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As someone who's been a competitive distance runner for over half of her life, I’m often researching and following trends to help myself get the best out of my recovery routine so I can train and compete injury-free. From using massage guns to foam rolling, my tired muscles after workouts, I’m a bit of a recovery nut.
So when I got my hands (well, legs) on the $179 ReAthlete Air C +Heat compression massager, I couldn’t wait to try it in the middle of my current training block. It’s not every day that you get to zip yourself into what amounts to be giant pressurized pants!
Whether you’re trying to make the most out of your fitness routine, have chronic leg pain, or simply want to get the blood flowing, here’s how full-leg compression sleeves can aid in your muscle recovery.
What are compression boots?
Compression boots, also called compression sleeves or leg compression massagers, are similar in concept to wearing compression socks. Both provide external pressure to help increase blood flow and circulation while decreasing inflammation in the target areas. But unlike compression socks, the boots act as active recovery tools rather than passive ones. They provide an air-pressure-based massage that compresses specific areas of your legs through predesigned sequences.
Due to their potential recovery benefits, compression massagers are often used among elite athletes as another method to gain better results during heavy training. After all, the better you’re able to recover from workouts, the better your training quality and competitive results will be. They’re also quite pricey, with the best known model, Hyperice Normatec, charging $900 for a pair, making the purchase more attractive for a training facility where a lot of people can reap the benefits.
The good news is that the use of compression boots doesn’t stop with athletes. Whether you’re dealing with muscle pain from standing on your feet all day or in need of some stress management and relaxation, these massagers can work to soothe your muscles when they need some TLC.
What is the ReAthlete air compression massager?
The ReAthlete Air C +Heat massager fits like pant legs that cover everything from your thighs to your toes. When putting it on, it's best to start from the toes and work upwards to wrap the velcro sleeves around the calves and thighs. Once you plug the boots into the remote control, you have three massage modes for your compression experience: an entire leg massage, a thighs-and-calves-only massage, and a feet-only Shiatsu massage.
Using the remote, you can adjust the level of compression intensity from one (being the lightest) to four (being the most intense). Though the ReAthlete is primarily a massager, the section of the boot over the knees acts as an optional heating pad that does not compress.
How I tested the ReAthlete compression massager
I used the ReAthlete compression massager after workouts over a span of seven weeks, two to four times a week. Typically, I opted for the boots after workouts that were especially tough and draining days on my legs, from hard endurance intervals to track races to long runs of up to 15 miles.
Though sometimes it felt like a chore to sit still for 30 to 60 minutes in immovable boots, I got into the routine of using them in my downtime. It felt nice to sit back and either read or watch TV while decompressing (pun intended) from the day.
It only took a few uses to find my sweet spot when it came to level of intensity and what areas worked on me the best. I found that level two was the perfect middle ground when wanting to soothe my legs without feeling like the compression was too much or too little. The thigh and calf compression points stood out the most no matter what intensity setting I set them on as they felt firm, but not super tight during their sequences.
Though the device is called a “massager,” it never dug into the target areas as much as it was squeezing at different pressures and cadences throughout the length of the massage.
What I like about the ReAthlete Air C +Heat massager
My favorite thing about this compression massager is that it's extremely portable. It folds up well and doesn't take up too much space by itself or in its carrying case, and it's super packable and lightweight. I’ve had no problem bringing it with me on the go for weekend trips or storing it in my closet when I’m cleaning—a big plus living in a tight Boston apartment.
It’s easy to use
I found the device fairly easy to use and not overwhelming when navigating the remote control. With adjustments for four intensities and three massage modes, it offers just what I’m looking for without complicating things.
The sleeves fit a range of heights and body sizes
The adjustable leg sleeves make this device inclusive and hassle-free when it comes to finding the right fit, and the boots come with extra material to add on for different heights and body types.
It's a good value
For the quality of massage and overall experience of using the product, the price of under $200 is fair and reasonable. With competitors costing in the high hundreds to thousands of dollars, it’s nice to have a lower-budget option that offers good quality and value.
What I don’t like about the ReAthlete Air C +Heat massager
Because the setup process includes unfolding the boots, velcroing each section around the legs, and plugging in the remote, I found it took at least 5 to 10 minutes before I was able to start my recovery session. The convenience of just slipping on the boots like a pair of pants a la Normatec is just not there, which sometimes felt like a barrier to wanting to use the ReAthlete product at all. With the length of setup plus another minimum 30 minutes of use, it felt like a time commitment.
The sleeves aren’t completely enveloping
I found the straps around the knees to be awkward-fitting. Even with the adjustable velcro padding, if I wasn’t using the heating options, my knees were just sitting there partially out in the open. The lower part of the sleeves didn’t entirely cover my ankles, either, so having exposed parts of my legs was a bit distracting and made the overall experience feel less immersive than I would have liked.
It lacks detailed instructions
Lastly, the instructions on how the boots should fit and feel were vague, especially if you're someone with minimal usage or knowledge of compression massage. It would be useful to someone new to this type of device to have a benchmark for how tight the boots should be and when to know if the sensations are good or bad in order to get the most out of each wear.
Based on my experience with Normatec, I knew that the fit should be tight but comfortable, and that the compression should never feel painful or cause discomfort in any way. If the boots leave skin marks or cut off circulation when in use, they’re too tight.
My teammates and training partners recommend using any compression sleeves after particularly tough days, and to slowly increase the length of each session over time based on the body’s recovery needs—but none of this info was included with the device itself. Yes, operating the remote itself was simple, but I found the lack of information on the appropriate amount of use and the signs of negative use for beginners worriesome.
How does ReAthlete compare to Normatec?
My first introduction with compression boots were with the Hyperice Normatec boots, which at $800 cost over $600 more than the ReAthlete ones. Though my time with the Normatecs wasn’t extensive, I noticed two major differences from my budget-friendly boot sleeves: The Normatecs provided a more firm and cushioned compression, and the setup and takedown of the boot was much easier.
Because the Normatec boots are designed like pants that fully engulf the legs, the overall process of putting them on and taking them off is much easier and quicker. With the ReAthlete, you have to size and velcro each section of your thighs, calves, and feet one by one—it takes minutes rather than seconds.
As for features, the Normatecs have several more intensity settings and options than the ReAthlete, providing for more specific compression massages if needed. The Normatecs’ controls are also “smarter,” in that it has app-enabling features that let you program your compression massage from your phone.
At the end of the day, it’s about the recovery aspect and what works and feels the best for your muscles. Though the pricey Normatec boots offer a more aggressive feel and a few more intensity settings, the ReAthlete product provides a comparable compression experience for just a little more work—and a lot less cash.
Is the ReAthlete Air C +Heat massager worth it?
If you have an intense fitness routine, stand or walk a lot for work, or often suffer from achy legs, I’d say yes. At just under $200, it may feel like an investment, but considering its much pricier competitors and the quality of recovery it offers, this is the recovery tool that I didn’t know I needed. I’d rather use them and feel a little less sore than not have that option at all.
One thing is for sure: I’ve run three personal records so far while adding this device to my recovery routine. And while I can’t say the massager is the only reason, I have to assume it hasn’t hurt. The bottom line: It’s all about what works for you and whether this aids in your recovery or makes you feel relaxed. The ReAthlete Air C +Heat massager isn’t leaving my routine any time soon.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.