One of the newest recovery tools added to the athlete’s mobility arsenal is the acute compression strap. Much like the mild compression sleeves that athlete’s and patients with circulatory issues have worn for years, these elastic straps are used to improve blood flow and increase recovery in the limbs. Unlike the compression sleeves, socks, and other garments these elastic compression tools can be dangerous to blood vessels and need to be used with caution.
If you have any ballooning of the blood vessels in your arms or legs (typically in the calves) then you should not use these elastic compression straps. When you apply one of these straps the amount of pressure increases in the blood vessels distal of the strap (on the side of the strap closer to your hands or feet). If you already have varicose veins or another vascular condition the increase in pressure in those weakened blood vessels can cause further damage.
If you have unusually thick and ropey looking veins in your arms or legs discuss them with your doctor to determine if you have a weakened blood vessel condition. Get regular massages from a qualified bodyworks specialist that understands these conditions. It is possible to slow or halt the progression of many blood vessel disorders if you take a proactive approach.
Now, assuming you do not have a weakening of the blood vessels condition you should tip toe through the tulips when beginning a compression strap regimen.
We recommend the set of straps pictured above because they come in 4 different levels of strength. The yellow strap is the lightest intensity with 2 – 6 pounds of resistance, the green strap has 3 – 9 pounds, black has 4 – 11, and orange has 5 – 13 pounds of resistance. Resistance strength is not the same as the pounds of compression, but the stronger the strap the more compressive force it exerts. In other words, if the strap is too strong or not strong enough you get too much or too little compression to truly benefit from it.
Some online videos will suggest that you apply 50%, 75%, or some other specific level of stretch to the compression strap as you wrap your limb. Our suggestion is to apply the strap as tightly as you can tolerate before the strap becomes painful.
Some of you out there are serious badasses and must be reminded what pain feels like, so here goes:
When the squeeze of the strap becomes more like a sharp feeling pinch, it is too tight!
So now that we got the preliminary cautions out of the way, the following is a basic set of instructions for applying the strap to one of your limbs. It is not recommended to strap your own shoulder, hip, or other muscle attached to your trunk because the process of wrapping yourself becomes awkward at the very least, if not impossible to do effectively. Also, sense one of the primary functions of the compression strap is to restrict some of the blood flow back to your heart, wrapping muscles actually attached to your core does not provide the same effect. So all of our instructions are provided with the assumption you are doing this to yourself (you are not wrapping someone else, nor them wrapping you) and you are wrapping one of your arms or legs from where it attaches to your body or down.
1. Place the strap flat against your limb and begin wrapping it completely around your limb while keeping the rubber strap flat and slightly overlapped as you wrap.
2. Wrap so that the strap spreads out about 4 to 6 inches along your limb, but ensure there are no gaps so that your skin is not pinched between layers of the strap.
3. On the last wrap around your limb relax the amount of stretch placed on the strap so that you can tuck the last 6 inches or so back under the previous wrap.
4. If the strap is not almost uncomfortably tight then you need to wrap it again but tighter. There is a difference between the squeeze you will feel from tight compression and the pain you will feel from too much compression. If at any time you feel pain, RE-MOVE THE STRAP! If your limb below the strap ever begins to turn white or blue, REMOVE THE STRAP! (This is called a tourniquet and it is doing permanent tissue damage!) Remember, this tool is potentially dangerous, so mind your own limits. If you are not sure of what you are doing or how your body is responding to the compression, seek the help of a qualified healthcare professional.
5. Once you have the strap sufficiently tight, do a series of 2 or 3 slow and methodical movements such as airsquats or stationary lunges then do a different movement. AVOID BRISK MOVEMENTS such as jumping or movements such as sideways lunges which require more stretch than your tissues can handle with the strap on. If you have wrapped your arm be sure you keep moving it by flexing and straightening your elbow in a smooth methodical manner. You need to avoid standing or holding your arm still because when you move your muscles will be forced to work in a smaller space which helps to break up some mild adhesions that may exist and restrict proper muscular movement. Also, while you move your limb the movements help allow some circulation through the compressed area so that you don’t have complete occlusion of blood flow to your limb (again, we do not want a tour-niquet).
6. After no more than two minutes (or the compression begins to become painful) remove the strap and note how you feel. When you remove the strap you should feel a waterfall-like sensation of bloodflow flooding through the area you strapped. You should also notice that your limb feels lighter and moves more freely. If this is not the case, discontinue the strap use until you consult your local healthcare professional.
Regular use of the right level of compression can be a wonderful tool in your self-care toolbox. Learn how to apply this tool so that you maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. You can use the strap at any time that your heart rate is not excessively elevated. If you are doing a slow-paced strength workout with several sets of a few reps then using these compression straps on your arms or legs between sets is a very good way to recover between sets so you can maximize your potential on each lift.
There is an added benefit to using these tools as part of your recovery efforts–immediately following the compression strap use you will notice that using a roller or ball for self myofascial release (SMR) is far more tolerable!
The benefits you get from using the compression strap also make your muscles less sensitive to pressure from the rollers and balls which will allow you to get more release from your SMR efforts. When you combine the two concepts of compression strap use then SMR techniques you get the best of both worlds of self care.
Following are several example images for wrapping your arms or legs. Good luck in your efforts.
For more info go to smr.networkfitness.com
Written by Jeff Alexander, Founder of Network Fitness.