With all the various types of sweat wicking and performance enhancing claims that come from the fitness attire world you're left with one question, "does it really work?" If you look at the professional athletes in the world, covered from head to toe in compression clothing you would think the answer is a definitive YES. But it's just not that simple. Let's take a look at just one type of compression clothing...the ubiquitous compression short.
So do compression shorts really work? Kinda, sorta, maybe. The answer to this question stems from a research study that looked at the effect compression shorts had on NCAA Division 1 volleyball players vertical jump. This is a measure of explosive power in the lower body.
In the study the subjects performed multiple vertical leaps consecutively with and without compression shorts. The results were interesting. The study showed that when the players wore the compression shorts there was not a significant change in the height of their vertical leap, but the average height of their jumps were higher. This suggests that the compression shorts complemented and supplemented the movement of the hip, perhaps due to proprioceptive stimulation.
In other words, the feedback of the compression shorts helped to stimulate the activation of the hip musculature. This made the movement more efficient, thus increasing the average power output of the body. Other studies have analyzed compression garments on runners as well with no evidence of improved performance. However, there may be evidence to support wearing compression clothing for recovery. Which by the way is part of the RICE protocol for injury recovery. Rest, Ice, COMPRESS, and elevate.
While there seems to still be conflicting evidence supporting performance enhancement, there is not any evidence that these garments decrease performance. In the end, the choice is really best made based on preference. If you feel that you run better with the compression shorts then have at it, but be weary of claims of performance enhancement.