Personal Preference – Compex vs Sport Pump Recovery Systems

I’m fortunate to have two types of recovery systems… a Compex (Electrical Muscle Stimulator) and an equivalent to a Sport Pump (Pnuematic Compression System).  I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my personal thoughts on the two systems.

My introduction to recovery equipment started at a demo of RecoveryPump pneumatic system at the Galveston 70.3 a couple of years back.

Relaxing with friends the day before the race...

Relaxing with friends the day before the race…

My initial thought was that these products certainly felt good, and doing a little research seemed to show some benefit in terms of recovery after hard exercise sessions.  My initial interest waned after I started to see the prices.  There are several manufacturers of these type of products, including:  Sport Pump, Recovery Pump, and Normatec to name just a few of the manufacturers.  They range from $900 to almost $1800… yikes!  At the time, I couldn’t rationalize the expense simply as a recovery device.

Things changed a bit after my bike accident.  I was now in a position where I couldn’t do any cardio exercise for three months, my left wrist was broken and slowly healing on it’s own, and my right arm was in a cast or brace for for nearly 6 months.  My muscle mass started falling, and I found my right arm lost 1 1/2″ in diameter.  With broken wrists and a separated shoulder, it’s almost impossible to do any exercise to help regain upper arm strength.

After researching on the web, I decided to purchase a Compex EMS device about a month after my accident.

Using an electronic muscle stimulator to minimize muscle atrophy during recovery.

Using an electronic muscle stimulator to minimize muscle atrophy during recovery.

The intent was not recovery, but rebuilding loss mass.  There are many precautions about using these on injuries.  I spoke with my doctor and therapist before applying them to damaged areas.  What I found:

  • Over a month of use, I was able to regain about 1″ of my lost 1.5″ on my right arm, using the varying strength programs on a regular basis.  I was able to gain about 3/4″ on my left arm (my right arm had more atrophy).
  • Running massage programs decreased the pain in my left ankle, which had been broken in the accident.
  • My therapist used EMS on my right forearm during sessions to work on my forearm muscles, and encouraged me to use my Compex at home.  I avoided the area of my median nerve, which had been damaged in the accident, near my wrist.  Using the Compex on my forearm helped reduce atrophy and pain as well.
  • I also used the Compex on my quads, calves, and shoulders to help slow down the atrophy from lack of exercise.

Overall I think the Compex unit was very useful for rehabilitation And maintaining some degree of muscle mass.  Certainly it couldn’t take the place of biking, running and swimming, but I did have quantifiable results on recouping lost muscle on my arms.

After three months I was able to exercise again, but in some ways… it was like starting from scratch.  I liked the recovery programs on the Compex.  I felt like it did a great job on my quads and glutes, with lesser benefits on my calves.  It helped, but wasn’t as noticeable as in my larger muscles.  Once again I started to wonder about the pneumatic compression devices… would they help recovery any more than the Compex did?

I again started looking at the products on the web, but struggled with the high prices.  Instead, I looked at each manufacturer and found that a few used standard medical pumps and they re-branded.  A quick search on Ebay, and I found I could buy nearly and identical compressor for about 1/3 of a new unit.  I purchased new compression sleeves from the manufacturer, and ended up with nearly the same product, but at a substantially reduced cost.

I’ve had a chance to use both EMS and Pneumatic Compression Sleeves for about 6 months… here are my thoughts:

  • Although I don’t have quantifiable data other than my perceptions, I do think they both help with recovery.  I use them primarily after my long bike rides and long runs, or after workouts with really high intensity factors.  In general, they give you a similar feeling to what your body feels like after a massage… sort of relaxed.  I found them particularly beneficial after a 100% effort, like sprint triathlons.
  • I do use both products.  I feel like the pump does a better job on my feet and calves, while the compex does better on my upper legs and glutes (no glute option on the pumps).
  • If I was going to buy just one product, it would be the Compex.  Besides having recovery programs, it also gives you the option of the strength programs as well, which I used during my accident recovery.  I think it’s an effective tool to put together with a normal strength program as an enhancement, but don’t see it as a replacement to a normal strength program.
  • If I was going to buy the Compex again, would I buy the same model?  Probably not.  I bought the Elite version which was $800+, and would just buy the Performance addition at $500+.  Although I do use some of the additional programs in the Elite that are not in the performance model, they are not that much better to warrant the additional price.  My wife also uses the Compex, although primarily on her back to help alleviate (a little) chronic back pain due to an old injury.
  • I am happy with the price I paid for my pneumatic compression pump, but wouldn’t feel it was worth the full list price of these products (for me).  My wife and daughter also use the recovery pump after their long runs.

Here’s what the Recovery Pump sleeves look like:

Recovery Pump.

Recovery Pump.

Here’s what the Compex looks like:

Using the Compex.

Using the Compex.

Here’s what the Compex looks like in action:

Compex Video

I had visions of using these things while doing other things… but basically you need to be fairly stationary and your legs need to be extended in either case.  I typically use either of these while I’m on the sofa reading, answering email, or watching TV.

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