Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Zensah Compression Sleeves

Getting back into the rhythm of anything can be hard. Yes, you can not ride a bike for a decade, get back on, and probably be fine. But chances are good you’ll drop it on a tight turn, over brake somewhere, or run into a stop sign in a sheer panic.

The rhythms of recovery for me are always difficult to attain in regular training cycles, let alone when I’m getting back into shape. So, it comes as no surprise to me that this week, which is shaping up to be my heaviest week in some time, I totally forgot about one of my go-to recovery tools: compression sleeves.

Look, I’m not going to lie to you about compression, mostly because I don’t need to. I don’t need to sell you anything. The fact is, the science of compression is way conflicted, and far from definitive. In theory, the compression sleeve constricts the blood vessels in the calf, generating a higher local blood pressure, and thereby increasing the blood flow. Increased blood flow is good because that’s what we need to recover from hard training. When tissue blood flow decreases, problems start. Micro tears don’t heal, cells don’t get fed the necessary nutrients to function properly, and so on and so forth…compression has been in use on the medical side for a long time, but made its way into running over the past few years when companies who previously were limited to overcharging diabetics with circulatory issues, realized a market niche existed within the athletic world (OK, not an objective fact, but certainly a plausible hypothesis). The market has blown up, and every athletic apparel company has their child labor pool hard at work throwing compression-related apparel together.

I started wearing compression sleeves during my pre-Grandma’s training cycle. Not because they were was a convincing reason to, but there certain wasn’t a convincing reason not. When you’re putting in 90-100 miles a week, consuming every form of calorie you can get your sweaty fingers on, and sleeping like an infant; you’ll take whatever you can get if you even remotely suspect it might aid your recovery. So picked them up, and wore them after long runs and hard workouts.

I wish I could tell you that my recovery was appreciably faster, but I didn’t really notice too much. I still had heavy legs the day or two after long runs, and still hurt after a hard workout. So why would I continue to use them?

Well, for one, they feel good, and comfort is an overlooked aspect of recovery. Comfort allows you to relax. Being relaxed allows your body to function within norms. A body functioning within norms rapidly identifies what needs to be healed and does so. My other reason for wearing them is akin to Kierkegaard on God: in the absence of certainty, I’ll err on the side of caution. Caution in this case would be the hoped-for scenario in which the compression sleeves are actually doing what they advertise. Speaking of which, check out the Zensah site for the ones I wear. They’ll set you back about $40.

Making compression look good...but I still had a disappointing race.

Yesterday post-tempo run, I was getting changed to grab dinner and saw my Zensahs in my drawer. The light finally went on, and I donned those bad boys. In fact, I’m wearing them right now, as I type and get ready for my morning run. Who knows – maybe if I’d been wearing them all week, my legs would have felt much better yesterday?

7 for 7: Recovery

If you’ve been running for long enough, you know the type of person I’m talking about. He shows up to your running group, new guy with a lot of promise. He starts auspiciously – maybe a PR, maybe even a string of them. He nails every workout and MAN does he nail them! After a month or two, you’re wondering just how far this guy can progress. There just doesn’t seem to be any stopping this dynamo. But when you see him under the light of day, you notice the fatigue around the corners of his eyes, the dim look in his eyes. Your friends gossip about how so-and-so went on what was supposed to be an easy ten miler with Joe and ended up the victim of a death thrash that left him in the hurt locker for a week. Then, some minor hiccups. A pull here, a niggling ache there, all just minor complaints. He’s managing. Then, he goes strangely missing for like, a week. Where’s Joe, you and your running mates wonder. He shows back up, but just can’t seem to keep things together, never PRs again. He just sort of fades away into the cobwebs of memory, a cautionary tale that nobody can seem to remember.

Okay, maybe a little glammed up, a tad dramatic, but most of you know what I’m talking about here. Recovery, duh. Or rather, the lack of it, and how sustained lack of recovery will inevitably lead to breakdown.

First, you should know that my approach to recovery is not conservative in the least. When I was going through driver instructor training a few years back, I had a few instructors who thought I was behaving recklessly when I ended up off-track or plowing through some barriers. My response: “How am I supposed to know just where my limits are if I don’t go beyond them?” I apply the same mindset to running and recovery. I’ve pushed things way past what my body was capable of absorbing in a cumulative fashion. I’ve been injured multiple times, and played victim to more than one bug that took one look at my weak immune system and thought it would be a great place to camp out. Each time it’s happened I try to take away the important lessons – the early symptoms, the mindset that made me ignore them, and how to recognize and correct early next time.

Something else about recovery I alluded to yesterday – recovery is what happens when we’re not running. So while a “recovery run” sounds so nice and inviting, understand it for what it is – a means of stimulating recovery through a reduced level of intensity, but not something during which recovery on a cellular level actually occurs.

Lastly, since I’m starting to cut into my most important recovery aid (sleep), I will briefly cover perhaps the most esoteric aspect of recovery – how life affects it. for the longest time, I tended to approach running, and sport in general, as an isolated activity. A mathematical problem really: Add X, Multiply by Y, and you should arrive at Z. Over time, I’ve come to understand the necessity of accounting for just how much wear and tear our lives put on us. In fact, it would be very depressing to try to go through each and every stressor we face in our day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, you can not isolate an activity from the life to which it is connected. And if that life is full of stress it will inevitably have an impact on that activity.

As a result of this knowledge, I’ve had to become okay with dialing back training when things in the rest of my life aren’t going well, or stress is simply through the roof. I’ve also had to learn to accept that sometimes bad workouts happen after bad days.  At the risk of sounding psycho-babbly, I have to really force myself to accept these things, and it sure isn’t easy.

Wrapping things up: Recovery – it’s important. It’s what will keep you progressing, keep you uninjured and healthy. But don’t be afraid to test your mettle a bit when the timing is right. Just make sure you have an ice bath drawn and some compression sleeves ready to go…

Tomorrow, I promise to get the post up earlier. We’ll be talking Mindset. Should be cool.

7 for 7: Resources

One of the best things about running is just how little is required in order to do it. A pair of shoes (or not, if you’re hard), some clothes, and a patch of real estate are really all you need. Unlike some of my other pursuits, with about a hundred bucks or less you can participate. Of course, there’s always room for more gadgets, tools, specialized clothing, etc…but they’re all optional. You don’t need to drop a minimum of 750 to a grand on a lift ticket/board/bindings/boots/gear like snowboarding. The resources required to run are precious little.

For today’s post, I’m going to address the resources I employ in the pursuit of running, and I’ll go above and beyond the minimums addressed above. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll break them down into the following categories: Gear, Nutrition, and Recovery. Without any further delay…


Say hello to my pretty ladies...

Shoes…if the picture above doesn’t say “fetish,” I don’t know what does.

There’s been a lot of talk over the past couple of years about minimalism. If you’re not aware, the shoe industry over the past 20 years has produced ever-increasingly over-engineered products. What began as a means of correcting biomechanical issues and offering more cushioning turned into production of $150 running shoes that looked more like NASA-produced moon boots than means of efficient movement. Recently, though, demand has turned away from these big clunky monsters, and more towards shoes that allow natural movement and muscle response i.e. “minimal” shoes. The evidence to support minimalism is still outstanding, Some say it’s better for you, while some say it’s dangerous. I‘m no scientist. I can tell you that personally, running in minimal shoes has always felt better for me, and my policy is that everyone should be running in as little shoe as possible.

Minimal shoes are characterized by varying lightness and degrees of heel-toe drop in the midsole. While non-minimal shoes run an excess of 10-12 oz a shoe, and 10-15mm of heel-toe drop (think of a down-sloping ramp due to there being more cushioning in the heel than in the forefoot), most minimal shoes start around 9 oz or less, and offer anywhere between 0-9mm of heel-toe drop. The heel-toe drop thing is important because the less gradient there is, the easier it is for you to foot strike in your stride midfoot/forefoot. Anyway, the shoes you see above run from less to more minimal from left to right. The Brooks Launch are the shoes I wear when I feel pretty beat up, sore calves, achilles, etc. The next two, The Mizuno Wave Musha 2, and the Saucony Kinvara are my workhorse shoes. I do most of my regular runs in them. The Saucony Grid A4 are next – those are my speed work/racing flats. Both the Kinvara and the A4 run a 4mm heel-toe drop, and are both very light. Last on the right are my Vibram Five Fingers, which are as close to barefoot as you can get. They’re basically slippers with articulated toes. I do all my strength work in them, and try to do a couple 3-5M runs a week wearing them.

Other gear: My favorite socks are Smartwool, and my favorite shorts are shorty shorts, preferably the ones with split legs. Yep, they may offend your sense of decency but on the back half of a hot track session that last thing I care about is your fashion sense. My favorite shirt the one I leave at home so I can run shirtless in hairy-chested manliness. My sense of minimalism clearly extends beyond my shoe selection, as you can see. The last piece of gear I will mention is my watch. I use the Garmin Forerunner 305, and that enormous hunk of wrist candy is an homage to my nerdy desire for accurate data. If I have a crutch, my 305 is it. I get all twitchy when I forget it, or the battery dies, or it’s acting up.


The latest in the fight against the Taliban...the BA-K-47. I would eat that weapon.

I think you might be surprised at how I eat. First, you should know that for years, I was a carb monster. Pasta, bread, taters, chips…my food pyramid looked more like…well, a block with some little ones on top of it. I scoffed at the idea that endurance athletes could subsist on anything but a carb-dominated diet. Then, two years ago, I noticed that despite the fact that I was running as much or more than I ever had, I couldn’t lose any weight. In college, I raced at around 160lbs; two years ago I couldn’t get under 190. Some of that was muscle, but some of it was definitely fat and the worst part was that where I used to be able to drop weight easily by simply running more, it wasn’t happening. Additionally, I was having increasing problems with fueling. I was running out of gas way early in training runs, and eating more wasn’t helping at all

So, I checked out this Zone Diet thing, which essentially re-apportions your food like this: 30% carbs/30% protein and fat/30% fiber. Additionally, it recommends cutting as much processed food and especially processed carbs out of your diet as possible. I ran with it, and so far the results have been good. I’m not fascist about it; I simply try to stick to the ratios. We also stick to organic and minimally-processed as much as possible. When I started, I was around 190 – since then I’ve dropped to 170-175 on average. My fueling issues are virtually non-existent. Where I used to have to take in a gel or some kind of caloric intake at least once or twice in a longer workout, I can now do 20-24M only taking on water and electrolytes. I probably go overboard on the protein and fat (1lb of bacon and a dozen eggs a week are nothing) and if I want to lose any more weight I’m going to shift to leaner meats and the “good” fats (nuts, olive oil, salmon, etc).

As far as running-specific nutrition, I use Endurance First Sports Ultragen mix as a recovery drink, and for gels I use Accelgels  since they have protein and the caffeinated Powergels for those late-race boosts. Propel is my drink mix of choice for both hydration during the day as well as during training.


The one recovery aid we all need, but don’t get enough of, is sleep. Sleep is how your body repairs itself from the wear-and-tear of training, mostly through exponentially increased production rates of human growth hormone. Sleep is a big problem for me, since I like the night life…I like to boogie…8 hours is just about impossible, so I average between 6 and 7. However, most pro runners sleep 8-10 a night AND nap in the afternoons. I guess that’s my excuse for not being faster…

Another recovery resource I use is the time-honored ice bath. Cold, in general, is a very efficient means of both controlling the  inflammation associated with injury, as well as stimulating recovery through vasoconstriction (blood vessels contract, speed blood flow,

Who doesn't like a good kick in the junk?

 which helps move good stuff in and bad stuff out). In college, I took an ice bath every day, and when the runners showed up to the training room, the ball players and other athletes took off since they knew we were going to turn the cold bath Arctic by dumping a ton of ice in. These days, I have less of a tolerance for 37 degree baths, as evidenced by the photo on the right, but I’ve always heard the 50 degrees or so is about what you need to max out the effects. Just don’t try telling Whitis that…that’s his Dr Torquemada take on an ice bath I’m grimacing my way through in the picture.

The last recovery aids I will mention are compression socks/sleeves. Long in use by medical patients with lower leg circulation issues, they’ve come into vogue in the endurance scene in the past couple of years. The theory is that by constricting the blood vessels in the legs, they force more blood through and do the whole good stuff in/bad stuff out thing while you wear them. I use them after long runs or workouts, and now every time I fly to help minimize the amount of blood pooling in my legs during yet another cattle-car ride.

That’s about it for today…now you know I’m a hairy, bare-chested minimalist who sleeps too little, can’t handle ice baths, and wears funny calf sleeves. Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on the concept of recovery.