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According to most fitness experts, workout recovery is just as important as the workout itself. Recently, athletes of all levels are embracing a new recovery technology: compression boots. The bulky devices can seem odd, but, the truth is, the best compression boots really do work. Below is a quick guide to how they work, who should use them and which brands to buy right now.
What Are Compression Boots?
Using air chambers, the boots pulse and use compression to essentially give your legs and feet a massage, encouraging blood flow and helping you recover after a strenuous workout. The goal is to recover faster, feel less sore and help you perform better during your next workout.
In other words, compression boots provide active recovery (as you’d get with a sports massage or gentle yoga) without the need to actually be active. That means you can reap the benefits of active recovery while working at a desk, reading, watching TV or just scrolling TikTok.
If you’re looking to train harder, compression boots are well worth trying. They’re especially good for runners and anyone playing ball sports (where legs get especially fatigued), although lifters and CrossFit enthusiasts can also benefit from the massaging devices.
Compression Boots Buying Guide
Because compression boots are a relatively new technology, there’s a large discrepancy between the good and the bad. Here are a few things we looked for while choosing the best compression boots.
Fit: Most brands offer compression boots in various sizes. Fit is very important, as too-large compression boots won’t massage deep enough, and boots that are too small will feel very uncomfortable. Be sure to refer to the brand’s compression chart, if available, and see which size to order. You’ll want to know your exact inseam length and total height to choose the proper size.
Adjustability: The best compression boots let you choose the pressure level of each pulse, while others even let you work on isolated zones within the leg. Look out for adjustability features such as these, as well as compression boots with intuitive, easy-to-use control panels.
Chambers: The more air chambers a pair of boots has, the better. Ideally, compression boots should have at least four separate air chambers for a comprehensive massage.
Noise: One of the major benefits of compression boots is that you can recover while doing other things like, say, watching TV or chatting with friends. However, doing those other activities can be hard if the compression boots’ air pump is too loud. For this reason, we tried to find boots with the quietest possible air units.
Cleaning: Because compression boots can get warm and are meant to be used after exercise, they’re bound to get sweaty. You’ll therefore want a pair that can be unfolded and easily cleaned between uses.
What Are the Best Compression Boots?
1. Therabody RecoveryAir JetBoots
New to compression boots? Pick up these RecoveryAir JetBoots from Therabody. They’re the first compression boots to use an integrated pump in the feet and a completely wireless design. This makes it easy to use the JetBoots everywhere (i.e. without an outlet), and you don’t need to lug around a bulky plug-in air pump or tubes like all other recovery boots.
After putting the boots on, use the small control panels on either boot to adjust massage time and pressure intensity. Despite their wireless design, the boots offer just as much squeeze as wired options. The JetBoots also use Therabody’s TruGrade Technology, which fills each of the four chambers sequentially. Most recovery boots fill each chamber on a timer, whereas the JetBoots monitor the progressive compression and know when the next chamber should be filled. Plus, TheraBody says the JetBoots inflate two to three times faster than boots from other companies, which theoretically yields faster recovery.
We spent a couple weeks testing the JetBoots after workouts, before runs, and even on rest days, and they really work. Besides feeling good during the massage, we noticed less soreness when we used the JetBoots after a workout and slightly better performance when we used them before exercising.
2. Rapid Reboot Recovery System
This Rapid Reboot system ticks all the right boxes. For starters, the boots are offered in five different sizes for a well-fitting pair no matter your height. The boots themselves are sturdy thanks to a durable rip-stop material. Plus, quality is backed by a standard two-year warranty.
On the features front, the Rapid Reboot system does very well. Using a compact, intuitive air unit-slash-control panel, you can adjust the pressure to 10 different levels, set timers and activate or deactivate certain chambers. This last setting means you can massage with individual air chambers (there are four total) for localized recovery (say, just your feet and calves after a long hike). Once you’re done, the boots’ seamless interior allows for easy cleaning.
3. Therabody RecoveryAir
Therabody’s newest RecoveryAir system offers one of the best full-leg recovery massages around. The highlight is a true negative gradient of pressure, which, put simply, means a smoother and fuller massage cycle that doesn’t miss any areas. This high-quality pressure application comes from RecoveryAir’s four overlapping air chambers.
We’re also fans of RecoveryAir’s compact pneumatic one-touch control unit. The device features easy controls for massage time and precise pressure intensity. Cleaning is easy thanks to a seamless interior, and three size options are enough to get a proper fit. The only downside with the RecoveryAir is that it doesn’t allow for isolated massaging, but we think the fantastic true negative gradient system more than makes up for that.
4. Hyperice Normatec 3 Legs
The Hyperice Normatec is probably the most popular compression boot system on the market, and the newest Nomatec 3 uses that same dynamic air compression to help relieve pain. Some professional sports teams, such as the Baltimore Ravens, have even set up rooms for Normatec-enhanced recovery. And the system’s popularity is well-founded. It uses an effective, patented compression sequence, and it’s even been cleared by the FDA as a treatment for muscle pain, soreness and improved blood circulation. Using a very compact control panel, users can choose from seven levels of intensity, set the treatment time and choose a specific chamber to “boost” for extra attention in a certain area. It’s also got three hours of battery life and is TSA-approved if you need to take it with you on your next trip.
5. Air Relax Sequential Compression Device
This compression device from Air Relax is another FDA-cleared option. Another big draw for us is the Air Relax’s control unit, which lets you choose four different modes (peristaltic, sequential, massage and peristaltic + sequential) for a varied session depending on what you need. You can also activate or deactivate each of the four air chambers and change the pressure between four intensity settings. Air Relax’s boots themselves are durable and effective at keeping air contained, plus a one-year warranty provides some peace of mind in case of any problems.
6. Doctor Life Recovery Compression System
If your arms or abdomen need attention after lifting, check out this compression system from Dr. Life. In addition to two boots, the package includes an arm massager and a waist sleeve — all of which hook up to the same air pump. Each piece also has four air chambers, allowing for targeted relief via the control panel. This control panel also lets you set 10, 20 or 30-minute timers and change the pressure between 10 different levels. There are three size options available, although they start at large and go to XL or XXL.