Monday, 20 February 2012

Salomon 3/4 exo tights

Men in Capris? Whatever next?

No, not Capris. These are 3/4 length running tights. Long enough to keep your knees warm, and short enough to ensure the bottom of your tights don't end up muddy and soggy as you plunge calf deep into some icy bog of horror. I really like the idea and the practicality of this kind of tight, and would have more of them if more different manufacturers made them (and if shops stocked them...)
Using exo tights in the snow
Salomon have made running gear for ages, and have had a go with compression- the Exo series. The basic premise is that there is a tight, which is elastic and provides some form of compression, however, to increase this, they have bonded on a hectagon shaped web thing across the outside of the material.
Its pretty cool to look at, and has some great design opportunities.
The question is, what does it claim to do, and what does it actually do?

Salomon say that the entire Exo range is designed with active compression in mind (as opposed to static compression- think post race and travel compression). They provide stability, a better alignment for the body as it goes through the gait cycle of running (particularly on rough ground or up or downhill, reduces cramp and soreness, and staves off injury.
This is the exact blurb
Run easier : Better alignment of your body to run easier on uneven trails downhill & uphill.
Run longer : Reduce cramping, muscle soreness, saving energy & preventing injuries. +5% of muscle performance.
Recover better : Improve recovery time. +11% of active revovery.

Thats quite a list.
There is also an interesting video on the Salomon website which shows a the quadriceps of a runner in slow motion, jangling all over the place as he foot plants, showing the inefficiencies and wasted energy of the muscles, and then with the exo-tights on, the muscles are kept in much better alignment, and don't waste time flopping all over the place after each and every footstep.

I have no idea how they came up with those numbers, but I'm sure there is some kind of scientific basis for it, though I haven't seem how the tests were done etc.

On the 15 trigs
I have a pair, and have used them extensively for running and adventure racing, so much so that I think they may well be coming to the end of their useful life as compression gear, and may well just have to be used as modesty covering for when I'm out running(!)

First impressions of the tights are that they look pretty swish- with the webbing on the outside of the material. It seems to be bonded pretty well, and with the various claims to keep you going stronger for longer, well, thats in the back of your mind as well. Something that looks like this and feels like this might actually work. Its not relying on the stretchy/squeeziness of the fabric on its own, but rather on the rubber webbing around it.

The hexagonal compression webbing
Put them on, and they immediately feel that bit tighter and solid around the legs than other compression gear I have worn. All around the quads. The compressive pattern doesn't go down as far as the knee, but just encompasses the main bulk of the quads and hamstrings, which is the best place to have it really. There is no gradual compressive force, or specific place in which it compresses- like CW-X, but just an overall general feeling of being squeezed.

Does it make any difference?
Unfortunately I am not in possession of fancy technical measuring stuff like what Salomon has access to, so I can't give specific numbers to talk about. Which is kind of annoying. However, I have quite a lot of experience of wearing them. I used to use them a lot for adventure racing- 8 hours+ of running and cycling, I don't know if it was psycological, or if they actually worked specifically well, but they kept me going right the way through.
I never really used them for shorter efforts- less than 2 hours or so, but more if I was out for a long day. I don't generally experience cramps when I'm running, if I do, its only really when I stop and take my shoes off. In that it stops me from getting cramp when running, I suspect it might be more the Exo-tights in conjunction with correct nutrition and hydration.
The most recent proper long long run I did in them was the Dark Peak 15 trigs. Could I have got around without them? Maybe. Would I have been in a lot more pain than I was? Almost definitely. Would I have been more tired by the end? Not sure if I could have been more tired, to be honest, but I suspect the answer is yes.

Do they work?
I think anything with an amount of compression will work to a point. It makes you (sometimes subconsciously) think about where your muscles are as you run. It gives you the proprioceptive knowledge of how they are working and what they are doing. There is of course the psycological boost- as you are wearing compression gear, it MUST be making a difference, so you MUST be able to keep going further. To be honest, sometimes the psycological edge may be a small one, but that edge is STILL an edge.

Delamination of Compression
I have had my pair for quite a while and they are beginning to destroy themselves. This isn't a recent thing by any means. The exo-skeleton bit of the tight is slowly becoming unbonded from the rest of the tight, meaning that as time goes on it becomes less and less effective as a compression garment. It started about a year to 18 months after I bought them it began to un-bond. At first it was only on the outside of the leg, but soon enough the whole of the bit in front of the quads was beginning to go.
Now, in places, I can get my entire hand behind the webbing.

The good thing about this (always look at the positives!) is that I can tell that where the webbing has become unbonded, the tights DO feel a lot less compressive, so there is indeed something to be said for the technology behind the webbing.
However, the bad thing about this is obviously this makes the tights a whole lot less efficient, less useful, and generally, an expensive garment that is meant to do something, but doesn't. I've been wearing them in this condition for quite a while. Wierdly enough I can actually feel where it is supporting on my leg and where it isn't, so as a test, I suppose its been quite good.

One other thing is the size of the drawstring around the waist. Its tiny, a bit like a garotte. I've never really liked it, and after a couple of runs have found that it really has been digging in a lot as I've done it up too tight. Maybe self-replacement would be the answer, just never got around to it. From looking at the website, they appear to have changed this for a thicker string now. A change for the better.

My version with glute compression
New version
The new glute non-compression
The pair I own is slightly different to the model which is on the market today. The Exo-skeleton covers pretty much the entire tight from the glutes, right the way down the Hamstrings and also all over the quads. The current model appears to have dispensed with the glute area (interesting, as they should be used extensively in running, uphill, and downhill...) and also there is an area across the front of the quads which doesn't have it either. So there is a break of compression directly over a muscle. Interesting. I suspect this may be a triumph of form over function as there is quite a nice Salomon logo there instead.  Coincidentally, the area where the webbing isn't there on the current model is the area in which mine started to de-laminate to begin with. Maybe that happened with a lot of the previous tights, and Salomon just decided that as it wasn't working there, maybe a bit of logo-age would be for the best. 

They still get a lot of use, perhaps only because they are the only pair of 3/4 tights that I own, and that alone makes them very useful. it would be interesting to get hold of a brand new pair and compare them against the old ones, see how much more support they give, especially now they have taken the compression away from the Glutes, and across the middle of the quads-  and whether or not they actually make me feel less fatigued, but I haven't seen them in any shops around me for quite a while.

There are, of course, also the calf socks and the tops (which I suppose work a bit like Asics Inner Muscle range), but I haven't had the opportunity to try them out. If the 3/4 tights are anything to go by, they are good to begin with, but I suspect you get diminishing returns on them as they get older and the compression bonds start to un-weld.

Would I buy them again? Yes, I would, but I still think they need more compression webbing on the glutes, and over the Quads. It seems that the old version is closer to what I would buy than the new.

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