To mark my officially making it a 1/3 of the way 93, I am writing perhaps my oddest blog post ever...
When I see a runner in compression socks, I think "what a Fred". But should I?
And what exactly is a Fred?
Well, it's a cycling term for an amateur who pretends to know what they are doing. Freds typically have the newest, most fashionable clothing and equipment without knowing why, if or how it helps. Fred A. Birchmore Jr., the first guy to cycle around the world in th 1930's, is apparently the man behind the term Fred. Legend has it that on his world tour, he hopped in front of a bunch of cyclists in a race in Italy, pretending to win. Someone in California thought this was pretty funny and started calling all wannabe cyclists "Freds". Fred is from Athens, GA (a really magical town, if you've never been there). Here he is with his bike, Bucephalus, around 1935.
Fred is now 99 and is rumored to still run around 10 miles a day. Dare I say the term "Fred" should be one of respect?
So, what about compression socks? Should I continue to laugh on the inside when I see them?
I mean Paula Radcliffe doesn't wear them anymore.
Er, I mean, whoah, closer look reveals she DOES - just skin-toned.
But did she wear them when she set the world record? Take a close look!
(yes, she did)
Lots of people who wear them do look like they know what they're doing. Take note of the woman in green who finished in the top 5 females in the half marathon of the Naturmaraton on Sunday.
And then there are pictures like the first (see above): compression socks that go down to the ankle without socks! And ugly shoes that haven't seen a speck of dust. Give me a break, Fred! (Fred in the old sense of the term)
But I guess it's not so important what people look like if they work. But what is it these socks supposedly help with? 1. venous return 2. injury prevention 3. performance enhancement
First of all, it seems weird that they do three things, but let's consider these. (Can I really find any information out there that has nothing to do with a company trying to sell them or some woman exclaiming that she prefers them in pink?)
The thing that got me started on this train of thought was: if they help with venous return, why not wear stockings that go up over the knee and increase venous return even more? But honestly, I can't understand why any healthy person would not have a normal venous return while running. I just don't believe these stupid socks will improve something that already functions so well (the muscle in the calves, that is).
Well, let's just answer the question. Do they increase venous return? Well, maybe. A small study showed decreased blood lactate concentrarion in runnning and cycling while wearing compression socks. 4. Am J Physical Med 1987; 66:121-132
Number 2. Do they prevent injury? Again, this seems preposterous to me. I mean can anyone explain to me why having something halfway tight around a muscle will prevent an injury? I mean it's not like you prevent the muscles from moving, otherwise you couldn't run. Right? Well, I have found a couple studies saying I am partially wrong. While I don't know if they prevent injury per se, they do seem to decrease soreness.
1. They significantly decrease muscle soreness after a 10k race in men.
Ali, A., M.P. Caine, B.G. Snow. 2007. Graduated Compression Stockings: Physiological and Perceptual Responses During and After Exercise. J Sports Sci 25(4): 413-419.9.
2. Decreased perceived muscle soreness after arm curls in women.
J Sports Rehab 2001; 10:11-23
What about number 3: Do they improve performance? The most interesting study in my mind comes from 2009 and was done by a group of Germans. They found statistically increased running performance at both the anaerobic and aerobic thresholds with stocking that give "constant" rather than "graded" compression over the calf. We're talking 1.5-2% improvement.There was no difference in VO2 max between stocking group and control group.
Kemmler, W., S. von Stengel, C. Kockritz, J. Mayhew, A. Wassermann, J. Zapf. 2009. Effect of Compression Stockings on Running Performance in Men Runners. J Strength Cond Res 23(1): 101-105.
So, turns out I may have been too quick to judge. Maybe compression socks do provide benefit. At least the "constant" compression type. And I have to admit that when I was in high school and I got second woman in the mile, I was wearing my tight soccer socks to just below the knee (you know, just because I loved 1970's basketball). Maybe it helped, a little.
The moral of this tale: a runner with compression socks isn't necessarily a Fred and neither was Fred.
Running Songs of the Day: So Human by Lady Sovereign and Bulletproof by La Roux (I have a real soft spot for lead vocalists with androgynous voices, as in La Roux. What is more, I have purposely avoided learning whether or ot the lead singer is a man or a woman... dont' tell me!)