Gear Review : 2XU Calf Guards

No, this isn’t a page about some new form of protecting livestock, I’m talking about the long socks for running. Well, they are a bit more technical than that, but that’s basically what they look like. Having seen more and more runners using calf guards, I figured I would give the 2XU Calf Guards a try to see if they really helped.

calf-guards-2XU

The theory behind calf guards and compression socks is based on decades of medical use of graduated compression socks (tighter at the ankle than the calf) to increase blood flow and circulation in order to prevent the formation of blood clots or cases of deep vein thrombosis in inactive and bed-ridden patients. In compression socks and calf guards designed for running, the increased blood flow and circulation increases oxygen delivery and lactate uptake to reduce fatigue, while the reduced muscle oscillation is thought to minimise muscle damage.

2XU Calf Guards : General info

2XU say that their “calf guards are a great muscle containment device that can be worn during training or competition. They are engineered for active use with powerful fabrics offering unparalleled breathability, moisture management and flexibility to keep the wearer comfortable and focussed” along with these additional benefits:

  • – High power denier offers extra calf + shin support
  • – Reduced muscle fatigue + damage
  • – Flatlock seam construction
  • – UPF50+ Sun Protection
  • – Antibacterial
  • – Moisture wicking

2XU Calf Guards : Out of the box

First impression out of the box was “Are these really going to help me?” They look so simple and insubstantial that it’s hard to see how they could do anything – they look like a slip of fabric with some logos on them. Closer inspection reveals that they are shaped specifically to the profile of your calf, as well as having a cuff at the base and top to fit snugly and hold them in place. Oh, and those logos, they’re reflective so at night your legs will look like some demented video game to drivers.

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Standard 2XU calf guards with distinctive ‘X’ reflective logos on the rear

Putting them on is simple. Making sure the logo is to the rear, bunch them up over your foot, carefully push your foot through the bottom hole and then ‘un-bunch’ them as you pull them up your calves, aiming for an even stretch. My girlfriend says it’s akin to putting on nylons, but I’m yet to try those out…
Once on, the fit was good, and the compression seemed snug but not restrictive. The cuff at top and bottom were perfectly sized on my pair to hug onto the tapering part of the calf and keep them in place. Tip: put the calf guards on before your running socks. The guards move easier over bare skin than fabric. If you run in long socks, you’ll want these over the guards in any case.

2XU Calf Guards : On the road

The first time I wore them I noticed immediately that my calf muscles felt ‘contained’ – I could feel the compression tightening as the muscle flexed. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was a different sensation from bare legs or compression tights. There seemed to be less shock and a ‘squeeze’ during the contact and push-off phases, however I quickly got used to them and stopped noticing them. In fact, I stopped noticing them to the point that my calf muscles became conspicuous by their absence in my regular body scans. Hip flexors tightening, yep. Hmm, twinge in left ITB, change side of road. Hamstring tightening on right side, need to watch that. Calf muscles. Calf muscles? Nothing.

Just a sensation of warm, snug, squeeze.

This first run in them I pushed out seven miles at race pace, and during the run I noticed that my calf pain was not increasing in line with my quad and hamstring pain. This was really interesting for me, because it’s normally the other way around. The following day I noticed that my calf muscles showed less muscle soreness than my hamstrings and quads. So far so good!

For a greater test of their effectiveness I ran a 26km Threshold-Long-Threshold session and generally speaking the same feeling from the shorter run of ‘warm, snug, squeeze’ was present for the whole run, along with the delay in onset of muscle pain and fatigue in my calf muscles. As it was a long run, I decided to keep the 2XU calf guards on for an hour or so after the run to help with recovery. As before, recovery of my calf muscles was generally faster than other muscles with reduced DOMS.

I’ve now done several long runs and a marathon wearing them and I have noticed positive benefits of reduced muscle pain and fatigue during running, and a better recovery of my calf muscles in the following days.

Somewhat gratuitous selfie wearing my 2XU Calf Guards during the Marathon Palma de Mallorca

Somewhat gratuitous selfie wearing my 2XU Calf Guards during the Marathon Palma de Mallorca

2XU Calf Guards : Off the road

I tested these on the trail as well. They provided good calf support like on the road, but on hilly and rocky sections really seemed to help with minimising calf movement/oscillation, especially on the downhill portions. Apart from the benefits from the compression, the calf guards also provided good protection from scratches and snags. The tight weave of the fabric seems to stop snagging on all but the sharpest of thorns, and after a few catches on brambles showed no damage. General scrapes against rocks and branches seemed to have no effect on the fabric, but did of course prevent the abrasions and cuts to my skin!

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Hardened trail runners may want to try the stirrups version, for full ankle coverage

2XU Calf Guards : Bernie’s verdict = 9/10

After many long runs and a marathon in my 2XU calf guards, I’m convinced. Those seemingly insubstantial socks make a big difference for me, and now I always use them on my long runs.

While I have noticed a reduction in fatigue while running in these calf guards, I am not a faster runner wearing them, and I couldn’t say that wearing them makes me able to run further. However, I think it is in recovery that these calf guards make the most difference. By reducing the recovery time it allows me to get out on the road sooner and into my next workout, which has indirect benefits to performance on the long run.

I will certainly be continuing my use of my 2XU calf guards, particularly on my long runs and races, and can recommend the 2XU calf guards to anyone who feels they would benefit from a graduated compression garment for their calf muscles.

Do you use calf guards or other compression gear? What have been your results with them?

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Happy running everyone!

Bernie

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