Sunday, 1 January 2012

CW-X Expert tights

CW-X aren't really a brand that we hear much about in the UK. They are a popular "compression" brand in the US and in Japan, where the original research was done, and you infrequently see them over here. There was an abortive attempt by Snow and Rock to sell them, but unfortunately there wasn't enough interest, or knowledge from the staff on the most part to sell them through. After a couple of years of exclusivity when it really wasn't capitalised on, they stopped selling them. A shame really, because they are a very, very good product.

I first came across them in Japan back in 2003 when I lived in Sapporo and needed a pair of tights to wear under snowboard pants which might give me a bit more stability in the knees- I probably thought that they might be useful for running as well, but didn't worry too much about it at the time.
I think I was originally attracted to the brand because of the various technologies and research behind the compression, but was slightly put off by the "x-men" like look of them. To be honest, I've overcome that issue now, and can regularly be seen bombing about cold moors looking like I've just stepped out of a cartoon. Not an issue to me.

Having tried on a variety of different compression tights, (and normal running tights), I am still of the impression that these are pretty much the best that I can find. Why is this?
Lynne using my tights in the snow
We'll start with the fabric. Looking at the obvious competition in the compression market, Skins, I have found that of the various types of Skins that I have tried, they tend to leech heat away from your skin, even on hot days, as soon as I put them on, I feel cold. Not so bad if you are running in heat, but the reason I wear tights is because it is claggy out there, and I really want something that is going to be a bit warmer than just shorts. Having worn Montane Mountain Fury tights, I have to say the same thing about the fabric there too, ok for a short while, but they just leech heat. The CW-X fabric is just a little thicker, but not so thick as to be inordinately hot as you run. Unless you buy the insulated ones (which, I have to say I haven't tried), you won't be too hot running around Britain in the winter, however, you won't feel the biting wind as much as you would in thinner tights.

As to fit, having sold a lot of Skins (somewhat reluctantly) to skiers and runners, I saw an inordinate amount of them returned from ripping within the first week of use. Now, I know they are meant to be tight, but really... so tight that you rip them putting them on? No, I think not. Also, the number of returns that we got was so large that I began to suspect that the fabric may not be quite as resiliant as advertised. But nevermind. This is about CW-X not Skins.

As soon as you put on the Expert tights, you notice that you are putting your knee into a supportive taping kind of niche within the tight. The panels press onto the skin in a not uncomfortable way, and you can feel graduated compression in different areas of the muscles across the quads, the hamstrings and the calf. This is not and all encompassing "compression" across all areas at the same pressure throughout, but a more refined feel.
The support around the knee is similar to that of knee taping used in various sport taping methodologies- the alleged benefits include supporting the muscles and ligaments around the knee for better tracking, and less chance of long term injury, while the general compression across the rest of the tights is good for the venous return of blood from the muscles, giving shorter recovery times.

In the midst of an 8 hour race
Do they work?
They have been my tight of choice since 2002, snowboarding, winter bike riding and adventure and fell racing. In terms of durability in that time, I have abused them quite considerably, they have been dragged through thorn bushes, over concrete, and generally not been looked after in the slightest. To date, they have a small hole in one knee, and the logo appears to be rubbing off. On my most recent excusion in them, in Wales, I could feel the hole in the knee because there was a square centimetre of my knee that was a fair few degrees colder than the rest of me- getting windchill from 30-40mph gusts. The rest of my legs were quite happy and surprisingly well protected from windchill.
They stay up, and are very comfortable- which is a lot more than I can say for a number of other tights. I didn't run in tights for years because I could never find a pair that fit AND stayed up. Generally the crotch ended up quite a way down my legs... not in these, they just seem to work.
I use these under waterproof trousers, or else I get too cold (with nothing else on) or too hot (with another pair of trousers underneath), they get used running, cycling, walking, everything. When running in them in the rain, they are just about the right thickness to keep you warm(ish), and the heat you produce as you run constantly dries them out at the same pace as they get wet. Brilliant.

Do they support?
I will have to be guarded on my thoughts to this one. I don't like the idea that I have to rely on a piece of my gear to make my body work- hence why I don't use these on every single run I go on. I think they do make some difference, if only in terms of proprioceptive feedback. The feel of the material on specific parts of my skin make me aware of muscles and whether they are working properly or not enables me to "biofeedback" to myself.
That sounds very new age and poncy. What I mean is that when I am wearing them, I am more aware of the muscles I am using when I am running. If I am not wearing them, I don't have the same proprioceptive feedback, but the memory of wearing the CW-X tights means that my legs are more used to running with the feel of them, and maybe work better than if I had not ever worn them.

Do they make me faster?
Again, not sure. I've never actually run around a course with them, and then done it without them. I can say that I tend to wear them on longer, endurance like runs. The reason for this is that I figure, after about 8 hours on my feet, my legs aren't quite so biomechanically efficient as they normally are, at that point, they need as much help as they can get to work correctly- I know I said that I don't like to rely on equipment to enable me to run, however, on long distance efforts, anything that might help me from injuring myself through biomechanical inefficiencies brought on by fatigue, is going to be a good thing.
CW-X on a bike
Are they worth the cash?
Yes. Without doubt. The amount of races, runs, rides and fun I have had while wearing these tights makes the price almost irrelevant. Almost. I'm hankering after another pair now, I figure that eventually my current pair are going to give out, and when they do, I want another pair to replace them.
I have a pair of the Expert Shorts, and they will be worn a lot in the coming warmer months (they got a good number of outings in the last year), but I might need some new tights soon.

If you are thinking about getting a pair of compression tights for DURING exercise, as well as post exercise, look no further. Graduated compression, comfortable, durable, proprioceptive feedback and generally very comfortable indeed.
The only problem is getting a hold of a pair in the UK.

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