so far, and have become my go-to sleeves. I can put these sleeves on right after a run, and immediately my calves feel refreshed.
These sleeves feel like they disappear when they are on, I hardly even notice they are on my calves, which is exactly what I want in a sleeve. My calves are happy, my feet are happy, and I don’t even realize I have them on.
As far as price is concerned, CEP and Zensah are around $40-$45, and Feetures are a bit more expensive with the plantar support, at $60. CEP also has an upgraded “night sleeve” which includes reflective threads to help runners be seen at night. Zensah has “ultra” sleeves which have a higher grade of compression, which I have not tried.
I also tried Pro Compression‘s sleeves, mostly based on looks (again, not the best reason to buy something). I already had my CEP and Zensah’s, but wanted something “cute” to wear. I ordered and received them, tried them on once, and immediately sent them back. They simply felt like tight knee socks, and I felt no compression whatsoever in them. Were they cute, sure… but did they do the job of $30 socks, no, not even close, in my opinion. Pro Compression were the least expensive of the 4 brands I have tried, but they were not worth the $30-$35 price tag, as they had little to no discernible compression.
One of the main reasons I chose sleeves over socks (besides the fact that I generally don’t like any socks) is because I can easily conceal them under slacks if I want to wear them at work, or I can easily hide them under jeans on the weekend, and my calves still feel amazing, but nobody knows they are there!
If I had to pick 1 pair of sleeves and never wear any other, I would hands down pick Feetures. I have been more than pleased with the Feetures performance socks that I wear during every run (no blisters, no chafing, no problems!), and have been more than pleased with the calf sleeves Feetures has.
Overall, the comfort and compression produced by Feetures is unmatched by Zensah and CEP, and they are high quality sleeves that simply get the job done while feeling great. The best way I can describe my Feetures is that I don’t feel them, they feel like an extension of my calves and my calves feel hugged and happy and refreshed.
The bottom line is that if you are needing compression socks or sleeves, I highly recommend Feetures brand. Good luck and happy running! Do you run in compression sleeves or compression socks? Do you use them for recovery? What brand or style is your favorite?