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In the last decade or so, leggings have become a staple in many people’s athleisure wardrobes — they’re equal parts comfy and supportive for both day-to-day activities and workouts and come in so many cute and flattering options. But not all leggings are created equally; you’ll want a different pair for a high-intensity workout than you’ll want for a chill yoga class or day working from home. That said, where do compression leggings fit in?
What Are Compression Leggings?
Compression leggings are like regular leggings, just tighter and typically made with a thicker fabric to provide that compression. They’ve gotten a reputation for their amazing hugged-in feeling, similar to shapewear. A pair of leggings may fit like compression leggings, even if they aren’t marketed as such — the name isn’t medical nor super specifically used.
Are There Any Benefits to Wearing Compression Leggings?
There might be. For one, compression leggings may help improve blood circulation in the legs, says Florence Comite, MD, founder of the Center for Precision Medicine and Health. “They apply gentle pressure to the muscles and blood vessels, which can help promote blood flow and prevent blood from pooling in the lower extremities,” she explains.
Research shows that compression garments, like leggings, may also aid in recovery. Post-workout muscle soreness may be accompanied by swelling or inflammation, Dr. Comite explains, and “compression garments can assist in reducing swelling by applying pressure to the affected area, which helps improve lymphatic flow and encourages the removal of excess fluid.”
While you’re exercising, compression garments can also help keep muscles warm and may help reduce the risk of injury, Dr. Comite adds. “By compressing the muscles, compression leggings may reduce muscle fatigue during physical activity; some athletes believe this translates into improved sports performance, though little scientific evidence exists,” she explains.
While there isn’t any hard evidence confirming that compression leggings improve athletic performance, they also don’t appear to harm performance, adds Allison Dastugue Furcolo, PT, DPT, doctor of physical therapy at The Stone Clinic — and some legging wearers report feeling benefits, regardless of what the research says.
When Should You Wear Compression Leggings?
You can wear compression leggings for workouts or just about anything else, as long as they’re not so tight that they impede your body’s natural movement or breathing pattern.
For instance, a pair of super-tight high-waisted leggings can interfere with your breathing, which can have negative effects on your core function and pelvic floor health, as pelvic-floor physical therapist Hayley Kava, PT, previously told POPSUGAR.
A sign that your leggings may be too tight is if you start to notice swelling below the leggings in the foot and lower-calf area, Dr. Furcolo explains. “This is because the leggings are too tight and the body’s fluids can no longer travel effectively through the compressed tissues. . . . And good circulation is essential to any healthy body, particularly while training.”
Other signs they may be too tight for you? Discomfort, muscle pain, skin irritation, bruising, and gastrointestinal issues or acid reflux, Dr. Comite says. If you have any issues while wearing compression leggings, it’s probably best to take a break from them and chat with your doc. And while compression leggings may provide certain benefits, “they should not be considered a standalone treatment for underlying musculoskeletal conditions or injuries,” Dr. Comite caveats. “If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using compression leggings.” They can assess your condition and advise on any necessary precautions.
Overall, the ideal pair of compression leggings should move with your body whether you’re stretching, running, or sitting and shouldn’t feel overly restrictive or tight. To help you find a great pair of compression leggings, we curated some of the best and broke down the details on each style, so you can easily scope out what’s best for you. Shop our top choices ahead.
— Additional reporting by Lauren Mazzo and Krista Jones