I like compression apparel for performance and recovery (although not for fashion). I’m also a big believer in using ice for recovery and to reduce pain from inflammation in all kinds of situation. So naturally I was immediately drawn to the products that put 110% Play Harder on the map: apparel, such as calf sleeves, shorts, tights, and knickers among others, that combine gradient compression with ice therapy.
For the last 5 years, the benefits of compression on athletic performance, muscle recovery, and in preventing deep vein thrombosis have been proven and widely accepted among doctors, coaches and professional and age group athletes. In 2006, when they first began to appear in triathlons, 16 athletes used them at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. Two years later, in 2008 there were over 450 athletes wearing either compression socks or sleeves (approximately 25% of the field)*. Over the last few years these numbers are even greater. Today, it is common to see multitudes of endurance athletes not only racing with compression apparel, but also hanging out in hotel lobbies and even wearing them out to eat in restaurants, trying to get every bit of benefit that compression has to offer on muscle recovery. Yes, I’ll admit, I’ve worn compression socks to bed before, to the amusement of my wife. I’ve also worn compression sleeves and/or compression shorts in every Ironman and Ultra-marathon race that I’ve done in the last 3 years. They make my legs feel better during and post races, period.
A couple of years ago, I finally broke down and sat in a tub full of ice. Having been remarkably injury free for most of my athletic career, I was often told by older training buddies that after I turned 40 everything was going to fall apart. Fortunately that wasn’t the case… I could still run and bike but everything began to hurt, and hurt a lot. My calves and quads were constantly tired and my hamstrings were in severe pain, especially after intense or long workouts. In addition, I felt like I was getting the “perma dead legs syndrome”, so, I talked to a professional athlete and coach who I worked with in the past. He told me that I needed to sleep more and take ice baths. My life was not really conducive to the first piece of advice but I could definitely work on the second one. Filling up a tub with ice was cheap, didn’t take a lot of time, and I could do it at home. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the ice bath but the next day I had one of those a-ha moments. My legs didn’t ache and felt fresher with more spring in them. I’m sure some of that was the psychological effect of hoping to be fresh after 15 minutes of freezing my lower body, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know when there are some physical benefits as well. Occasionally on ESPN we see baseball pitchers with their throwing arm inside a bucket of ice, and football players submerged in life size barrels of ice. I’m not a doctor or a coach so I’m not going to go into the reasons of why this works…but again, it works.
So back to 110% Play Harder. Their flagship products are apparel pieces that include strategically located pockets in which reusable ice sheets are inserted. The antimicrobial, Silvertech fabric is made of 70% Polypropylene and 30% Spandex, and provides ample moisture wicking. The 360 degree, 4 way stretch of the material also offers the crucial gradient zoned compression needed to promote muscle recovery and increased blood flow. The ice sheets are flexible and include a number of individual cells of approximately 1 inch by 1 ½ inch. Simply soaking them in water and freezing them, creates an instant ice pack that stays cold up to 6 hours (according to the manufacturer) and can easily be placed into the different pockets. Since the cells are arranged in columns and rolls, the sheets can also be cut to fit into specific smaller pockets.
The Juggler Knickers that I tried have pockets targeting the hips, gluteus, lumbar, quadriceps, hamstring and knees. Other products will have more or less pockets, targeting either additional areas (calves and shins like the Clutch Tights) or fewer, more specific areas (like hamstrings and quads in the Kick Back Quad Sleeve).
Although I liked the concept from the get go, I must admit I was skeptical. I didn’t think that the ice inserts would be enough to deliver significant cooling through a layer of apparel and I certainly thought that they would get warm after 10-15 minutes after removing them from the freezer. This was not true in either cases. I was surprised by how cold they felt as soon as I inserted them in the pockets. They were cold enough to be uncomfortable (which is the feeling I was looking for). In fact, they were cold enough that I felt like taking them out after about 10 minutes. As far as the lasting effect, I had them on for 1 hour and they were still as cold as when put them there. The technology works.
I also liked the fact that it was easy to “set up”. I simply immersed the cells in warm water for 10 minutes according to the instructions the night before, and then placed them in the freezer overnight. In the morning I put them in the Knickers pockets and voila! I also liked the fact that it gave me compression and ice on the go. I could walk around, get work done and take the kids to school while wearing them, (assuming I didn’t have to get out of the car). In the past I tried taping ice packs to problem areas only to have them slide out of place or drip onto furniture and floor. The 110% Play Harder Apparel definitely fits my chaotic lifestyle.
The material also felt quite nice; soft but yet substantial and strong. It is thicker and more substantial than most Lycra garments we are used to and the pockets add an extra layer of material. Even though I’ve heard of people using them as work out gear, to me they would feel a little bulky (Note that 110% Play Harder also makes performance apparel that does not use the ice inserts that is designed specifically for training and racing). The sizing is on the small side so be sure to either try them on or look at the measurements carefully before buying one. I have a 32 inch waist and I went to a Knickers size Large. According to their chart, the Medium fits waists 29-31 while the Large fits 32-35. They fit snug to begin with, so after trying on the Medium, I opted for the Large.
They are not cheap, at $150 for the Knickers and $250 for the Tights. However, one can opt for less expensive products, if one tends to have issues in a specific area only. The Transformer Shorts (and they do have some unique names) sell for $110, which is not much more expensive than other compression shorts in the market and still provide pockets targeting the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus. According to the company, the cells will last for about 6 months delivering the desired cooling effect. Replacement ones are available for $20 for a set of 2.
A friend of mine and master elite athlete once said “if I only worked out when nothing hurts, I would never work out”. One thing I learned as I got into the Master years is that one has to pay more attention to little things that are often taken for granted: core strength, easy days, better nutrition, and things that assist with recovery. Nowadays, compression and ice are essential to keep me running and cycling. The 110% Juggler Knickers offer me the opportunity to get the benefits of both at the same time. Maybe they will keep me playing harder for years to come.
*Statistics were obtained from “Compression sock ban reversed”, written for Slowtwitch.com by Herbert Krabel, September 10, 2009.