Compression Socks For Running – What, When, Why & Which?

Welcome to our 5-minute guide to compression socks for running. 

If you’re trying to improve your pace, distance, or just make running more comfortable, compression running gear is no doubt something you’ve come across already.

But, let’s not just buy kit for the sake of it.

Today, we’re going to cover whether compression socks for running are worth the cash, by explaining:

  • What they are
  • When and why you should wear them
  • Which type of sock you need
  • The best compression socks for runners


What Are Compression Socks?

Compression wear is tightly fitting gear, designed with three goals in mind:

  • Improvements in blood flow
  • Reduction in muscle vibration
  • Better temperature regulation

Typically, you’ll see most people that wear compression socks for running wear long socks that cover the calf.

But why are they so long?

The larger the surface area of the sock, the better the improvement in blood flow, and the greater the reduction in muscle vibration.

Blood Flow

The basic laws of gravity mean that blood can settle in the lower parts of our body; our legs for instance.

By improving blood flow, there’s a smaller chance of lactic acid build up. And, this improved blood flow is also going to lead to more oxygen flow. That means better stamina for long distance events and less cramp.

That’s good news, by the way 😊

Muscle Vibration

You’ll notice a lot of people wearing compression socks, for sports that really don’t need great blood flow.

Basically, they’re not straining their bodies for extended periods of time.

A great example would be long-jumpers.

So, why wear them?

Think about the perfect long-jump. There are very few impacts, but when impact occurs, it’s big. That puts a lot of strain on muscles in the leg.

Most athletes agree that it’s not just the duration of an event that creates muscle soreness, it’s the impacts throughout.

These impacts lead to muscle vibration. Without being too scientific, the more muscles vibrate, the sorer you’re likely to become.

So, by keeping those muscles tight you’ll see less lactic acid build-up, but also:

  • Reduce post-workout/event soreness
  • Improve healing times for the likes of HIIT

Temperature Regulation

I found that compression clothing (shirts, pants, socks etc) works awesome as a base layer.

By improving blood flow, I’ve found it helps to regulate temperature (in both hot and cold weather).

The day you switch from normal gear to compression gear, you’ll know what I mean – you’ll feel it straight away.

When Should You Wear Compression Socks?

Most people that wear compression socks for running will agree that it’s during a workout or event that they wear them. 

However, it makes sense that if they help during an event, they’ll help afterwards too.

So, you’ll find some people wear compression socks before running, during, and after.

It’s personal preference.

The main reason people would wear compression socks before/after running rather than during, is simply down to comfort.

No athlete likes to feel restricted, so they take the hit on the bloodflow/muscle vibration during an event or workout. And they then use compression socks as a recovery tool, rather than prevention method.

The Benefits Of Compression Socks

So, now you understand the basic reasoning as to why runners wear compression socks, let’s sum up some of the core benefits. 

Reduce Lactic Acid Build Up

Lactic acid build-up isn’t just painful, it’s annoying. When you’re running and lactic acid starts to build-up, there’s little you can do to stop it.

In fact, even stopping for a rest won’t fully clear the build-up. It can take days to shift.

So, compression socks are going to work here as a prevention tool.

They keep blood in the lower legs flowing smoothly, preventing the dreaded curse of lactic acid.

Prevent Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness has never really bothered me. I’ve just seen it as something I have to deal with if I want to train.

However, I’m just stupid, as that’s not actually the case.

Compression socks can be used as a recovery tool. So, wearing them during a run will help to reduce soreness, and post-run the soreness is less than it would be.

They can then be worn after the run, to help speed up the recovery time for your muscles.

Temperature Regulation

A freezing or overheating body isn’t an ideal one to be competing or training with.

That’s why I use compression gear for all events, partly due to their ability to regulate my temperature.

If you’re overheating, your body is working double time to try and cool you down.

And for when you’re freezing, your body works double time to try and warm you up.

Put simply?

Your body is expelling energy to regulate body temperature. That’s a huge waste.

And if you’re a competitor that could legitimately be the difference between 1st and 2nd place!

Which Compression Socks Do You Need?

If you’re like me and you’ve decided compression socks are worth the investment, it’s time to start investigating the types of socks available, and which ones are the best for you. 

There’s basically three options here and one (technically) isn’t a sock:

  • Ankle
  • Knee-High
  • Leg Sleeves

Ankle Compression Socks

Ankle compression socks are, well, socks that are just like the ones in your drawer, but with compression built-in.

So, they won’t cover your calf muscles or get anywhere near your knees.

Suitable For

So, who needs them?

Basically, they’re going to be suitable for people that only need a hint of what we’ve mentioned above.

You’re the type of person that wants socks that help to regulate temperature, improve blood flow and reduce muscle soreness; but only slightly.

You’ll also not suffer too much when it comes to cramp in your calf muscles, as these socks focus only on your feet.

Leg Sleeves

A sleeve compression sock focuses on the calf area. It probably won’t go as high as the knee, and you’ll get no foot-coverage.

Suitable For

Compression leg sleeves are designed for people that struggle with their calf muscles. This might be post-workout soreness, or lactic acid build-up when running.

Either way, this is calf-coverage only.

So, if you want to boost blood-flow to it’s max, you’ll need knee high compression socks instead.

Knee-High Compression Socks (Recommended)

These are the most popular.

You’ll get full-foot coverage, but they’ll also cover your calf muscles too.

Suitable For

People that get sore, cramps, or lactic acid build-up and won’t settle for anything but maximum compression.

If you buy a couple of sets, you’ll have a spare set to use pre and post workout (you won’t want to use your sweaty socks for recovery).

The Best Compression Socks For Running

So, now you know which type of compression socks you need, let’s talk about which ones are the best.

We’ve offered up three recommendations below for knee-high (recommended), leg sleeves and ankle compression socks.

The Best Knee High Compression Socks (Recommended)

If you can, we’d be picking knee-high socks over ankle cut and leg sleeves. They offer more coverage and that means the benefits are amplified compared the ankle/leg sleeve equivalent. 

2XU Performance

Here’s the thing about 2XU; they’re never the cheapest brand.

But when I’m buying kit as specific as this, I like brands that know what they’re doing.

2XU are brand that focus on compression fitness gear, rather than some random company importing cheap rubbish from who knows where.

Moisture Wicking Fabrics

One thing you’ll find with cheap compression socks, is they don’t incorporate moisture wicking fabrics.

If you’re like me and got shafted by a cheap brand, you’ll only find this out on your first event; your feet will sweat like crazy.

And you know what that means?

Blisters ☹

2XU have incorporated moisture wicking fabrics into the design, so your feet will stay ventilated (i.e. won’t sweat as much as they would with normal socks).


Compression Setup

Next, let’s talk about the materials used to create that compression.

I’m going to refer to the cheaper socks again here.

What I found is whilst their initial compression was OK (ish), they didn’t hold form for very long.

Soon, they became loose, and I switched back to normal socks. That’s not going to happen with the 2XU socks.

The compression aspect of the sock is knitted in on a 360 degree basis. So, it will hold form.

And to help it do that, they’ve used a combo of 72% nylon and 28% elastane.

Temperature Regulation

So, you’ve got the compression and straight away that helps to regulate body temperature.

The moisture wicking fabrics provide airflow, as does the lightweight materials they’ve used.

So, compared with your average compression socks for running, you’ll get excellent ventilation and temperature regulation – regardless of whether that’s keeping you warmer or cooler.

Online Reviews

It’s rare I purchase anything online these days without checking out some online reviews.

Any product with hardly any reviews (or bad ones) makes me second guess my purchase.

Look at the 2XU Performance sock and you’ll see there are plenty of positive reviews online.

And on that note, flick through some of their other branded products and you’ll see that they consistently get top reviews, this isn’t just a one off.

Claimed Benefits

As we’ve mentioned in our explanation of compression socks, 2XU claim they’ll be helping you with:

  • Muscle Vibration
  • Oscillation
  • Fatigue
  • Recovery

But, on that last point (recovery), it’s worth noting that 2XU do offer socks that are specifically designed for recovery.

Who Should Use The 2XU Performance Running Sock?

The 2XU’s are the perfect compression socks for running. They’ll be suitable for:

  • Workouts And Endurance Events
  • Recovery

But, they’re suited to most sports.

I use compression socks for most outdoor activities that are putting prolonged strain on my body such as:

  • Snowboarding
  • Motocross
  • Hiking
  • Trail Running
  • Mountain Biking

The Best Compression Leg Sleeves

SKINS Calf-Tight Leg Sleeves

Now, I personally prefer full length, knee-high compression socks. 

However, I have used SKINS leg sleeves. They say they’re tight, and they’re definitely not lying.

If you’ve got specific problems with your calf muscles and prefer using other running socks (rather than full length compression), the SKINS leg sleeves are for you.

You can wear them with whatever socks you like.

Compared with the 2XU knee high sock, they’re much tighter. It’s right on the threshold of affecting muscle performance, and that provides maximum blood flow and reduces muscle vibration dramatically.

If you’re training or competing in events that are taking your calf muscles to the absolute max (long distance running for instance), these are what I’d recommend.

The Best Ankle Compression Socks

Balega No-Show

If you’re blood-flow/muscle soreness is directly related to your feet, or you don’t like knee-high socks; you’ll want something slimmer. 

However, I just want to say once more that ankle socks just don’t offer the compression capabilities as a full-cut, knee-high sock.

The companies that specialize in compression wear focus on their knee-high range, as they know that’s the range offering the most benefits to runners.

Rant over, and still not persuaded?

I’d be going for something that’s got moisture wicking materials built into the compression structure.

My choice?

The Balega No-Show Compression Fit running socks.

What’s Next?

Thanks for reading our 5-minute guide to compression socks for running.

Got questions, or recommendations for compression socks that haven’t been listed?

Drop a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

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