Technology in sportswear – Compression suits

Athletes are always looking for things that can give them the edge. At elite level, the smallest margins can be the difference between first place or not getting a medal, and in sport victory is everything. Athletes will look to anything that gives them that edge. You may have noticed athletes wearing skin-tight suits. Why though? In this blog, we’re going to look at how skinsuits can affect performances.

Here are two main properties of skin suits; compression and drag reduction. We’re going to look at how both of these affect performances.



Compression clothing is designed to apply compressions to specific areas of muscle. This is thought to increase blood flow to muscles groups, oxygenate muscles more quickly and helps to get rid of waste products such as lactic acid. There is still a lot of debate about whether this actually affects performance. Adidas claims that their compression garment offers a 5% improvement in power when contracting your muscles. This technology is used in clothing for many sports including athletics and football. If these claims are accurate, then that theoretically give a massive improvement in performance.


Drag Reduction

Drag is a force that acts in the opposite direction to the way you are moving whether through air or fluid. Any reduction in drag means you have to exert less force, which means less effort needing to be used to create the same power output. This, in theory, means that athletes who use drag reducing clothing should see an increase in performance. In terms of compression clothing, the biggest change in performance happened in swimming after shark skin was investigated. The skin has v-shaped grooves called riblets that run between scales. This surface helps to create a turbulent flow in the layer just next to the skin. Why does a turbulent airflow make a difference? This turbulence reduces friction in eth flow and can reduce drag by up to 10% when compared to a smooth surface. The first major event where this technology was used was the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In the swimming competitions records were smashed, and as the technology was perfected records kept being smashed in 2009, the peak year for records being broken. Of 40 world records, 33 were broken in that year. Swimming’s world governing body, Fina, decided to intervene and new rules on swimsuits were written to outlaw technology.

Do compression suits and drag reduction help athletes?

In the case of swimming, there is no doubt the swimsuit technology enabled the times in the pool that still stand as world records. The drag reduction effect is more noticeable in water than in air because water is 800 times denser, so drag is far more noticeable. Whether compression and drag reduction make a difference to athletes running is indeterminate at the moment, but until such technologies are banned we’ll never know.


Finding performance sportswear isn’t a problem with many manufacturers offering compression design clothing to help you when you exercise. You’ll be able to pick them up from all good sports retailers.

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