The idea is that NormaTec’s patented rhythmic series of massage, compression and deflation will help you recover faster by encouraging the pool of deoxygenated blood and other fluids (such as lactic acid) to leave your legs, in order to make room for a new blood flow. It also happens to feel amazing.
Normatec 3 Legs — $799.00
If you’re willing to spend a lot of money to feel amazing, these compression boots deliver the “aaaahhhhs.”
Why does it feel great to wrap your legs in pulsating vinyl air tubes though?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Yes, there is the massage aspect: I have moaned audibly, particularly when the boots tighten around my hips, where I carry so much tension. Meanwhile, my husband enjoys the rush of new blood flow he feels when the tops of the boots decompress, as if he’s getting an infusion of energy back into his tired legs.
“Since pneumatic boots combine aspects of massage and compression, it makes sense that they feel good and make someone feel like they’re reducing pain,” says exercise physiologist Sharon Gam, PhD, CSCS. That’s because research shows that massage and rate compression are the two most effective modalities when it comes to reducing perceptions of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), says Dr. Gam .
But I’ve found that what I really love about them is the fact that the boots make my entire bottom feel weightless. Even when I’m lying on the couch after working out, I still feel like my legs are heavy and I’m still responsible for their existence. Dr. Gam says that’s thanks to all the little stabilizer muscles that still work even when you’re lying down. But the air support of the boots relieves those muscles of their duties.
“You don’t turn completely to jelly when you go to bed, do you?” explains Dr. Gam. “So the boots probably just give you a little bit of structure and support to allow even those small muscles, or the very, very small amount that your main muscles have to remain active, to loosen up. And you perceive it as this weightlessness, or this relief, and that sounds great.”
How compression boots became a recovery tool
Normatec boots are an example of necessity being the mother of invention. The technology was invented by Laura Jacobs, MD, a medical doctor (who happens to be the real mother of Normatec Recovery founder Gilad Jacobs) after she realized there was no effective treatment for breast cancer patients experiencing fluid buildup in your arms from surgeries that caused buildup. in their lymphatic systems. (Pneumatic compression means compressing the lymphatic system.)
Oncologists dismissed the women’s complaints, and the only option for patients was to wrap their arms in ACE bandages and hold them down at night to help with drainage. So Dr. Jacobs, who was a rehabilitation specialist who also had a degree in bioengineering (NBD), decided to make her own device. Thus, Normatec’s patented “Norma Massage” protocol (named after Norma, Dr. Jacobs’s mother) was born.
Several years later, Dr. Jacobs’ son wondered if there might be an application for athletes, including those experiencing swelling due to inflammation and injury. The devices, which cost nearly $5,000 at the time, flew off the shelves, and Jacobs learned through the professional and collegiate athletic programs he sold them to that uninjured athletes also wore the compression boots for recovery. general. That’s how Normatec came up with their “Fresher Legs Faster” marketing slogan, because that’s what athletes were telling them was happening. “By mimicking what the body does naturally, we are accelerating the [recovery] process in a way that also feels great,” says Jacobs.
Today, you can find them in the recovery centers of professional athletes around the world, as well as in people’s living rooms.
What the science says about compression boots and physical recovery
We’ve already established that they feel really great. But when deciding whether it’s worth the money, Dr. Gam warns to be wary of some of the marketing claims: A meta-analysis of studies on the effect of compression boots on performance found little evidence that this type of technology improve performance. When it comes to muscle soreness, Dr. Gam notes that measures to reduce DOMS are often subjective and could even be due to the placebo effect.
“If you feel like you can push yourself a little harder and you recover better, and that helps you give it your all in the next session or not skip a session because you feel like you’re too sore, yeah, I think it’s definitely worth it,” says the Dr Gam. “But I think if you try to take that and connect it to whether or not your body has recovered better, that connection isn’t really clear.”
The keys to true recovery are time, sleep, and healthy nutrition. Dr. Gam says the boots aren’t a replacement for those basics, and if athletes wear them, it’s like a cherry on top of an already personally optimized recovery routine. Given that not everyone works out to the extent that they may feel the need for a high-tech recovery, and because of the price tag, Jacobs acknowledges the boots may not be for everyone. However, he points out that this is the most affordable version of the boot yet: The NormaTec 3s cost hundreds of dollars less than their predecessors and come with a revamped control unit that’s very easy and intuitive to use.
But he also believes that people are making recovery a more important part of their lives and, as a result, are willing to invest in tools geared toward helping them optimize the experience. “We are so proactive with our workouts, with our nutrition,” she says. “We should also be really proactive towards our recovery.” If that means a 30-minute session in these boots, that’s a (reclined) position I’m willing to consider.