Thursday, November 23, 2017

110% Play Harder compression & ice

Compression gear for post-race or training recovery is nothing new. The likes of 2XU, Skins, Compressport and others have been adorning the legs of triathletes for a number of years now.  I admit I’m a bit of a walking contradiction – I’m open about not being totally convinced by the claimed benefits of compression, yet I own several types of compression wear, from calf guards to full tights.

At the Wales Long Course weekend event earlier this year, I stumbled across the 110% Play Harder stand in the expo area. 110% Play Harder aims to take compression to the next level by combining graduated skin tight garments with removable ice packs – essentially addressing two aspects of the R.I.C.E. protocol – Ice and Compression.

The way it works is that 110% gear features multiple layers – a tight inner sleeve which acts as the compression layer, and then an outer layer which forms pockets into which the ice packs can be inserted.  110% says the inner material offers graduated compression, providing the usual claimed benefits of reduced muscle swelling and increased blood flow.  The ice packs provide the benefits usually associated with ice baths after intense racing or training – reducing the chances of injury, promoting recovery etc.

I made some small talk with Alastair, the chap manning the stand, and admitted I was skeptical about the claims made of the combined compression/ice gear.  I’d just completed a 40-mile Time Trial, so Alastair invited me to put the products to the test.   First he fitted me  with a pair of calf guards, before inserting the ice packs.

Bearing in mind I’d just completed two hot hours of hard riding up and down Welsh hills, I can safely say the calf guards complete with ice were a little piece of heaven.  I was told to keep the guards on for 20 minutes then report back to Alastair.   Well, I can’t say scientifically if they were doing anything special, but they really did feel rather nice!

A sucker for a good sales pitch, I got talking again with Alastair and we talked about my quads and hip flexors being quite sore after hard TT bike sessions.  No surprise, he had an answer for that – the ‘Juggler Knickers’ – essentially a pair of ¾ length leggings with pockets for ice for the front and back of the knee, quads, hamstrings, glutes/lumbar and hip flexors – that’s a lot of icing combinations!

Alastair’s suggestion was to combine the Juggler Knickers with the Calf Guards, rather than go for the single-piece ‘Clutch Tights’ as the combo allowed me to match small calf guards with medium knickers – ensuring a better level of compression on the right areas.

Maybe it was the sales patter, maybe it was the heavenly feeling of ice pants after that hard ride, but whatever it was, I was sufficiently impressed to part with a wad of cash to take away the guards, knickers and ice packs (the ice packs come with an insulated bag, meaning they can be taken to races and will stay frozen for up to six hours).

In the real world

A few months later and (unlike many of the triathlon-related gadgets I've bought in the last few years) the 110% gear hasn’t lost its novelty.  Climbing into the pants and guards has become a part of my standard ritual after hard bikes/turbos or runs.  Sliding the ice packs into place is relatively easy (the pants can take a little patience to get on, but not really much worse than your normal compression kit) and they are easy to re-freeze.

After evening workouts, I typically wear the compression gear with ice packs in place for 20 minutes or so, then remove the packs and leave the compression layers on until bed time.

So, the six million dollar question is ‘do they work?’.  Needless to say I can’t scientifically say yes or no – but I can say that I’ve used them continually since purchase and have no plans to stop.  I guess that tells its own story?  There’s no doubting that there is some element of ‘relief’ after tough sessions.  Do I still get DOMS and stiffness? Yes.  Do I get less than I’d experience without 110%? Probably.

On the long term benefits of compression I remain hopeful yet not totally convinced (I did a poll on Twitter a while back and found that I’m definitely in the minority – most people seem more positive than me!).  If however, you are already convinced, or at least open to the possibility of compression benefits, then I’d definitely suggest that adding the extra benefits of an ice pack has to make a lot of sense.