Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zensah Leg Sleeves: A Review

Compression technology is a new trend in running and sports in general. It's been around for a while, but the science behind compression gear is a good compliment to ultra-endurance exercise and/or minimalist running. In comes Zensah, a company producing seamless compression apparel for athletes. Zensah produces calf/shin sleeves, thigh sleeves, compression shorts, arm sleeves, sports bras, and compression socks. According to representatives at Zensah, The special patterns and materials that are unique to the compression sleeves result in:
  • Increased delivery of oxygenated blood to the lower legs
  • Support and stability of lower leg muscles- Tibialis Anterior(Shin) and Gastrocnemius/Soleus(Calf muscles)
  • Decreased recovery time

My interest in compression apparel stems from my interest in ultrarunning and minimalist shoe running. I had heard the claims that compression gear reduces recovery time, increases performance during exercise, and reduces inflammation. The exercise science nerd in me had to experiment on myself. The product that interested me most was the leg sleeve. As a person who transitioned to minimal footwear and barefoot running, I endured a noticeable amount of calf pain. Though I feel that pain is a natural and powerful tool that teaches us to run easily, there is no reason that a product can't alleviate pain during the adjustment period. I rarely have pain in my lower legs anymore. The only exceptions are when mileaage gets higher, and when I run excessive hills. The people at Zensah were kind enough to send me a pair of the compression sleeves to test out.

I have to be honest. I have been treated well by adopting a minimalist approach to running and training. This has made me a bit of a skeptic about anything that could be purchased to "enhance performance." Shedding running shoes, heart rate monitors, cumbersome hydration packs, and moisture-wicking materials has helped me enjoy running more and consequently increase speed and volume. Compression gear has always seemed like the kind of thing that works "in theory." Since many athletes I look up to have employed them in their training and racing regimens, I just had to give them a try.

The leg sleeves arrived at my door while I was away for the weekend. When I returned on Sunday, there they were, in their electric blue glory. The color was awesome, so the cool factor had to be good for at least some speed, right? I immediately slipped them on and enjoyed the fit as it was snug and comfortable. Im usually the type of person who goes into a claustrophobic fit when wearing anything tight. This was a huge plus for the design, as I hate the feeling of  compression tights and shirts. The smaller garments are much easier to wear and don't feel as restricting.

Before the Woodstock 50miler
Did thy help me win? Im too afraid to take them off to find out!
 I had already run 16 miles that morning, but I felt good, so I headed out for a few more. I ended up running 14 miles at a good pace. This is probably because my run earlier in the day felt easy, and I recovered in the car on the way back to school. The sleeves were worn on the second run, and they felt good. I can't say that they made me run faster or easier, but I can say that the compression could be felt on my legs. I felt faster in them, just as one does when wearing new gear. I decided that I may as well run 14miles to give me  91 for the week and 30 for the day. The sleeves made my legs feel solid on the run, and I used them afterward for recovery. The next morning would be the test; I was especially interested in the sleeves as a recovery tool after high mileage and tough hills.

I woke up the next morning, and I was pretty impressed with the way I felt after a 30 mile day. My calves felt fresh and I was actually able to go down stairs immediately after getting out of bed. To be fair, I must also point out that my quads, knees, and hips felt good too. Could this have been an outlier week of smart, high-volume training? Could the sleeves have given me superpowers? I'm thinking that it had to be something in between. Its always hard to tell if the "placebo effect" has taken place, or if the compression sleeves indeed do help with performance. Bottom line- I ran 30miles in one day, and was able to run easily the next day. I had no calf pain. The last time I ran 30 miles as a training run, I overexerted myself and was unable to run the following day.

Another noteable test was done a few days later. I had been wearing the sleeves on my runs, and even wearing them for recovery to class and wherever else(side note-the nonrunning world is not quite ready for men wearing electric blue knee-highs). I decided to wear them to bed one night after a 16 mile training run. The day after any run of considerable distance, I usually must take a hot shower or slowly, painfully get moving to alleviate the soreness in my feer and ankles. I woke up in the Zensahs, and was able to spryly get out of bed. It was glorious.

I've been wearing the sleeves for the majority of my runs, and have enjoyed wearing them. The science is logical, and the testimonials are convincing. For me, the feeling of wearing them is almost intangible. I like the way they feel on my legs when I run, and I find them comfortable during recovery. Trying them is really the only way to appreciate the way the Zensah sleeves fit and feel. There's quite a bit to be said for feeling fast, and the sleeves help with that too. If you're like me and are often skeptical about things that seem "too good,. to be true," then I would advise you to open your mind up just a little and try these things out. At the very least, they're cool looking and will keep your lower legs warm. At the best, you will experience some faster recovery and some snug support for achy calves.

Shelly and I decided to do a little swap before the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Running in the sleeves with the sub-3:00 group at the Grand Rapids Marathon

Ill have pictures up soon, but they can be seen here at


  1. Cool - I was wondering about these just from comments by Shelly and Jason. I was considering them because the next 6 months is going to be ALL about hill work for me, and the hills are real "calf-killers" for me.

    Thanks for the review - better check out the website. Wonder if they do funky patterns? :D

  2. This is a very nice post, so informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing such a great post.


  3. And you get to look like Chris Solinsky!

  4. try the new zensah leg sleeves for a new you..
    Inov 8

  5. This one is very nicely written and it contains many useful facts. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement. Thanks for sharing with us