Compression devices. We love them (most of us). We swear by them. We run in them. We sleep in them. We … ahem … (G rated blog, sorry).
By and by, most of us agree that compression devices have their benefits. Certainly there is talk among some that compression offers nothing more than a placebo effect, but recent research tends to show otherwise.
Earlier this spring, I wrote this post where I shared some of the background research behind compression devices. I additionally shared specific research that had been done using endurance athletes that showed compression garments were highly instrumental in faster recovery efforts. I even did a fairly thorough review of CEP’s compression sleeves (which you can read here).
In both of the posts noted above, I talked about the differences between passive and mechanical compression devices. For a recap, passive compression devices are things like compression socks and sleeves. Full-body compression garments that are on the market today fall into the passive compression category as well. In short, passive compression aids recovery by helping the body in a couple of ways – through supporting the musculature and eliminating some of the muscle “osscilations” that lead to fatigue, and by helping aid the body flush bio-waste products out of cells and into the lymphatic system. Mechanical compression devices take this flushing process to the next level by incorporating either sequential or peristaltic compression to really push the waste products our of our cells.
There are two main mechanical compression products in the triathlon marketplace: Recovery Pump and Norma-Tec. While you might think that these products are similar (they are in similar only in that they offer mechanical compression), the manner in which they work are different. Recovery Pump offers sequential intermittant pneumatic compression, whereas Norma-Tec offers peristatltic compression. In English, what that means is that Recovery Pump inflates chambers sequentially (in order) moving up the leg – without deflating the prior chamber. Norma-Tec offers a “wave-like” compression – as each new chamber is inflated, the preceeding is deflated. For an interesting give and take as to the two compression systems, feel free to read this thread on Slowtwitch.
I’ve had the opportunity to use the Recovery Pump system this season, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the product and how my using the product has impacted my training.
Before we go any further – I need to let you know that Recovery Pump is one of my sponsors and provided me their system to use this season. In no way did Recovery Pump stipulate that I needed to write a product review – and everything you’ll read from this point forward is my opinion alone. They did not pay me for a favorable write-up.
As you can tell from the photo at the top of the page, Recovery Pump is a fairly simple apparatus. You get a pair of leg sleeves (that are sized to your leg length), a couple of hoses, and the actual pump. There is an instruction sheet as well – but in all honestly, once I read the insturctions I did what 99% of the guys on this planet would do. I tossed them in the trash. So you don’t get to see those here. But, as you’ll see, this device is super easy to operate.
This is a better picture of the leg sleeve itself. Clearly, it’s not inflated and my leg is sitting in it. While you can’t really see the bottom of the sleeve – my toes do not stick out of the end. The proximal end of the sleeve is just about as far up my leg as I can get it. Literally right up to the top of my inseam. Attached to the sleeve are four plastic tubes which supply the air to four separate compression areas.
Here’s a little better close up of how the air hoses connect to the sleeves. The hoses are both numbered and color coded so you can be sure to put the correct hose in the correct spot.
I don’t personally disconnect the hoses from my sleeves after each use as it’s really more convenient for me to just fold up the sleeves and hoses as one little group. Now, if I were traveling with my pump system (for example on a plane) I likely would remove the hoses. The process is super simple and very quick.
The other end of the hose connects to the recovery pump unit as demonstrated below:
Looking at the two pictures above, I realized that I just felt like an airline flight attendant telling someone how to fasten a seat belt. Hooking up the Recover Pump is that easy.
So let’s review. Step 1. Insert tubes into respectively numbered holes on Recovery Pump sleeves. Step 2. Put the sleeves on legs, pulling all the way up. Step 3: Insert tubes into the pump device.
Now comes the fun part. Setting both the pressure and the duration of the “rest” period. Let me explain. The Recovery Pump feels like a blood pressure cuff in that each section of the legs inflates (and then holds) to a certain pressure. Once one leg chamber is totally inflated, the next chamber begins to fill. Once it is full, the next one inflates. This continues until each of the 4 chambers has fully inflated. Thus the term “sequential” compression. After the chambers fully inflate, they all deflate simultaneously and “rest”. By rest, I mean that the unit sits for a prescribed segment of time before beginning the inflation series again.
The totally cool thing is that both the amount of pressure and the length of the “rest” phase are fully user-defined. Whereas Recovery Pump generally recommends that users set the inflation to 50-60mg of Mercury, you can set the inflation to higher or lower amounts – depending upon your tolerance level.
I leave the rest setting at 10 – the shortest interval. From a pressure stand-point, I typically start with the pressure at 50mg and then will often go up to 65mg or so. I’ve gone up to 80mg of pressure only one time (to see what it felt like) – and while it didn’t hurt, it was more pressure than I was comfortable with.
The Skinny: Do I like Recovery Pump?
The really simple answer here is, YES, I like the Recovery Pump system. There is no denying that using the pump feels really good. I describe the feeling as a long, slow massage moving its way up my legs. The feeling is completely relaxing – so much so that I have literally fallen asleep wearing them!
Now, fair warning on two aspects that I’m not the fondest of. First off, the device is relatively noisy. The pump makes, well, a pumping noise as it’s inflating the chambers. This lasts for roughly a minute. Then, when the system is deflating, there’s a really audible “exhale” sound that the machine makes. The noises aren’t too loud – but if you’re sitting in front of a TV you’ll need to turn up the volume. Likewise, if you wear the sleeves to bed at night, and you share your bed with a light sleeper, you might have issues. The other aspect that I’m not so fond of is that the sleeves are hot. This has been the biggest detractor for me thus far, in fact. Perhaps the heat quotient is higher because I live in hot & humid Florida – but it’s not as if I use my sleeves outside in the scorching sun. The bottom line is that I sweat like a pig when I wear my Recovery Pump sleeves. Attractive? No. Effective? YES.
Does Recovery Pump Work?
For me, the answer to that question is yes. I’ve used my Recovery Pump on a frequent basis after hard workouts. I actually could probably use the system on a more frequent basis (I know some of my teammates use the Recovery Pump daily). Without a doubt, though, I can tell a tangible difference in how my legs feel the day after using Recovery Pump. I can especially notice improvement in my Quads. When they have been trashed following a long run, I wear the boots for an hour or so that night – and the next day I feel almost as if I hadn’t run. Could I see added benefits from wearing my boots every night? Possibly, but I can’t really answer that (I’m sure my teammates could chime in on that, though).
So – in comparison to passive recovery modalities, which is better? While I’m not a scientist – and didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night – I can tell you my opinion as to what I’ve experienced…and you can apply that information to make your own decision. I am a proponent of passive compression. I am also a proponent of mechanical compression. I firmly believe that Recovery Pump has aided my recovery. I have seen enhanced results when using both passive and mechanical compression simultaneously.
Purchasing a Recovery Pump
Anyone can purchase a Recovery Pump system – but first you need to know that you will need to secure a prescription from your general physician or sports chiropractor. The Recovery Pump is an FDA, medical grade device. The cost is fairly high for the system – $1,195 – but it’s far lower than the NormaTec system, which does not offer sequential pumping.
Try Recovery Pump Yourself!
Yes, you read that correctly. You can actually try the Recovery Pump system yourself before purchasing it. If you’re planning on racing at either Rev3 Cedar Point or Rev3 Anderson you can try out the Recovery Pump system there. You can additionally give the system a trial at certain Ironman events for the remainder of the season.
Overall, I like the Recovery Pump. I think it has been a superb addition to my recovery protocols this season.
Check them out at www.recoverypump.com.