That is the question. Increasingly athletes are wearing compression garments to improve sports performance. The theory is that increased surface pressure to specific areas of the body will enhance circulation, improving oxygen uptake to your muscles thus improving power, speed and stamina.
However, from cycling, cricket and kayaking, to trail running, rugby and triathlon, no significant performance benefits (see research citations below) have been measured to result from wearing compression garments. Thus, although the subject still bears more research, there is no conclusive evidence to support claims of improved athletic performance when wearing compression garments.
BUT, perception can be meaningful, and athletes do report perceived performance enhancement and since there have been no harmful effects found to result from wearing compression gear, perhaps a case can be made for the psychological benefits of men and women in tights.
As a caution, it is important to choose a garment suitable for your chosen sport.
Compression garments and recovery
And, before you throw those groovy running tights out with the bathwater, there is some evidence to support the claim that wearing compression garments during exercise may improve recovery by enhancing overall circulation, reducing swelling in the joints and speeding up muscle recovery.
This article was written using the following sources, and with thanks to the Sport Information Resource Centre library.
Some Relevant research
Barwood M, Corbett J, Kirke J, et al. Compression Garments: No Enhancement of High-Intensity Exercise in Hot Radiant Conditions. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance. September 2013;8(5):527-535.
Bieuzen F, Brisswalter J, Easthope C, Vercruyssen F, Bernard T, Hausswirth C. Effect of Wearing Compression Stockings on Recovery After Mild Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance. March 2014;9(2):256-264.
Dascombe B, Laursen P, Nosaka K, Polglaze T. No effect of upper body compression garments in elite flat-water kayakers. European Journal Of Sport Science. July 2013;13(4):341-349.
Del Coso J, Areces F, Calleja-Gonzalez J, et al. Compression stockings do not improve muscular performance during a half-ironman triathlon race. European Journal Of Applied Physiology. March 2014;114(3):587-595.
Driller M, Halson S. The Effects of Wearing Lower Body Compression Garments During a Cycling Performance Test. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance. May 2013;8(3):300-306.
Duffield R, Portus M. Comparison of three types of full-body compression garments on throwing and repeat-sprint performance in cricket players. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. July 2007;41(7):409-414.
RIDER B, COUGHLIN A, HEW-BUTLER T, GOSLIN B., Effect of compression stockings on physiological responses and running performance in division III collegiate cross-country runners during a maximal treadmill test. Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins). June 2014;28(6):1732-1738.
Vercruyssen F, Easthope C, Brisswalter J, et al. The influence of wearing compression stockings on performance indicators and physiological responses following a prolonged trail running exercise. European Journal Of Sport Science. February 2014;14(2):144-150.
Alexa Kleingartner, John Porcari, Scott Doberstein, Charles Hendrix, Carl Foster, (2012) Do Toning Pants Help to Give You a Better Workout?. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (11), 567 – 568.