The benefits of compression wear in training and recovery is becoming ever-better documented. 2XU have built on the sporting backgrounds of its founders and extensive research and development to create gear trusted by Olympians
Article by Sarah Rodrigues
Whether you’re into fitness or not, many of us will have heard about compression wear and its benefits to training and recovery. It’s the same principle that sees people wearing compression socks on long-haul flights to boost circulation; the idea is that with blood flowing smoothly back to the heart, the muscles are oxygenated and lactic acid flushes away. In addition, by squeezing down on the legs, the amount your muscles oscillate (the vibration that occurs every time your foot hits the ground) is reduced, which lessens fatigue and enables you to run for longer.
Having run the London Marathon earlier this year, not only in that vile 23.2 C heat but also with a painful case of IT Band Syndrome, I’m not ashamed (okay, I’m a little ashamed) to say that I was something of a wreck for the days that followed. Every move was agonising and I didn’t care if I never ran again.
With the Royal Parks Half – usually my favourite event of the year – approaching in October, I don’t want to be suffering in training, and certainly not on the day. Enter 2XU, which completely lived up to the hype, allowing me to incorporate longer training runs into my schedule without the following day’s activities being compromised, and saw me running comfortably on race day, shaving 2.03 minutes off my PB.
So, with all scepticism banished (and enthusiasm for running reignited) I had a chat with New Zealand born and bred Jamie Hunt, co-founder of 2XU and Director of Product Development.
What’s your fitness background and how did you come to be inspired to create the brand?
At age 13 I competed in my first triathlon; 33 years later, I’m still doing triathlons. I raced professionally for 13 or 14 years and was ranked No.3 in the world on the ITU circuit back in the late 1990s. I still race, and two weeks ago I competed in the Hawaii IRONMAN.
Even back in my racing days I had a love of fabrics, technology and product development. When I retired from racing, I got into working with fabrics and textiles with a company in New Zealand and it all started from there.
In terms of science and technology, how do you go about researching fabrics and their efficacy for purpose?
Over time I’ve learned a lot about the different properties of yarns and developed a great understanding of what an athlete needs to perform in all conditions – hot, dry, humid, cold, wet. Taking my knowledge and passion for fabrics and applying it to my professional sports background has proved a great base for developing the very best fabrics for athletic performance.
Can you talk me through the brand’s journey as a company, in terms of founders and investors?
Clyde Davenport, Aidan Clarke and I met by chance back in 2004 and got talking about sport and sportswear. Clyde mentioned there were no truly elite sportswear brands in Australia, and I chimed in and said there was no one really aiming at the top end of the market. The three of us decided to create a brand that very much went after the elite market in its early days. We started with a focus on compression, triathlon, running and cycling; by year three we were the world’s largest triathlon brand, and by year five or six we were known as the most technical compression brand on the planet! The company grew very quickly. Along the way we took on a few investors; Tanarra Capital, which is an Australian-based equity company and L Catterton, which is a branch of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. We now have a great partnership comprising two equity stakeholders and all three company founders.
How do you market yourself?
Early on, we got together with quite a few national and Olympic teams and they took us on board purely due to our product being superior to our competitors. By having this endorsement as one of our main marketing drivers we managed to be seen all over the world with a relatively small marketing spend. We didn’t want to be a brand that “bought” athletes; we wanted them to wear 2XU for their own benefit – that’s been our strategy all the way through. Now we sell to almost every NBA team and we’re very prevalent within the NFL in the US, the EPL in the UK, the AFL in Australia. We also supplied compression to a number of Olympic teams competing in Rio in 2016 and that’s all helped our brand marketing and also helped feed our retail growth strategy.
So what’s your global presence like in terms of retail and online?
We have retail stores all over the world now, from Australia and New Zealand to the US, Mexico, the Nordics and throughout Asia. Our retail footprint is expanding dramatically and likewise, our ecommerce. We’re still not a brand you’re going to find in every city in the world so our ecommerce business is important to be able to service customers in markets where we don’t yet have a retail presence.
Do you partner with any specific races or events?
We’ve been proud to partner with a lot of great events around the world since the early days of the business. Currently we partner with the world’s biggest open water swim (Pier to Pub in Melbourne, Australia), the world’s biggest fun run (City2Surf in Sydney, Australia), the world’s biggest triathlon (Noosa Triathlon Multisport Festival in Noosa, Australia) and dozens more events across a range of sports worldwide. In the past 12 months we’ve also hosted 2XU Compression Runs in Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan, attracting more than 40,000 participants. In the UK, we partner with events including the Brighton Marathon and Castle Triathlon Series, which give thousands of participants exposure to the benefits of 2XU compression for training, performance and recovery.
For those who don’t know – what are the benefits of training and competing in compression gear? How does 2XU differ from others in the market?
Many brands think that making some Lycra fabric into a pair of tights and putting the word “compression” in front of it makes it a compression garment. We spend close to AUD$1 million a year understanding the fibre, fabric, construction, ideal graduation profile and amount of power needed to develop a true compression garment. It’s a science and I’d say probably one in 20 compression brands has any understanding of this.
When it comes to compression, the fabric should be powerful, lightweight, flexible and breathable. These factors are important in creating true compression that promotes blood flow, lowers heart rate, reduces muscle oscillation (or muscle movement), reduces soreness and swelling after exercise, improves body awareness, helps guard against injury and helps muscles recover faster after exercise by increasing lymphatic flow and eliminating waste products. Compression is also beneficial when travelling to minimise the risk of blood pooling and DVT, or if you’re on your feet all day for work.
Independent studies by the Australian Institute of Sport and other world-leading research teams have shown benefits including a five per cent increase in peak power, 18 per cent increase in blood flow, 19 per cent reduced muscle oscillation, 47 per cent reduced muscle soreness and gains of up to 10.6 seconds over a 5km run when wearing 2XU compression.
Do they need to fit tightly for them to work properly? What’s your advice for people who don’t like feeling too squashed?
For the best advantage, compression should be powerful and graduated – where the compression power is greatest at the extremity of the limb – but it doesn’t need to have a tonne of power to be beneficial. Our Active compression is about 16-17mmHg (other compression styles range up to 25-30mmHg), which is not a crazy amount of pressure but is still enough to give you compression benefits and you won’t feel restricted wearing it. 2XU fabric is powerful, lightweight, flexible and breathable, so in general it doesn’t feel restrictive; it feels like a second skin. Ultimately compression needs to have some pressure but with 2XU’s fabric, fit, knowledge of the human anatomy and garment design, our compression doesn’t feel restrictive at all.
What about the view that the clothing needs to be kept on for a good few hours beyond training – is that true? What’s your advice for those who can’t wait to strip off their gear and jump in the shower?
Advice varies based on muscular strength, endurance and the intensity of the workout. Experts recommend wearing compression as soon as possible after a workout and leaving it on for at least an hour, or as long as possible – some athletes even choose to sleep in compression. My recommendation is to wear it for two hours after a workout, or up to four hours after an especially hard training session. Pre-race I like my legs to feel really fresh so I’ll also wear compression for the whole day before I race.
You’re based in New Zealand and spend time in Australia. How much, do you think, does the space and climate of these Southern Hemisphere countries have an impact on the desire to get outside and get active? Is it harder for Brits?
I’ve just been for a 40-minute run along the waterfront in Auckland. In Auckland it’s never too cold, we’re surrounded by ocean and it’s definitely a very active, outdoors lifestyle. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the UK over the years and while the summer is amazing, the winter is long and hard. I find that in cold climates, I get a lot more injuries than I do when I’m in the heat. Wearing compression in the cold is an effective way to warm up before exercise because the garment pressure increases muscle temperature. In turn, faster muscle warm-up helps with flexibility and muscle firing, so there’s a lot to gain by wearing compression in winter in particular.