I Tried Recovery Boots After Running — Here's What Happened

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When I was a youth (or, you know, more of a youth), the term "recovery" meant something much different from what it does now. Most of the time it meant putting an ice pack or medicated balm on whatever was sore or hurting—or if you were Rocky-level intense, you could hop in a less-than-pleasant ice bath. Anything to feel better, right?

Nowadays, recovery has expanded beyond the "First Aid" aisle of drugstores. Everything from supplements to topical creams is fair game in the recovery realm, and technology has taken recovery solutions to a whole new level, especially in the last few years. As a runner, I'm always looking for ways to relieve soreness and tightness in my legs—and as a fitness editor, I'll try anything once. So while training for my latest half marathon, I decided to give compression boots (aka padded compression leg sleeves) a try.

What are recovery boots?

If you follow any fitness instructors or personal trainers on Instagram, you may have seen videos of them wearing large black leg sleeves (they remind me of the leg pads that hockey goalies wear). They usually don these after they've taught a class or finished an intense workout, especially if they've been running or on their feet for a long period of time.

These recovery boots (or compression boots) are produced by a company called NormaTec, and they're kind of like leg massagers. To use them, you simply slip your legs into the sleeves like you would a sleeping bag or pair of oversized pants. Then you recline, turn the boots on, and let technology do the rest.

According to NormaTec the boots utilize a technology called "biomimicry." Instead of simply compressing your legs (like that sleeve doctors wrap around your upper arm to take your blood pressure), the sleeves use "dynamic compression," otherwise known as pulsing. The idea is that the pulsing "mimics the muscle pump of the legs, greatly enhancing the movement of fluid and metabolites out of the limbs after an intense workout." As a result, users can expect to experience increased circulation, reduced soreness, and ultimately, better athletic performance. Sounds almost unreal, right?

Here's what happened.

After a particularly long run, I decided to book myself a session to try the recovery boots (your best options to try them are to find a studio or recovery center near you that offers them, try them out at a race expo, or purchase them). As a typical skeptic, I knew these boots would massage my legs, but I didn't think they'd do much else. I've been in plenty of Costco massage chairs—how different could this be?

I was wrong. These boots are bliss. I won't detail every second of the 30 minutes I spent wearing them, but it was one of the best recovery technologies I've tried (and sure as hell beats sitting in an ice bath or wincing while foam rolling sore muscles). The compression feels like a pointed, gradual massage—it never felt like too much pressure, but if it does, you can adjust the air pressure levels to whatever feels comfortable. My legs went from feeling heavy and fatigued to feeling lighter and refreshed.

Did it cure my soreness completely? Of course not. Soreness, as we know, is a by-product of tearing small holes in our muscles, which I can certainly say I did during my strenuous long run. There is no "cure-all" for soreness—there are plenty of methods that can help, like various forms of magnesium and gentle cardio, but at the end of the day, your muscles will be sore until they've had time to properly recover. But in my opinion, there's something to be said for getting the blood flowing to your muscles, moving the by-product of muscle breakdown around, and doing what you can to feel better in that moment (or in this case, 30 minutes).

Would I pay for this service after every run or workout? No, but that's mostly because it's not something I feel I need after every workout. That said, if I need a light at the end of the tunnel (or at the end of a long run or hard-as-hell workout), there's no question: I'm booking a session.

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