That is a very good question!
The short answer is for recovery. After a training session (when you have of course done your stretches), wear your compression socks to aid recovery, along with an appropriate post training snack or meal.
Rehabilitation is another time to pull those sleeves on (I personally find sleeves much easier than socks). Following a treatment or a specific series of exercises you have been prescribed, or even after a foam roller session (because I know you do those religiously), use the compression to help your muscles recover.
I would personally not recommend that compression socks/sleeves/guards (whatever your preferred terminology) are used during regular training. My reason for this is simple: To let your muscles respond to training and adaptation as naturally as possible and be aware of those pesky niggles that could otherwise result in an injury.
Ideally compression aids would not be used for races either, but I do see how this can be beneficial under controlled circumstances rather than to simply help the muscles do something that they are not in the right form to do.
However, as runners we are not patient and little niggles do appear just at the wrong time, i.e. just before a race you have been training for. The most sensible option is to not race. But I know you have probably just scoffed at that idea and possibly even stopped reading.
If you are still with me, you most likely know that not racing is the most sensible option but are equally hoping I am going to offer an alternative. And you would be correct. Whilst I never recommend anyone trains, let alone races through pain, I do appreciate we are not all Mo Farah and the majority of races are for the purpose of fun and enjoyment (yes really!).
If you find yourself with a niggle the week before a race and you have made the decision to run anyway, I would suggest you follow these steps:
- Don’t do your planned training that week
- Get a Sports Massage
- Do some foam roller exercises
- Wear your compression aids as per the rehabilitation/recovery guidelines above
Come race day you need to apply common sense vs your desire to race and consider the implications if you made your niggle worse. If all feels good and you choose to race then (and here is where I go against all the advice above) wear your compression aids. If you’re adamant you’re going to run then at least do it with as much support as you can. Good luck! I really hope you enjoy it and it goes well. And remember, it is more than OK to not finish the race if things don’t go to plan; revisit your common sense vs desire to race mental assessment and make the right choice.
Afterwards (yes there’s more) you should rest and let it recover properly before going straight back into training again. By all means cross train and continue with your strength training (avoiding the niggled area) but get it checked out and, most importantly, follow advice!