Of Socks, Evidence and the Search for Marginal Gains

Early Sunday morning, I sat in the car trying to write a new blog post. Gill was busy swimming 5K, I was being negligent in my duties as a supporter. An hour later, three failed attempts at a post, I abandoned the idea. I tried again Monday afternoon with no more luck. Which is why Tuesday morning, still struggling to come up with a topic that sufficiently engages me and doesn’t feature a plethora of graphs (I have more of those in the pipeline) I am effectively reviewing a pair of socks.

I feel this needs some background – as this site has grown so to have offers to test out new products; free samples that obviously come with the expectation of a mention. I hate blatant plugs, particularly where interests are undeclared, so for a while I adopted a moral high-ground of sorts, and these offers ended up in the trash. It has always been my aim that while it may – partially – act as a promotional tool for my coaching this site would be open, honest and without bias; writing about free products never felt like a good fit with these goals. On the other hand, if I am interested in something then potentially so are my readers and you’re smart enough to know how these things work.

Triathlon is already overrun with products offering performance benefits, backed up by scant science and ample marketing. To a degree we bring it on ourselves through a seemingly insatiable appetite for the new whenever it promises even the tiniest impact on our results. I can’t claim superiority, I’ve owned my fair share of Snake Oil, though experience has bred a cynicism that largely steers me clear of the untested. Before I’m willing to invest my money I want some form of evidence, certainly more than testimonials or reviews quoting heavily from a press release, some peer-reviewed science is a good background. Of course I’ll speculate – I tried compression clothing when it first came to market and I liked it, I continue to use it, even when the evidence is not always clear cut, for me it works. That’s the acid test: do I believe, placebo or otherwise, the product benefits me. And, as an important caveat: does it come at a price I’m willing to pay.

Pro-3 Incredisocks - read their claimed benefits and judge for yourselfWhich brings me to the socks. Incredisocks are ’a breakthrough in infrared textile technology’, they have a ’unique Carbonized Charcoal Anion Technology’ that – apparently – increases circulation in the feet and can, let’s stress that can, improve recovery and performance. At least that’s what the packaging claims. Searches for more information about anion technology and its impact on performance or even circulation offered little more than repetition of these bold, unsubstantiated claims; I’d welcome some clear research. At this point I was sceptical. I had my doubts about this anion technology, it’s capacity to improve blood flow and more to the point that there was actually a need to improve blood flow to my feet during training. But having received a trial pair in the post I could test these claims for myself.

They are good socks – they fit well and are comfortable to wear, I can’t dispute their quality. These are far superior to my normal Decathlon £3 for three pairs specials, but their ability to perform as a sock was never in question. It was the other claimed benefits I doubted and when put to the test I felt no difference. Perhaps there was greater blood flow to my feet, I have no way of knowing, but whatever the case performance and recovery were comparable with any other training run. I’ll admit this is as anecdotal as the testimonies on the Incrediwear website; three runs hardly qualifies as a clinical trial, but I lack the resources for a double-blind test and as amusing as the idea of wearing odd socks to see if one foot fatigues more than the other is, it also feels silly. My testimonial, should they want it, is they are comfortable socks and nothing more. Clearly some believe they work – I don’t.

Had they limited claims to comfort and quality I’d be happy to accept that, but of course that would garner little attention and hardly justify the current £12.95 price tag. Instead Incredisocks are another product carefully suggesting a host of hard-to-prove statements as part of a pitch to those looking for any edge in their training. We each have to make a judgment on the evidence – I use the term in a loose sense – these products present; I know where I stand and will stick with a system of investing in cheap socks and hours of training as an effective means of performance enhancement.

If you’re interested in trying a pair of Incredisocks yourself, you can buy them from Incrediwear Direct.