Compression Socks for Cycling: Optimizing Performance + Recovery
For any cyclist looking to optimize their performance on the bike and their recovery after hard efforts, compression socks can be a game changer. Not only do they work a treat reducing muscle soreness and helping you get back on your bike quicker, they also support good blood circulation, speeding up recovery and keeping your legs healthy and fresh.
Wearing compression socks during rides can be very beneficial for cyclists as long as they pick the right fabrics and pressure levels. Before and after workouts and races, everyday socks with graduated compression can then help massage and relieve aching muscles, all while promoting better blood flow to the limbs.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- Why compression socks are good for cycling;
- Their benefits;
- Their impact on performance during cycling and on recovery before and after bike events or workouts;
- How to wear compression socks for cycling and pick the best pair for you.
Are Compression Socks Good for Cycling?
When it comes to improving performance on the bike, athletes of all levels can benefit from better recovery methods. Thanks to their graduated compression which promotes the circulation of blood back towards the heart, compression socks are one of the best recovery tools for cyclists.
During normal blood flow, oxygen travels to the muscles by being pumped into the blood from the heart. This helps the muscles recover from hard efforts where lactic acid is built up in the legs and muscle damage occurs. Through keeping the blood moving efficiently to the lower legs and then back up the heart, this system works at its best, delivering the best recovery results.
Additionally, compression socks hug the lower legs tightly, adding a bit more support and muscle stability during the ride. Although cycling is not as high-impact as running, this can still help give you a positive feeling throughout.
Finally, studies also show that wearing compression socks helps improve the ability to remove lactate during exercise . This reduces muscle fatigue and helps improve your endurance.
The Benefits of Compression Socks for Cycling
Compression garments offer a multitude of benefits to casual wearers and athletes alike. From helping reduce swelling and fluid build-up to promoting healthy blood circulation and fighting the formation of blood clots, for example, compression socks are useful for almost any population.
In the case of cycling, we have two key periods where compression socks work their magic: pre- and post-workout, and during the workout or bike race.
Wearing compression socks before and after cycling
By wearing compression socks in preparation for your training session, you’re keeping your calf muscles warmed up and oxygenated thanks to the improved blood flow. The socks also help reduce inflammation and soreness from previous workouts, allowing you to jump on the bike in better shape.
After cycling, compression is one of the recommended recovery options for both men and women. As you relax, put your feet up, rehydrate and refuel, adding the gentle graduated pressure of compression socks after cycling will help oxygen travel to your muscles faster. They’ll recover quicker and you’ll avoid the dreaded delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Wearing compression socks during cycling
During a bike ride, you are putting pressure on the whole lower body as you push yourself to the limit. Whether conquering hills or maxing out your efforts on the flat, the whole legs take a beating. Does wearing compression socks make a difference during the effort? Opinions here are divided.
What we do know is that compression socks increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to the muscles, thanks to promoting better blood circulation. In theory, this will help reduce muscle fatigue and allow you to ride for longer and possibly at harder effort levels.
However, “weekend warriors” or casual riders will probably not get noticeable benefits from wearing compression garments during their rides, according to various studies. Evidence is limited that athletic performance is improved by wearing the socks, while there is more consensus around the benefits for recovery.
Still, wearing compression socks during your bike ride may give you a psychological benefit (like a Placebo effect) if you believe they will help. There is also some benefit from applying pressure to the calf muscles and reducing muscle vibrations, although less important in cycling than in running (since there is so much less impact when riding compared to landing on hard surfaces during a run).
Can Compression Socks Improve Cycling Performance?
The simple answer to this question is, “no.” There is no direct correlation between wearing compression socks and performing better during a bike ride. However, some elements of how compression socks work can be considered beneficial for athletic performance.
Firstly, thanks to improved blood flow, cyclists should get more oxygen delivered to their muscles if they wear compression socks. This will, in turn, help reduce the build-up of lactic acid which is at the origin of cramps and soreness. Whether this is done quickly or efficiently enough simply thanks to wearing compression socks, however, is debatable and can depend on the individual.\
Additionally, compression socks apply pressure to the calf muscles, providing extra support and protection from vibrations. While this is a great benefit for runners, cycling causes a lot less impact on the bones and muscles. Therefore, we can argue there is less of a need for compression in this sport comparatively.
Finally, compression socks can provide a psychological advantage (or Placebo effect). If you’ve become used to that fresh feeling in your legs from wearing them during recovery, then why not take the good vibes into the ride? Especially in endurance events, a mental boost like this can pay dividends. This is why we wouldn’t discount the impact of compression socks during cycling.
Does Wearing Compression Socks After Cycling Speed Recovery?
Recovery is a key element of any effective training program. Approaching it wisely can help improve your performance and help you go faster and further on the bike as well.
During exercise, your muscles produce lactic acid and this can lead to cramping and soreness. As compression socks promote better blood flow and lymphatic drainage, this can help remove lactic acid, reducing the delayed onset muscle soreness post exercise.
Additionally, having oxygen travel to your muscles faster will help them get the nutrients they need to recover. This leads to evidence that compression socks can play a positive role in recovery after cycling.
Studies have also shown that, while wearing compression socks during cycling provides performance improvements in a reduced number of cases, it can benefit muscle function indicators and perceived muscle soreness during the recovery period . Especially if you’ve become used to the feeling of pain relief and gentle massage of compression socks from other walks of life (for example, after standing all day at work), your brain will respond positively to feeling compression socks again.
Finally, compression is beneficial for recovery from injury as one of the elements of the RICE approach (rest, ice, compression and elevation). You can wear compression socks to reduce swelling in a sprained ankle or calf. This anti-inflammatory action is also great after a workout without having to sustain an injury!
It’s worth noting that, while compression socks are great for rest and recovery, they shouldn’t be the only tool in your arsenal when you’re training hard. Proper rest (including rest days and cross training), stretching, a good diet and good hydration are all key elements for helping your muscles recover from hard workouts.
How to Wear Compression Socks for Cycling
Cycling socks are getting tighter and more aerodynamic every day, but compression socks give you a slight edge by not only streamlining your lower legs, but also boosting your blood circulation and supporting your muscles.
When jumping on your bike, consider what type of sock is best for your workout. Do you need a sleek nylon sock that will increase aerodynamics and help you feel flexible? Is Merino wool a good choice, in case the heat might make your feet sweat and you want a moisture wicking fabric? Or is this an easy ride and regular cotton should suffice? Pick your compression sock fabric first to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible during your ride.
Then, the key to wearing compression socks for cycling is ensuring good fit and good pressure levels. Your cycling socks should be tight, but not so much that they restrict your blood flow (the opposite of what you’re wearing them for!). You also need to ensure they’re not too loose, or you won’t get the compression benefit.
In terms of pressure levels, compression socks generally come in three categories:
- 15-20 mmHg - lighter pressure, ideal for everyday riding, walking or going into the office;
- 20-30 mmHg - medium pressure, good for long rides or for recovery from exercise;
- 30-40 mmHg - high pressure, usually prescribed by a medic.
Find out more about how to pick the right compression levels here.
The Best Compression Socks for Cycling
Riders of all abilities can get some great benefits from compression socks after cycling to boost their recovery and reduce the time it takes to get back in the saddle. For some, wearing compression socks during their ride will also help delay the onset of fatigue and promote better blood flow for less inflammation.
To find the best socks for your next bike ride, consider your activity levels, weather conditions, and health first of all. Then, use one of our handy guides for sizing and compression levels, to ensure you make the most of your pair of socks. We also recommend buying 2-3 pairs so you can rotate them while washing them post workout - this way, you’ll increase the life of your cycling socks. Have a look at our catalog here and see what inspires you! Happy riding!