The first sign that CW-X's Stabilyx compression tights mean business, aside from the science-y name and steep price tag ($104.99 and up, runningroom.com), is the fact that they come with instructions.
"First bring tights to knee level. Secure proper alignment by fitting the kneecap just above x-shaped part of the conditioning web. Once knee is fitted, bring tights up to waist and secure placement by tying waist string."
They're also the tightest tights I've ever worn, similar to what can only be described as industrial-strength Spanx.
Compression garments – prescribed by doctors to improve circulation and worn by professional athletes to enhance performance and speed recovery – entered the "forefront of running attire" last year, according to Jessica Britton, apparel buyer for the Running Room Canada in Edmonton, which expanded its offering to meet the increased consumer demand. It's no wonder they're a hot ticket: The Stabilyx tights – which come in full and three-quarter lengths – claim to provide targeted support and "xclerated" recovery, reducing muscle fatigue and improving efficiency and precision, all the while supporting the core and quads, stabilizing the knee joints and engaging the hamstrings.
Talk about a tall order.
Upon successful application, I set out for a run in the Stabilyx. Aesthetically speaking, these tights are a 10. They're sleek with sportif detailing (the so-called "conditioning web") and also, it bears mention, incredibly slimming. But an hour into my run, I still can't shake the feeling that my legs are encased in what feels like black neoprene. (The tights are actually an 80-20 polyester/spandex blend, with a patented "support web.") At the same time, my calves have never felt so tight – in a good way – and I swear I'm running faster. Could it be, or have I merely been sucked in by the hype?
"The tights are holding your muscles in place to prevent vibration, so increased efficiency is possible," says Greg Wells, director of the human physiology research unit at the University of Toronto and author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World's Best Athletes.
Dr. Wells, who also works with elite athletes, isn't completely sold on most of CW-X's other promises, calling them "a little bit much." (He also notes there's no conclusive research to show that compression gear improves endurance, another common claim.) He recommends that, instead of wearing the tights during a run, putting them on for a few hours afterward – especially if you're planning to do another workout in short order – to help reduce inflammation and swelling.
And so I test out this approach, with back-to-back runs, both in run-of-the-mill tights. I notice that my calves, sans Stabilyx support, feel as if they're flapping in the wind. After rolling them on following a late-night 10 km, everything feels snugger. On my morning run, I can't feel the effects of the previous night's activity in the slightest, even after sprinting up several flights of stairs.
I can't say I'd wear the Stabilyx tights again during a run – any potential efficiency gains were offset by the fact that the fabric always felt slightly too thick on my legs. However, I was duly impressed by how they "xcelerated," if you will, my recovery time. At this rate, I could run every day if I wanted. (Emphasis on "if.")
Not so fast, says Dr. Wells, who recommends using compression gear only sporadically. "There's an urge to recover faster," he says, "but it's good to let your body go through the recovery process, because that's how it gets stronger."
Special to The Globe and Mail