Compression is big business in the running world. You just have to look at the passing calves during a marathon to see how the compression sock has been embraced, but further up the tech-chain, recovery solutions using compression are getting a lot smarter.
The Therabody RecoveryAir won't look like new technology to many; pneumatic compression leg sleeves from brands like Nomatec have been around for years, but these are new to the Therabody range and claim to be smarter and faster at delivering results than the competitors.
Intermittent Pneumatic Compression
IPC has been used in a medical capacity for many years to aid those recovering from surgery and reduce the risk of blood clots and DVT (deep vein thrombosis) when inactive. They work by aiding blood flow: when the sleeves compress, it helps the blood move through your body to your heart so that when they decompress, oxygen-rich blood flows to your leg arteries and in the case of sports recovery, flushes the muscles and stimulates them with similar pressure and benefits to those a massage would provide.
What's different about the RecoveryAir is that they are intermittent, progressive pneumatic pressure sleeves and feature a true negative gradient. This means that the 4 internal overlapping chambers inflate from foot to thigh sequentially, there are no pauses as the sleeves inflate, which maximises the movement of blood/fluid up the leg towards the heart and doesn’t allow for any interruptions in compression that can lead to inefficient flushing of the leg.
How it works
The most accurate analogy would be squeezing a tube of toothpaste; if you squeeze from the bottom to the top in one firm, fluid motion, then all the toothpaste comes out. If you grab the tube with your hand and squeeze, some will come out, but the tube is simply squashed and pockets of paste remain. You want your legs to be like a nice squeezed tube of toothpaste.
In application, this feels like a very steady and progressive pressure that builds from the foot and moves steadily up the leg. It doesn’t stall or fluctuate, it feels very consistent and when it decompresses, there is a very real sensation of release, even at lower pressures.
As for recovery, the benefits felt close to a general massage without visiting a clinic. After long runs and intense training sessions, when DOMS are far more likely, the speed of recovery for me personally was noticeably improved. Whether that’s the case for you will depend on how you respond to massage (and what your recovery strategy involves), but if you do respond well then these are well worth considering.
It isn’t a cure-all solution; more specific issues do also benefit from a round of compression, but it certainly doesn’t negate the need to take time to focus on these, be it at home with tools or with highly-trained hands.
There is also an added benefit beyond the physical with this device in that to get set up and comfy, I found myself lying down and forcing myself to try and relax completely, so as to reap the benefits of my 15-minute squeeze. What this encouraged was a period of rest that I would not have normally had, with the added benefit of receiving a form of treatment. The rhythm and noise of inflation and deflation helps create a state of calm that was also completely unexpected but very welcome and added to my experience of feeling rested.
If your pockets are deep enough (and that’s the real issue with it really), The Therabody RecoveryAir would suit those who respond well to massage and who are seeking an at-home massage fix when training ramps up and you want something to help you recover faster.
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