While many of the popular shooting sleeves we’ve seen slowly dominate NBA fashion as of late may be purely for aesthetic purposes, there are many pieces of compressive clothing on the market that come with actual kinesiological functionality. Compression gear increases blood flow to the muscles and may even minimize lactic acid build up, allowing you to recover faster while minimizing soreness during and after a workout.
Although MIT researchers are already working on the next generation of microbial-enhanced “living clothing” to boost performance, there are plenty of compression garments currently available. From products designed to keep you cool during a workout, to responsive fiber networks designed to aid mobility and joint support, here are seven of our favorite pieces of compression gear.
Best long-sleeve — Skins A400 ($49+)
Virtually all athletes could use a long-sleeve compression shirt at some point during the year. From baseball to skiing, the added circulation throughout the torso and arms wards off fatigue during exercise and aids recovery afterward. That said, the Skins A400 series long-sleeve is our top pick.
Silicone grips along the bonded hem keep the shirt in place along the hip, waist, and shoulders. Also, unlike the vast majority of compression shirts, this model features five independent panels which enable the individual sections to more aptly respond and stretch to movement without tugging at others. This design prevents the material from uncomfortably “riding up” during more strenuous activity. A pair of mesh inserts under the arms even promotes natural ventilation, allowing for optimal cooling.
Best short-sleeve — Under Armour Men’s HeatGear Sonic Compression Short Sleeve ($20+)
While most athletes could benefit from a long-sleeve compression shirt, for some sports — such as basketball — a short-sleeve shirt is preferential. These models don’t restrict movement nearly as much along the triceps and elbow, allowing you to work on that jump shot with full freedom of motion.
Similarly, this Under Armour model has been designed with 4-Way Stretch fabrication that stays in place without being too rigid. The HeatGear Sonic series utilizes basic wicking, allowing the shirt to pull moisture away from your body — which keeps you dry and cool during intense workouts. The material prevents microbial growth, too, so you won’t have to worry about unwanted odor if you accidentally leave the shirt in your gym bag overnight.
Best targeted compression — Nike Pro Zonal Strength hyper compression tights ($100)
Full compression pants are ideal for lower-body circulation, as well as recovery for an array of sports and exercises. These Pro Zonal Strength Hyper Compression Tights are a perfect base layer with plenty of added bonuses. While most compression pants simply constrict the skin to increase blood flow, this model uses a series of injected silicone inserts at the calves, quadriceps, and along the hamstring to pinpoint specific regions and minimize potentially damaging muscle vibrations. A series of mesh sections also allow you to stay cool during the most grueling of regimens.
Best compression shorts — Nike HyperCool ($40)
Cyclists and basketball players will certainly appreciate the benefits of these Nike HyperCool compression shorts. Covering the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors, these compression shorts give a friendly boost to long-distance athletes. There is also a longer, 9-inch version for those who prefer added support just above the knee. Large mesh pockets built throughout the shorts allow the material to naturally expel body heat, and the material pulls moisture from your skin for added cooling.
Best ventilated compression pants — VIRUS Men’s Rx7-Stay Cool ($64)
The Virus RX7 Stay Cool compression pants are one of the best on the market for premium cooling. While many models include wicking fabrics and general mesh components for ventilation, the Virus model goes a step further. These pants are designed with Virus’ V2 CoolJade fabric, a material infused with recycled Jade nanoparticles, which creates a natural cooling effect on the skin. The company claims this technology, along with the aforementioned wicking properties, can decrease your surface temperature by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Best for endurance — CW-X Endurance Generator tights ($99+)
We picked the Endurance Generator tights as our best endurance option, however, individuals with joint discomfort may also appreciate these compression pants. The Endurance Generator tights are designed with a responsive webbing pattern that wraps around the thighs and calves to maximize stability and power. Similarly, these tights sit higher on the abdomen than most compression models, helping to stabilize the hips during various activities. Like many of the other models on our list, the Endurance Generators also pull moisture away from the skin.
Best compression socks — MudGear compression socks ($30+)
Not all activities or exercises require a pair of compression socks, however, individuals who participate in soccer, mountain biking, and other support sports surely appreciate these rugged socks from MudGear. The socks utilize a graduated, 168-needlepoint compression system, which is loosest just above the knee and tightest at the ankle for added support and comfort. Originally designed for obstacle courses, these socks are made out of abrasion-resistant fabric to minimize cuts and bruises.
Other things to consider
As noted previously, the market for compression gear is exceptionally nuanced. That said, there are plenty of additional garments to consider beyond the models we’ve curated for this list. For example, some manufacturers have compression shirts, pants, and shorts outfitted with additional padding for contact sports such as rugby and football.
Other companies offer various models designed with pockets, which are meant for gel packs and inserts geared toward cyclists and long-distance runners. Additionally, for winter training, we suggest investing in an insulated model for added warmth and support during the colder months of the year. The rabbit hole runs deep, so stay tuned for recommendations as we update this list with the latest apparel in the months to come.