Do Compression Boots Really Speed Up Recovery?

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It wasn’t all that many years ago that the available post-workout recovery modalities were pretty barebones.

There was cryotherapy (the application of ice), heating pads or jumping in a hot tub, stretching, and any number of muscle balms like Icy Hot or Tiger Balm.

The compendium of tools to improve recovery after exercise has exploded over the past couple of decades in our never-ending quest to maximize athletic performance.

Among the many, relatively novel workout recovery modalities that runners now have at their disposal are compression boots.

Although compression boots certainly look fancy, and some elite runners swear by them, do compression boots work for runners? Do leg compression boots improve muscle recovery after exercise?

In this article, we will discuss how compression boots work, explore the benefits for runners, and share product recommendations for the best leg compression boots for runners.

We will cover: 

  • What Are Compression Boots?
  • Compression Boots vs. Compression Socks
  • 5 Benefits of Compression Boots for Runners
  • What Are the Best Compression Boots for Runners?

Let’s get started! 

Compression boots
Flickr

What Are Compression Boots?

Compression boots for runners are self-inflating, pneumatic sleeves that apply pulsating or graduated pressure to the feet, lower legs, and sometimes thighs to help facilitate muscle recovery after running or working out.

Depending on the type of recovery boots you buy, you can usually adjust the degree of compression, the length of the cycle, and sometimes even the pattern of squeezing.

Most exercise physiologists recommend that runners use compression boots for about 20 minutes immediately after running or exercising.

Compression Boots vs. Compression Socks

The idea of harnessing compression to aid venous return isn’t new. 

Compression socks, or compression sleeves, apply a similar principle and are also used to reduce swelling. These types of compression garments have been around for a long time.

However, compression socks use static, graduated pressure. 

This means that the material provides an incremental level of tightness from the foot up to the knee, with a higher level of compression offered at the ankle and a lighter squeeze offered up the length of the shin.

The pressure provided by compression socks is usually about 20-30 mmHg. For reference, normal blood pressure is about 120/80 mmHg.

A runner with compression socks.

The tightness of compression socks helps facilitate the return of blood flow from the feet by squeezing the legs and forcing it out of the ankle toward the heart.

Compression boots also help reduce swelling and promote venous return, but rather than providing static compression; compression boots use intermittent pneumatic compression.

Compression boots mechanically inflate and deflate each segment of the sleeve in a rotating sequence to actively propel blood from the foot and ankle back up the leg.

Much in the way that you would squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube first and then work your way up towards the cap, compression boots for runners provide a squeeze to the legs starting at the bottom and then inflating and deflating each subsequent section in a cyclical fashion to help pump excess fluids out of the feet and legs. 

Essentially, boots utilize active compression, whereas compression socks and sleeves use passive compression.

For this reason, while both types of modalities can reduce swelling and discomfort, pneumatic compression boots are much more effective and efficient.

A runner with compression socks.

5 Benefits of Compression Boots for Runners

The primary downside of compression boots is that they aren’t cheap, but depending on your needs and financial situation, they can totally be worth it.

Let’s take a look at the benefits. Compression boots for runners:

#1: Increase Circulation

One of the primary benefits is that they enhance circulation and blood flow.

Studies have found that when intermittent compression is applied to the legs after exercise, it increases blood flow to the legs and feet.

When blood flow increases, more oxygen, nutrients, and immune cells are delivered to the muscles, providing the necessary resources needed to recover and repair damaged muscle fibers after exercise.

#2: Reduce Muscle Soreness After Exercise

Studies suggest that wearing pneumatic compression boots can reduce muscle soreness after exercise.

Greater blood flow not only brings oxygen and nutrients to start repairing damaged tissue, but it also enhances the flushing away of metabolic waste products that have accumulated in the muscles during intense exercise.

These inflammatory byproducts can cause stiffness and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if left stagnant in the muscles after exercise.

Additionally, studies suggest that using compression boots for workout recovery enhances the clearance of blood lactate.

A runner holding a sore calf.

#3: Improve Recovery

The enhanced blood flow induced by pneumatic compression from compression boots is thought to facilitate recovery and improve subsequent exercise performance

This means that using recovery boots after running can potentially allow you to train harder and bounce back faster between your runs.

#4: Can Reduce Swelling After Running

Your feet and legs swell after an intense run because microtears in the muscles signal a clean-up and repair process. 

Immune cells and amino acids are shuttled to the muscles to initiate the reparative process, which causes swelling.

Studies show that a 20-minute compression boot recovery session after ultramarathon running is as effective at reducing discomfort and swelling as a massage.

#5: Compression Boots Feel Good

Almost every runner who’s done a hard workout or race has longed to have a masseuse on hand to work their magic and rub away the aches.

Compression boots are about as close as you can get to a professional private masseuse at the ready.

A 20-minute recovery session sitting down with the compression boots on is the relaxing, cravable, “feels-so-good” type of experience that hits the spot about a hard workout.

A runner drinking water and recovering.

What Are the Best Compression Boots for Runners?

Therabody RecoveryAir PRO

The Therabody RecoveryAir PRO boots are the cream of the crop in terms of the best recovery boots for runners.

Made by the same company that put massage guns on the map with their line of TheraGuns, these compression boots are engineered to provide precise pressure to maximize circulation and recovery.

Using FastFlush Technology, the Therabody RecoveryAir PRO completes one full inflation and deflation cycle in just 60 seconds, which translates to a greater number of cycles per session and 2 to 3 times faster and more effective recovery than most compression boots permit.

There is a seamless interior, which makes cleaning extremely easy because you don’t have to deal with any folds or pockets, and it improves the comfort and feel of the boots on sensitive, achy legs.

There are four preset programs, or you can completely customize your own program based on what works for your recovery after running.

You can choose exactly how much pressure you want, how long you want the entire treatment to be, how long you want to squeeze for each segment, and even which segments you want to inflate and deflate.

There are also four different styles of inflation: sequential, flow, isolation, and wave.

The pressure range is adjustable from 20 to 100 mmHg, and there’s a four-hour battery life.

Although the product is expensive, it’s super customizable and precise in ways that competitors simply fall short of.

A runner hands on knees.

Therabody RecoveryAir JetBoots

Although not completely customizable in the way that the RecoveryAir PRO boots are, the Therabody RecoveryAir JetBoots are nearly as versatile.

Plus, they are fully wireless with absolutely nothing to plug in, making them the best compression boots for runners who travel a lot or train away from the house or gym.

These recovery boots still feature the FastFlush technology, and there are four pressure settings (25, 50, 75, and 100 mmHg).

Rapid Reboot Recovery System

With a slightly lower price point than the premium Therabody compression boots, the Rapid Reboot Recovery System is another great option for compression boots for runners.

This full-leg system features 10 customizable pressure settings, two compression modes, a position indicator to help you get the proper alignment, and the ability to deactivate specific chambers based on your needs.

The interior is seamless for comfort and hygiene.

A person receiving a leg massage.

Normatec Pulse 2.0 Leg Recovery System

Normatec has been in the compression boots space for years.

The Normatec Pulse 2.0 Leg Recovery System features seven levels of compression, and there are five treatment segments in the full-length boots.

The boots are well-made and easy to control via the companion app.

Reathlete Leg Massager

If you’re on a budget, the Reathlete Leg Massager is a decent option. 

These inexpensive compression boots don’t have all the bells and whistles and physiological precision as some of the more expensive products, but they certainly do more than passive compression socks.

There are three levels of compression and four different modes, giving you a level of control over the experience.

Looking to speed up your recovery? Maybe try a pair of these recovery boots on for size.

To also aid in your recovery after hard workouts, check out our Best Post-Run Stretches guide.

A person stretching.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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