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Truth or Myth: Running Gear Improved Performance for Triathletes

May 12th, 2013

Triathletes are always looking for better ways to improve their performance from training, nutrition, technique, to sports wear and apparel. Specially designed running gear is one particular area that is always seeing constant iteration and improvement, but is there really any truth to claims of running gear improved performance for triathletes? We’ll be looking at two pieces of running apparel: compression clothing and running shoes. All athletes are different, and with many brands out there competing for your dollar, it is important to choose what is most suitable for you, whether it is to help improve your times, or reducing the risk of injury.

Compression clothing was originally purposed for medical patients to help with blood flow and circulation, but recently have become increasingly popular among athletes. However, there is debate surrounding the supposed benefits of using compression clothing, and whether its use as running gear improved performance for triathletes at all. Research and tests are currently inconclusive as to whether they improve your overall performance in general, but depending on the type of training and activity you perform, compression gear can help with the recovery of your muscles. It is suggested that wearing compression tights while running helps decrease muscle vibrations, a contributing factor to muscle fatigue. However, the full range of benefits of compression are mostly related to an improvement in blood flow. In well-trained athletes, this is not a huge difference and doesn’t really improve performance and endurance. However, if you train on back to back days, this improvement in blood flow is quite significant as it allows your body to recover more effectively after a hard slug from the consecutive sessions of training. The jury is still out about the merits of compression clothing until more research is done, so be aware of what you’re buying.

One important piece of triathlete sports wear that has a more obvious benefit are running shoes. The ideal triathlon shoe should have the three following features:

  • Be lightweight,
  • Feature an easy-to-use tightening system
  • Wick moisture from the feet.

You’ll be running for long stretches of time so your shoes will need to be comfortable, flexible, and lightweight. Look for a shoe that weighs no more than 12 ounces (roughly 340 grams). The nature of triathlon compared to a marathon means you will be transitioning between three different types of activity. A running shoe made specifically for triathlon should come with an easy-to-use tightening system, instead of laces. Drawstrings are typically the norm as they are currently the easiest and fastest method to tighten the shoe. Simply having an easy and intuitive tightening system for your shoes could shave precious seconds during your transitions. Lastly, any triathlon shoe worth its weight should feature a run-off system that drains water from the swimming leg away from the foot. Having water inside your shoe is just plain uncomfortable and could lead to blisters.

In conclusion, people just getting into triathlon may find running shoes sufficient for their needs, but any serious triathlete should seriously consider shoes that are specifically made for triathlon. Of course, there is still inconclusive evidence about the effectiveness of compression clothing. So if you do decide to get yourself a pair or two prepare your expectations accordingly.

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