What sports performance products REALLY work?

Every athlete wants an edge. What’s the newest thing out there that will help me run faster, recover quicker, and play longer? How do I know which claims are fact and which are fiction? Let’s take a look and see what the research says.

Compression garments

2XU, Skins, CEP, CW-X, 110%....They’re everywhere. Running stores, basketball players’ elbows, and even on athletes during plane flights. They feel good. To some they look cool. But are they really doing anything? The claims: reduced muscle fatigue, reduced exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD), accelerated recovery processes, faster lactic acid removal, increased strength and power, improved endurance, etc. Let’s look at the two main reasons for wearing them: sports performance and sports recovery.


A 2013 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology stated that “none of the blood or physical markers of recovery indicates any benefit of wearing compression garments post-exercise. However, muscle soreness and perceived recovery indicators suggest a psychological benefit may exist.” The majority of research articles support this saying any benefit from a physiological standpoint is trivial but the perceived benefit may be significant. Anyone who has worked with professional athletes knows that it’s as much mental as it is physical. If they think something is helping then they’ll play better and in the end that’s really what matters. So the rest of us have to decide if a $100 pair of recovery tights is worth the placebo effect.


A January 2013 article in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance showed that “results indicated small effect sizes for the application of compression clothing during exercise for short-duration sprints (10-60 m), vertical-jump height, extending time to exhaustion (such as running at VO2max or during incremental tests), and time-trial performance (3-60 min)." Another article in the May 2013 edition of the same journal showed that “Wearing compression garments during cycling may result in trivial performance improvements of ~1% and may enhance oxygen delivery to the exercising muscles.” As these two studies show, there is conflicting results to date whether compression garments show performance enhancement benefits. But once again, if you think it works and you don’t mind paying for it then go for it. 


Magnet therapy is a $500 million annual business in the US. Some of the touted benefits include improved blood flow and decreased pain. Much of the theory is based on the magnetic principles of iron. However, iron in blood is diamagnetic which means it is actually repelled by magnetics. 

An article in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy in 2002 showed no difference in blood flow of the forearm with magnets compared to placebo. Another claim is that magnets help with swelling by attracting water molecules in the body. This can be disproven by the simple fact that even during an MRI scan there is no change in water dynamics in the body. Some companies claim that magnets can help with nerve conduction but once again even the strong magnets used in MRIs are not powerful enough to effect nerve conduction.

Regarding pain, research does show mixed results. A study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed significant pain reduction in post-polio patients using magnet therapy where another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed no benefit in the treatment of low back pain. Many of the studies showing positive benefit had small sample sizes, lacked true control groups, and used magnets that were more powerful than the magnet necklaces worn by most individuals. So to sum it all up, there seems to be no real benefit from magnets other than possible pain relief, which may be just a placebo effect. But if it helps with your pain and you think they look stylish, then give it a try. 

Next time: Kinesiotape, vibration plates and more.

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