Over the weekend, I received an interesting blog comment. Actually, the comment was more a question about NormaTec’s MVP system and Recovery Pump’s compression system:
What a good question!
So…some backstory. In 2011, Team Trakkers/Rev3 was sponsored by Recovery Pump and they supplied each member of the age group team a compression system to use during the season. In 2012, and again this season, NormaTec has sponsored Team Rev3, and has supplied us with with their MVP system. I have used both of these systems extensively during the past three years.
You can read a product review I wrote about the Recovery Pump here.
I also wrote an “initial thoughts” post about NormaTec’s MVP, but as of yet I haven’t done a full product review.
There’s an interesting (and lively) thread on Slowtwitch debating the differences and similarities between NormaTec and Recovery Pump (and a few other systems). Full disclosure – probably half of the posts to that thread are from folks who are/were sponsored or associated with one of the respective companies.
So in the interest of full and transparent disclosure, right now I have and use a set of NormaTec MVP boots that they have provided me with. They sponsor me, and I get the benefit of using their system. The thoughts I will share below are, however, my independent thoughts. I’ll share with you specific things I like about both the NormaTec and Recovery Pump systems, the costs, any drawbacks I’ve noticed, etc. This is not a scientific study of these two systems; I will not be rendering any input in terms of medically or scientifically which system is better….quite simply because I’m not qualified to to that. At the end, I’ll tell you which system I personally prefer, and why.
What are these things and how are they different from each other?
For starters, both NormaTec’s MVP system and the Recovery Pump system are mechanical compression devices. Basically, they use forced air to inflate leg sleeves to help flush waste products out of your cells and back into your bloodstream and lymphatic system so that your body can process those products. Both systems got their start in the medical industry. Recovery Pump is a lymphadema press – basically a device used to reduce swelling after certain medical treatments or surgeries. NormaTec’s MVP system is a variant of the lymphadema press – basically re-engineered and developed to use a different inflation approach than the Recovery Pump.
Recovery Pump uses something called sequential intermittent pneumatic compression. In English, this means that the Recovery Pump inflates several chambers in the leg sleeves/boots in order moving up your leg from your feet to your thighs. Each chamber stays inflated as the next one fills until you have a “full leg squeeze” thing going on. Then all of the chambers release the air, hold empty for a certain amount of time, and then start reinflating.
NormaTec’s approach is called peristaltic pneumatic compression. They actually named their approach Sequential Pulse Technology. This approach is a little different in that instead of just squeezing your leg; the compression pulses as it inflates. The system inflates one chamber and then holds that chamber static as the next fills. Then, as the inflation moves up the leg, the chambers farthest away from the inflated and squeezing chamber are released. NormaTec describes this approach more similar to a massage and says that this type of compression more mimics how our leg muscles actually work.
OK, NormaTec MVP and Recovery Pump take different approaches, but do they both work?
The short answer here is, sure, both systems work to flush out the bad goop from your legs and help you recover. Based on my experience with both products, I have found that I felt significantly better after a long run or ride when I used these two systems. I have found that using either of these systems helped me recover faster, feel like I could go hard again sooner, and not become fatigued as quickly compared to instances where I worked hard but didn’t use a mechanical system.
My anecdotal findings – and those shared by multiple athletes, professional and amateur alike, is that using mechanical compression devices makes you feel great. I’m not going to lie – chilling out after a hard workout and using compression like this feels awesome. It’s like having a personal masseuse at any time you’d like.
So they feel great. What’s different between the two?
We’ve already talked a little about the differences between NormaTec’s MVP system and Recovery Pump’s system in terms of how they compress your leg. That being said, there are differences between the systems that aren’t just related to sequential versus peristaltic compression.
The Noise Factor: I’m going to be honest with you: neither system is silent. NormaTec’s MVP is MUCH QUIETER than the Recovery Pump, though. In fact, by comparison, Recovery Pump sounds like Darth Vader having an astma attack. There’s a quite pronounced sound as the system inflates, and there a very loud hissing as the leg sleeves deflate. By contrast, NormaTec’s system really doesn’t present a lot of sound during inflation. There are some random clicking noises from the pump when it cycles, but overall it’s not too bad. There are two ultimate tests in regards to the noise factor for these units: (1) the TV test – can I watch TV while using the pump and not have to blast the volume in order to hear the dialogue, and (2) the sleep test – can I use the pump in the bed at night and not wake up my wife. I’ve actually done both of these tests with both units. NormaTec’s MVP wins both tests hands down.
Feeling the squeeze: It’s pretty obvious that both of these units squeeze your legs. One difference that I noticed is that the amount of control you have on how hard the units squeeze is pretty significant. Recovery Pump has a dial that allows you to increase the level of pressure on your legs, up to 80 Mg of pressure. NormaTec’s MVP system has seven settings of increasing pressure. I don’t honestly know what each level means, but I suppose that each level equates to a certain pressure setting. The bottom line, though, is that I could tolerate the highest setting on Recovery Pump without any discomfort at all – and frankly, there were times where I wanted more pressure. In contrast, I have never set my NormaTec MVP higher than setting five…I can’t handle the pressure. Plus, one key difference is that the MVP system allows you to boost the amount of pressure on a specific zone or chamber. So, for example, if I want additional pressure on my quads or calves, I can tell the system to “squeeze harder” there. I really like that feature quite a bit.
The cost factor: Here’s the deal. These systems are not inexpensive. Like all things triathlon, you’ll spend quite a lot of greenbacks to purchase either of these. You can purchase NormaTec’s MVP system for $1750.00 on their website (www.normatecrecovery.com/mvp.aspx). Recovery Pump sells for $1495.00 on their website (www.recoverypump.com).
The pro factor: Let’s face it: some people will base their decisions solely upon who uses a particular product. Think Michael Jordan and Hanes t-shirts. Both of these products sponsor a bunch of triathletes, runners, etc. For what it’s worth, it seems like NormaTec has broader appeal to professional athletes outside the realm of triathlon…NBA teams, pro cyclists, skiers, Olympians all use NormaTec.
Portability: Neither of these systems is small, but ultimately both are portable. NormaTec’s MVP is designed as a cool-looking toolbox with a handle on top, making carrying easy. Recovery Pump looks more like a medical device and doesn’t have a handle for carrying. Both will fit into a suitcase fairly easily – but neither will fit in a transition bag if you have your “normal” race stuff in there (like a wetsuit, shoes, helmet, etc). I’ve traveled to races with both units before, and quite frankly, if you buy either one of these, you’re going to want to take them with you to a race for both pre and post-race usage.
Which device would TriMadness buy?
Here we are, down to brass tacks. As I said above, I really liked the feeling that I got out of using both of these systems. Both products made me feel like I recovered faster after a hard workout or race. I am a believer in mechanical compression as a recovery modality, and would suggest that if you have the means to purchase one of these products, you should. There is, however, one product that I would personally prefer to purchase, were I about to spend my own hard-earned money. That product is NormaTec’s MVP system.
Why NormaTec? It essentially boils down to just a few traits for me that sealed the deal: MVP is quieter than Recovery Pump. It’s not as disruptive for my family compared to the Recovery Pump. I don’t have to turn the TV up to be heard over the unit, and my wife can sleep next to me if I’m using it in bed. I also really, really like the fact that I have the ability to target a specific zone with the MVP system. I often feel like my quads are trashed after riding hard or going on a long run, so I really like to focus there and have the MVP system squeeze harder there. I don’t know if it flushes out more crap that way, but it feels amazing, and I feel like I’m better recovered.
Good luck if you’re thinking about purchasing a mechanical compression system. I think you’ll find that this type of recovery is fantastic and really facilitates getting back at it fairly quickly. If you have questions about either of these two products, please leave a comment or send me a note via the “Contact Me” page.