When preparing for a game, there is now so much focus on what we should be putting into our body to help us perform to our best, that we can become guilty of overlooking what we could be putting onto our body. With the ever-advancing clothing technologies that are now available, what we wear has never been so important, as it can enhance our performance without us having to put in the extra work in the nets or in the gym.
You might have noticed an increase in the number of top-class cricketers wearing arm sleeves or compression sleeves, during games. Players such as Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes regularly wear them now, especially when they’re bowling. But what are they and why are more and more top players using them?
How Does Compression Clothing Improve Performance?
The idea behind the design of compression sleeves, or indeed any compression clothing worn by sports people, is to provide pressure to the area of the body it is being worn on, to increase blood and lymphatic flow. This is to improve circulation and the delivery of oxygenated blood and nutrients to the exercising muscle. It also aids the return of blood back to the heart, which improves overall performance and shortens recovery time.
Athletes or sports people who wear compression clothing will often be performing quite repetitive motions, so improved blood circulation will assist better movement for things like throwing and bowling. Add to this the increased muscle support that the sleeves offer to the arm, which help to prevent injury, and you’ll start to understand why there has been such a rise in their popularity in cricket.
Compression Clothing Assists Quicker Recovery
Compression clothing is also helpful during the recovery process. Athletes can experience areas of swelling if they are performing repeated motions, which can lead to muscle inflammation. This swelling can quickly become an irritant and hinder a person’s overall performance, so compression clothing can help to reduce any inflammation by increasing blood flow, which ultimately assists a speedier recovery.
Evidence exists to suggest that an increase in oxygen uptake to the working muscles, a reduction in blood lactate levels, and improved warm-ups have all been witnessed when compression clothing is worn after exercise too.
Compression clothing is even graded in its tightness to ease blood flow and features wicking properties that reduce sweat pooling to keep you warm on a cold day, or cool and a hot day. On cold days, it is imperative that a bowler’s arm, for example, remains warm so that it doesn’t become too cold and stiffen up. Cold and tight muscles can negatively affect your performance and can lead to pulled muscles and other injuries.
Why Are So Many Cricketers Now Wearing Arm Sleeves?
We have definitely seen an increase in the use of arm or compression sleeves in cricket because of the benefits they have for improved blood circulation, which assists better movement for batting, bowling, and throwing. But they can also act as a support.
Take Jofra Archer, for example. His performance as a bowler will be influenced significantly by his ability to use his bowling arm and elbow in an effective and efficient way. His use of compression sleeves not only aids his movement, but also improves his accuracy and the stability of his upper bowling arm muscles. The sleeves can also improve flexion and extension of the upper arm muscles so players can notice extra energy storage and release during the bowling and throwing motion.
Another advantage for cricketers wearing arms sleeves is the protection they give you from the sun. I know this isn’t something we need to worry about too much in the UK, but when you’re outside on the rare occasions that the sun does make an appearance, arm sleeves can block harmful UV rays and protect your skin in those areas.
As well as defending your arms from the sun’s rays, compression sleeves can also protect you from ‘turf burn’. If you are out in the field it is common for your teammates to expect you to make every effort to stop a boundary, including sliding after a ball you are chasing that is heading to the ropes. This is not always the comfortable option if you are wearing a short sleeve top and playing on a hard ground. The arm sleeves are made of durable material so can defend you against turf burn or any cuts and bruises associated with the modern-day fielder.
The Specific Benefits of Wearing Arm Sleeves for Cricket
As we have covered, the biggest benefit of wearing an arm sleeve is the compression which stabilises and relaxes the arm muscles, whilst regulating blood flow. However, it is important to remember that wearing an arm sleeve that is too tight, can cause blood clots or bad blood circulation. If your blood can’t flow freely it can lead to dizziness, exhaustion, or far worse.
If you are a batsman, bowler, or wicket keeper who has been out in the middle for any prolonged period of time, you will have experienced soreness in your arms at some point. This is caused by your muscles swelling or becoming inflamed, so an arm sleeve with good elasticity is recommended to maintain good blood circulation. But they can also prevent fatigue in your muscles, which can lead to cramp, or strains when you are throwing, bowling, or batting, as they are supporting your arms and giving your muscles extra flexibility.
As cricket is a summer game too, you will be playing much of the season under the sun, even in the UK believe it or not. So, the role arm sleeves play in preventing exposure to harmful UV rays shouldn’t be downplayed. They also allow your muscles to breathe, as the fabric used is lightweight yet durable, so you won’t be sweating too much and losing essential fluids on a warm day.
Why Wear an Arm Sleeve Rather Than a Long-Sleeved Top?
If you’re buying kit it is perfectly correct to wonder why you’d want to wear an arm sleeve rather than a long-sleeve top to protect you against things like sun burn, turf burn or to keep your muscles warm. However, one of the benefits of the arm sleeve is comfort and convenience.
Arm sleeves can be worn or removed whenever you want. You can easily keep them on your person without having to wear them and slip them on to your arm if you feel your muscles getting cold or sore.
If you go out in a long sleeve top and the weather improves you can find yourself overheating and sweating, which will impact on your performance. The arm sleeve gives you the flexibility to remove them if you’re too hot or wear them if you’re too cold.
But the main benefit of the arm sleeve is the compression factor, which helps your blood flow, something a long-sleeve top can’t offer.
Choosing the Right Arm Sleeve for You
If you’ve never worn an arm sleeve before, or thought about introducing one into your kit options, it can be easy to think that all arm sleeves are the same. But there are a few things you need to consider before you buy one and trying them on first is a must.
Getting the right size is important. Measure your bicep and subtract 0.5 to 2 inches from it to get a size that should suit you. However, if you buy an arm sleeve based on the bicep size formula, it might not always be correct for you due to the arm density differences in the forearm. Trial and error is the best approach, so use a company that allows you to return sleeves that don’t fit or are uncomfortable.
The next thing to consider is the quality of the fabric. Arm sleeves that have been poorly stitched or made from poor material won’t last long. As with any kit purchase, do your research before parting with your money. A good quality arm sleeve that gives you comfort, protection from injury and is durable, doesn’t have to be expensive, so shop around and read the reviews. Don’t forget about the moisture-wicking properties of the arm sleeve too if you’re likely to be playing in humid conditions.
We mentioned earlier about not downplaying the protection that arm sleeves can provide you with from the sun, and you can choose one that has a high-grade protection from UV rays. If your skin tends to react after exposure to direct sunlight, consider an arm sleeve with at least a UPF 50+ protection.
As also mentioned previously, make sure the arm sleeve is not too tight. This is to prevent any dangers from blood clotting, and from you being in discomfort when you’re playing. The ideal tightness of an arm sleeve will differ from person to person, but make sure it is not pinching your skin or creating any difficulty in your movement when trying them on and try all the positions needed during a game to make sure.
If you feel that the arm sleeve has made your skin suffocate after you have taken it off, then it is probably a little too tight.
Other types of compression clothing you might consider for cricket
While arm sleeves are certainly the most popular compression garments being worn on the cricket pitches, there are some other clothing options that might help your performance too.
In cricket, footwork is hugely important for being a successful batsman and leg performance sleeves could help you to improve your footwork. Much in the same way that arm and elbow sleeves help bowling and throwing, leg compression sleeves can improve the accuracy and efficiency of your leg movements, which can help your footwork.
They can also be useful if you are fielding. When you’re required to sprint after a ball or move quickly to take a catch, you’ll need your leg muscles to be ready to react. Leg compression sleeves or compression tights help the kinetic chain of the lower limbs in the same way that arm and elbow sleeves help the upper limbs.
If you don’t like the idea of wearing something that covers the whole leg, you could consider compression shorts, or better still, compression socks. Whatever position we are playing out on the pitch, we are on our feet and use our calves a lot. Unfortunately, our feet and calves have the anatomical disadvantage of being quite far away from the heart and they must fight the laws of gravity to pump blood away from the area.
Wearing these lower limb garments will assist your blood flow, help to keep your legs warm, improve recovery and counteract any delayed onset of muscle soreness.
There are other compression garments that cover the entire upper body too and provide the same blood flow benefits to the shoulder, back and chest muscles. A compression jersey is also useful on those cold days to help you stay warm, dry, and comfortable on the pitch.
The evidence suggests that compression clothing is kit that is here to stay in cricket and brings with it some clear benefits. It might not be for everyone and trial and error is the best approach. But if you can find an improvement in your performance simply from wearing something, and without having to put in extra hours in the practice nets, what have you got to lose?