Research into sports and exercise performance has suggested that compression garments bring a number of benefits to the athlete, with high adoption among professional athletes in many sports. The sight of Paula Radcliffe wearing compression stockings, or your favourite team wearing compression garments under their kit is now a common sight.
One of the biggest names in these types of apparel is Skins. Hailing out of Australia, Skins is one of the higher profile brands pushing into a space that recreational athletes would normally associate with global giants such as Nike or Adidas. We pulled on some of Skins latest ICE compression garments and hit the track to see how they performed.
Getting the right fit is important and Skins ICE, as the name suggests, are designed to be a tight fit and their website (link below) can guide you in selecting the right size of garment. Pulling on the compression shorts are like slipping into a pair of regular Lycra shorts, only more substantial and tighter. Once you've worn a pair of Skins shorts, other regular undershorts you've worn to reduce chafing will feel distinctly cheap and baggy.
Design is everything here as a technical garment and you'll find a solid construction, with thoughtful features to make them do their job without being uncomfortable. For example, on the male shorts, you have a lighter mesh section around your essentials, so it won't be a case of squashed or sweaty plums.
For that reason, of course, you'll need to wear regular shorts over your Skins, or the neighbours will probably have you arrested. But when it comes to the tops, there is no reason why you wouldn't: they even have an SPF of 50+, so you'll be protected from the sun too.
The Skins ICE give great compression all around, but not so they cut off the circulation: it just feels right. In feeling right, it also gives you a feeling of power, as the garment supports your major muscles. The placement of the seams also plays a part in this, providing a strong point to control unwanted muscle oscillation.
The tops too offer the same benefits and here the placement of the seams lies around or across major muscle groups, so you'll find a curving seam across the top of your pectoral muscles: this isn't just design, it helps reduce bounce in the muscles, something that muscular or overweight runners will feel. The same too applies around your sides, with the seams pulling in over your "love handles" and reducing bounce as you run – if you carrying weight in this area. Mesh sections in the armpits mean you don't get sweaty and uncomfortable.
The first question you'll probably raise is if wearing an extra layer will make you too hot. Well, it depends on a number of factors and yes, if it is hot then you could find yourself wearing an extra layer, but if it is only shorts, then we didn't find it made any difference. As said, you can happily wear to tops without a layer on top. The fabric naturally wicks moisture away from the skin, is breathable and the ICE part of the name is a technology that means the garments feel cooling against the skin.
This ICE technology has two parts: the garments are interwoven with polymer designed to release a menthol substance. You feel a tingling cooling sensation across your skin, a little like cooling sprays or a hit of Original Source mint shower gel. It is much more pronounced in areas where air moves freely, aiding the rapid evaporation of moisture.
But as a treatment, the effect wears off with use and when you put your Skins through the wash. To top-up the ICE factor, you get a small spray can of iceBOOST. It is recommended that you treat your Skins after 10 washes. You then spray the treatment back into the areas that you want it, say the legs or down your spine and it seems to work.
However, if we had one criticism, it would be that the ICE effect is perhaps a little short-lived. The replenishment won't last forever (5-10 applications), and we found that after several months of using the Skins ICE, we were happy to drop the ICE side of things altogether. It is worth noting that they don't actually cool you down, you just feel the cooling sensation.
At the core the Skins garments are excellent to use, regardless of the ICE aspect. Your legs feel fresh and powerful when you want to step out and push yourself a little. You feel lighter on your feet racing up hills and long runs seem to come off without those heavy legs in the last few miles.
We know that research suggests the benefits of compression garments in sports and exercise, and it doesn’t only apply to top tier athletes looking to maximise their chances of training to their absolute best. It might be questionable whether there are actual performance boosts, but certainly the reduction of fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness in longer training was something we noticed.
Having trained with Skins through most of the summer, we emerge the other side incredibly impressed: they made runs feel better and this psychological benefit alone is worthy of consideration.
But Skins don’t come cheap. At £63.60 for a Skins ICE short sleeve top, it isn't cheap – perhaps twice the price of a normal technical running top. But in running we found that the compression of the top reduced overall muscle fatigue across the chest and arms, something that those running longer distances will appreciate – especially if you are not a built like a typical distance runner. We also tested the long sleeve top at £68.50.
Equally, at £53.80 for a pair of compression shorts/half tights, you could argue that they are not worth the money. But we'd beg to differ. If you've worn Lycra shorts to reduce chafing in the past and enjoy the comfort they bring (if not the look) then Skins shorts will blow you away.
Ok, so having a wardrobe full of Skins garments to replace your current crop of running kit might break the bank, but having a set to wear on long runs, or following race day is worth the investment. Skins have a range of garments aimed at different sports, so it is worth checking the options and seeing how they fit with your own activity.
But the thing we are looking forward to the most is throwing the Skins back on under a pair of running tights and a gilet as the winter rolls on, which will bring just a little more pleasure to running though the British winter.
Perhaps you should add them to your Christmas list now.