OK let’s start with the obvious. Calf guards make you look funny, at least they do me. There's something ever so slightly 1980's leg warmers about them, and initially it's difficult to shake off a slight fear that at any moment a bunch of lycra clad leg warmer/calf guard wearers will leap out of the bushes and start singing Fame as they cavort around you....but I’m a convert.
For the unaware, calf guards are basically compression sleeves which extend from just above the ankle to just short of the knee. Their function is fundamentally to protect and support the calf muscles during prolonged periods of exercise through the claimed effects of aiding blood flow, and the reduction in oscillation of the muscles on each impact. It’s also claimed that they aid recovery post exercise.
Why, you might ask, would you wear calf guards rather than compression socks? Why would you expose that bit of skin to any available nettles and the ridicule of your friends? For me, I have tried compression socks, which probably work just fine, however I didn’t get on with the foot part and much prefer to wear my favourite socks (Feetures for me) as well as letting the ankle move more freely.
But do they actually justify putting up with the ridicule? I’ve noticed that pretty much all of the ultra distance runners use some form of compression of the calves, and swear by it. For me they are pretty amazing for those longer runs, and they do allow you to go much longer in comfort. One of the things that has really surprised me is the incredible light weight (I have some which weigh only 11g!), and that after the struggle to get them on and aligned, you soon barely notice that you’re wearing them.
It’s worth saying that even in my limited experience various offerings have markedly different characteristics and efficacy. At one end of the spectrum, Compressport guards are very light and provide moderate support, so are great in warmer weather and for shorter distances. At the other, 2XU’s MCS guards feel really solid and substantial, and are great for more testing conditions.
Downsides? Don’t know if it just happens to me, but after a particularly arduous run, taking them off can trigger instant cramping, almost as if they calves had been storing it up for that moment. Oh, and did I mention the ridicule?