Compression Clothing - The Science Behind How It Works for Athletes (2023)

Compression Clothing - The Science Behind How It Works for Athletes (1)

Compression clothing has become a staple in the world of sport and athletics. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the gym, out on your favorite running path, or the sidelines of an NBA basketball game. You’re nearly guaranteed to see compression gear on more than a few athletes.

But do these sleeves, pants, and shirts have a real benefit for the everyday athlete? Or have they merely become a fashionable trend to mimic the look and style of our favorite athletes?

This article covers everything you need to know about compression clothing, the science behind how it benefits athletic performance and workout recovery, and includes the best compression gear you can find to add to your own gym bag.

Table of Contents:

  • What Is Compression Clothing
  • The Science Behind How Compression Garments Work
  • 13 Benefits of Wearing Compression Clothing:
    • How It Helps Runners
    • How It Helps Strength Athletes and Bodybuilders
    • Does It Help With Weight Loss?
    • Risks and Side Effects
  • Best Compression Clothing:
    • Pants and Leggings
    • Socks
    • Leg and Arm Sleeves
    • Shorts
    • Shirts
  • Review and Key Takeaways:
(Video) How Compression Gear Works & Improves Athletic Performance..

What Is Compression Clothing

Compression garments are tight forms of clothing designed to supply compression to the body in the localized areas they cover. The most common types of compression gear you’ll find are pants and leggings, leg and arm sleeves, socks, upper body shirts, and even gloves and headwear.

Typically they are manufactured from polyester, nylon, and spandex. The selection or mixture of materials used in the garment is determined by the desired level of tightness or elasticity required for the garment’s purpose. The design can also supply various levels of compression at different points of the body to enhance the pressure gradient they provide.

Pressure gradients are essential for how compression garments work. And now that we have a brief introduction to what these garments are, let’s dive into the details behind the science of how they work, especially for athletic performance and workout recovery.

The Science Behind How Compression Garments Work

Whenever you do any form of exercise, your body needs to supply your muscles with oxygen and remove metabolic byproducts like carbon dioxide. The more efficient your body is at both of these processes, the better your performance output will be.

A significant factor in oxygen delivery and metabolic waste removal isblood circulation. Since oxygen is brought to depleted muscles by your heart pumping blood throughout your body, and picking up oxygen from the lungs along the way, improved blood flow translates directly to enhanced athletic performance and recovery.

Applying compressionto your body helps reduce the diameter of your blood vessels. To help paint a picture of why this improves circulation, think of using a garden hose to wash your car on a summer day. If you turn the water on and let it flow out of the end of the hose, it’s likely not enough pressure to move the water fast enough to wash your car. But if you attach a nozzle to the hose, reducing the diameter the water is flowing through, the water pressure increases dramatically.

Blood vessels work in a similar way. A vein with a larger diameter has a slower fluid velocity than a vein with a smaller diameter. Compression garments help reduce the diameter of your blood vessels to increase blood flow and improve circulation because ofPascal’s Law.

Additionally, creating regions of compression also creates a pressure gradient. Fluids flow from areas of high energy to low energy based on pressure, velocity, and density. This means if you increase pressure and velocity at your limbs, your blood will flow more effectively back towards the heart since it is at a lower pressure.

13 Benefits of Wearing Compression Clothing:

  1. Improve Athletic Performance
  2. Accelerate Post-Workout Recovery
  3. Improve Circulation
  4. IncreaseProprioception(Awareness of the position and movement of the body)
  5. Improve Energy Utilization and Running Economy
  6. Reduce Muscle Fatigue and Time to Exhaustion
  7. Improve Temperature Regulation
  8. Positive Benefit on Controlled Force Output
  9. Reduce Impact Shock
  10. Lower Perceived Exertion
  11. Reduce Inflammation
  12. Reduce Muscle Soreness
  13. Reduce Risk of Injury

How It Helps Runners

Improved circulation plays a significant role in your running performance and recovery between training sessions.

Astudy by Sports Medicine in 2016showed that compression garments produced an improvement in endurance performance variables like time to exhaustion, muscle temperature, biomechanics, and effort perception. Ultimately improving your running economy. Additionally, the study suggests that endurance athletes will also benefit from compression gear reducing muscle pain, exercise-induced damage, and inflammation.

(Video) How Compression Pants Work And Why They Are So Popular

The recovery benefits of compression garments also have substantial implications for endurance athletes and runners. Your body’s ability to recover from session to session dictates your progress over time.

Improved output during training and enhanced recovery post-workout is a recipe for helping you become a better runner in the long term.

How It Helps Strength Athletes and Bodybuilders

If you’re a strength athlete or trying to pack on muscle mass and spending a ton of time in the weight room(and in the kitchen), chances are you’re constantly looking for ways to improve performance and accelerate recovery.

In 2018 theJournal of Strength and Conditioning Researchfound that compression garments can positively benefit controlled force output after strenuous exercise. Additionally,Medicine and Science in Sports Exercisefound that wearing compression clothing post-resistance training facilitates the recovery of muscular strength.

Most progress for strength and muscle growth occurs outside of the gym. When you break your muscles down, your body needs to have an environment to effectively build you back stronger. Including compression is just anotherrecovery protocolthat shifts your body into a more conducive environment to bring you faster results.

Does It Help With Weight Loss?

Like many tools in the fitness industry, compression clothing fell victim to a long series of poor marketing choices claiming to help “melt fat away without exercise.”

While at this time, there isn’t much research supporting the idea that compression garments alone will make you lose weight, there are a few areas where they can help you with your weight loss goals.

The first way compression gear can help you in your weight loss journey is to benefit your recovery process. Like any other athlete, if you’re working out, your progress occurs through your ability to recover and improve your performance between training sessions. If you’re not fully recovered, you won’t be at the top of your game for your workout of the day. Which means you’re leaving untapped progress on the table.

The second way it can help you while training for weight loss is to reduce exercise impact shock and improve biomechanics. Both of these factors play a critical role in keeping you injury-free. An unsuspecting injury can put you on the sidelines and stall your progress towards reaching your goals.

Just remember, there are no magic pills for “exercise-free results” in fitness. But there are tools that can help you along the way when used correctly.

(Video) The Benefits of Wearing Compression Clothing

Risks and Side Effects:

It’s always important to first talk to your doctor or preferred healthcare provider whenever you start a new fitness or recovery protocol – especially if you have any underlying health conditions. Some medical conditions can have adverse reactions to compression and muscle constriction.

Common side effects can include allergic reaction to garment materials, skin irritation, blistering, or rashes from contact with the skin. Additionally, circulation loss can occur if the compression garments are fitted improperly or too tight.

Best Compression Clothing:

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Compression Pants and Leggings

Compression pants and leggings have become a staple part of both fitness and leisure alike. Endurance athletes and sports heavy on running and lower body movements use them to take advantage of the improved circulation and recovery benefits they provide.

The popularity (and comfort) of compression pants has led to an explosion of‘athleisure’pants and leggings designed with all-day comfort and versatility in mind.

When you’re on the hunt to buy a pair of compression pants or leggings, the most important thing to look for is matching the compression level to the garment’s purpose. A legging designed for comfort may not provide the compression required for the athletic performance benefits they provide. Conversely, a pair that is too tight may not be suitable for all-day wear and leisure.

Compression Socks

Compression socks are where compression sportswear got its start. Dating back all the way to the 1950s, they were first invented as a medical device to treat varicose veins and poor circulation.

As time went on, the overlapping benefits of this intervention gradually made their way into the world of fitness. The feet being one of the body’s extremities means it is a common place for poor circulation to occur. For athletes, poor circulation to the feet and lower leg can translate to diminished athletic performance.

Now there are a wide variety of compression socks on the market. There’s a specialized sock for nearly every need, from general improvements in blood flow to improving stability and ankle dorsiflexion.

Compression Leg and Arm Sleeves

Compression sleeves for the legs and arms allow you to apply isolated compression to parts of your arms and legs of your body without having to wear a full set of pants or shirts.

(Video) What Do Compression Tights Do for Athletes

The first benefit to leg and arm sleeves is the ability to target specific muscle groups that need a bit more attention and create pressure gradients to improve the blood flow.

The second is for convenience and restriction. Sliding on an arm sleeve mid-match for your throwing arm is much easier than heading into the locker room to change your base layer. And tight compression gear could potentially create unwanted restriction or irritation for parts of your body you’d rather have unrestrained.

Compression Shorts

If you’re in a warm environment or only want to target the upper chain of your lower body, compression shorts are the perfect option.

Compression shorts target your glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings. And for some athletes, shorts provide less opportunity for chafing and restriction than a full-length set of pants. They allow you to maintain compression for your core lower-body muscle groups while allowing you to maintain comfort and temperature control while you train.

And honestly, many athletes wear them because they’re just far more comfortable than regular underwear while competing in sports or working out.

Compression Shirts

Compression shirts provide support and improved circulation for your upper body. Additionally, they are commonly used to maintain core body temperature in the cold as a base layer. And also to help keep you cool when it’s hot by spreading your sweat to improve evaporative cooling.

Additionally, sometimes loose clothing can get in the way of athletic performance. Compression shirts keep everything tight, aerodynamic, and allow you to reduce impact force during exercise.

Review and Key Takeaways:

Compression garments aren’t a magic bullet that will transform your athletic performance and workout recovery. However, they are valuable tools that do provide benefits for athletes to help you reach your performance and recovery goals.

The two primary benefits you receive from compression clothing are improved circulation and support. Improved circulation helps you along the way to enhanced results both in training and throughout recovery. And additional support helps you stay injury-free, keeping you from having to take an extended time on the sidelines not making progress.

Ultimately, the best way to determine if compression gear is right for you is to try them out for yourself. Some athletes notice the benefits to their performance and recovery right away. In contrast, others may find them personally uncomfortable or not worth making the change to their current setup. Every athlete is different. Which highlights the importance of getting in-tune with your own body to determine which training and recovery protocols work best for you individually.

(Video) Gym compression wear... it really works!

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FAQs

How do compression garments help athletes? ›

The compression acts almost like a low-level massage, putting pressure on muscles to minimize delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Compression garments raise the temperature of the skin and tissues to increase blood flow and promote healing, the same way that heat therapy does.

Does compression help athletic performance? ›

Research suggests that compression garments do not greatly improve circulation or performance during a workout,” he explains. It does, however, have a role in recovery. “Wearing a compression garment is more effective after your workout,” Dr. Kester says.

What is the science behind compression sleeves? ›

Compression wear works because it helps the flow of oxygen. Oxygen fuels muscles during exercise, powering you to go further and faster. It's the heart that delivers oxygen to the muscles: blood passes through the lungs, where it picks up oxygen to deliver to muscles.

Why do athletes wear compression pants? ›

They help reduce soreness: After your workout is done, compression pants can help reduce inflammation and assist the lymphatic system to drain lactic acid built up from exercising. You may feel less sore the next day and experience less delayed onset muscle soreness as a result.

Does compression clothing actually work? ›

There's no consistent evidence to suggest that compression wear: Enhances performance in any sport. Helps with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

Do compression garments really work? ›

The evidence suggests that wearing compression garments while training does not affect performance. However, wearing compression garments for up to 24 hours after training seems to speed up recovery and decrease the feelings of soreness. This is particularly useful if you are training multiple times per week.

What does compression do for muscles? ›

At its most basic, compressing the muscles helps blood flow through the body more efficiently. Compression prevents blood from pooling in the body. Most people realize that compression garments are often used to reduce or prevent swelling, but there are many other uses for compression as well.

Do compression shirts increase circulation? ›

Compression clothing is made to improve blood circulation and provide better oxygen flow to the muscles during and after exercise.

What is the advantage of compression clothing? ›

Compression clothing is believed to increase blood pressure, lessen muscle soreness after exercise, and prevent blood pooling (the causes of the pain that you feel after an intense workout). In addition, it can help you perform better for a longer duration.

Do compression sleeves improve performance? ›

There is research that indicates compression gear can improve performance and recovery,” says Cleverly. “But there's also research that shows the benefit is purely a psychological one.” For some, the garments help athletes feel safer doing certain moves on the playing field.

Do compression sleeves help circulation? ›

A compression arm sleeve helps improve blood circulation to reduce excess swelling and build up muscles, ligaments, and tendons to help protect muscles from future injury. Without compression, injury recovery time increases, and regaining full range of motion may not be possible.

Do compression sleeves prevent injury? ›

The main benefit of compression wear is that it keeps the muscles warm, which helps to prevent muscle strain and fatigue and thereby reduces the risk of injury.

Why do NBA players wear compression pants? ›

Since the stretches and warm-up players do before a game is to avoid muscle tightness, compression pants help keep the leg muscles in tip-top condition for a long time. They also do this by trapping warmth within the players' thighs in colder seasons.

Should you sleep in compression clothes? ›

Wearing them 24/7 could also be hard on your skin. Nighttime is a good time to peel them off, rub in some lotion and let your skin breathe. But it's not necessarily harmful to wear compression garments while you're sleeping, especially for short periods.

Why do NFL players wear compression pants? ›

Having players wear correct compression clothing can help improve blood flow, reduce muscle soreness and inflammation, aid in recovery, and help prevent hamstring, quad, groin, and hip flexor injuries.

Does compression help tight muscles? ›

Compression therapy has been around for decades and is a quick and effective medical treatment. Using air pressure that is applied to different parts of your body, compression therapy can increase blood flow and loosen up your muscles.

Does compression garments help with inflammation? ›

Compression clothing is often used for medical purposes such as decreasing inflammation, which could explain why it works for sore muscles.

Can you wear compression tights all day? ›

You should wear your compression stockings during the day and take them off before going to bed. Put them on again first thing in the morning. You should be given at least 2 stockings, or 2 pairs if you're wearing them on both legs. This means you can wear 1 stocking (or pair) while the other is being washed and dried.

How does compression help an injury? ›

Compression wrapping reduces the swelling and keeps blood moving more efficiently in the injured area. All types of compression wraps have the same goal: push out excess fluid and reduce swelling. Leg wounds are the typical candidates for compression wrapping, since gravity makes it hard to move fluid out of the area.

Should I wear compression pants when running? ›

By increasing the flow of oxygenated blood to the muscles after exercise, compression running tights, tops and socks can help to reduce water retention and swelling that may cause discomfort and soreness. The extra blood flow also flushes out the harmful by-products of exercise, such as lactic acid, more quickly.

Is a compression shirt worth it? ›

Research has found that wearing compression garments is effective in eliminating muscle soreness and fatigue. This effect does not only happen when you wear them during exercise, but it lasts till after your workouts. Hence, you will be able to perform better for a longer duration.

How long can I wear compression sleeves? ›

In general, there is no rule about exactly how long you should wear calf sleeves. It's more important to know when you should and shouldn't wear them. Which is covered in the next section. If you are injury free and exercising, you can wear calf sleeves during exercise and up to 12 hours after if necessary.

How tight should compression tops be? ›

It's SO important to get the right size when it comes to Compression Sportswear. Your garments should be Superman tight but should never constrict you.

How long should you wear compression tights after exercise? ›

Compressing after exercising is simple - simply slip on your compression garments within a 3-4 hour time period following a strenuous workout. For best results, it's important to compress clean, dry skin - but make sure to research how compression is best used for your specific sport.

Can compression shirts be harmful? ›

Note: While it's not dangerous to wear a compression shirt or any other compression garment every day for long periods of time, it's really not necessary that you do so, as your body does not require the additional help all the time.

Does compression actually increase blood flow? ›

Compression therapy helps increase blood circulation in the lower legs, ankles and feet. It is an effective treatment for pain and swelling caused by conditions associated with poor circulation, such as chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins.

What are the negative effects of compression socks? ›

As with any treatment option, there are some potential risks of wearing compression socks. Compression socks can cause: Discomfort: At higher pressures, compression socks can feel really tight and uncomfortable. Skin irritation or damage: Signs of irritation may include tingling, itching, redness, or bruising.

Does compression help with fat loss? ›

There is no weight loss benefit to wearing a compression garment.

Why do guys wear compression leggings? ›

Compression tights for men are typically made of moisture-wicking materials, which bring sweat to the surface of the fabric where it can evaporate quickly. This helps keep you dry during your workouts.

Do compression shirts help with anxiety? ›

Calming compression clothing for anxiety

In order to assist with delaying and sometimes avoiding the onset of an anxiety attack, calming compression clothing can be used. Calming compression clothing provides a constant soft 'hug' for the wearer's body.

Why do athletes wear sleeves on one arm? ›

Simply put, the primary function of a compression sleeve is to improve and help regulate blood flow and circulation in the arms.

Why do my legs ache after wearing compression socks? ›

Compression socks can aggravate skin irritation and also cause itching. When compression socks are improperly fitted, redness and temporary dents in your skin may appear on your legs at the edge of the sock's fabric.

What are the benefits of compression leg sleeves? ›

Calf-compression sleeves can help ease that pain as well as:
  • Reduce Leg Fatigue and Swelling.
  • Help with Post-Stress Recovery.
  • Prevent Varicose Veins.
  • Help Deter Blood Clot.
  • Prevents Swelling in the Feet.
  • Control Blood Circulation While Running.
  • Prevents Swelling and Cramps.
  • Helps with Leg Recovery.
12 Apr 2022

How tight should compression sleeve? ›

The knee sleeve should be as tight as possible without restricting any movement. The tightness should help promote blood flow in the knee but not cut off circulation or pinch the skin.

How does compression increase oxygen? ›

Compression is a technique used to increase blood circulation in the body--specifically the blood flowing from your extremities back to your heart to be oxygenized. Compression brands claim that compression wear improves blood circulation meaning more oxygen delivery to muscles resulting in increased performance.

Does compression help with sweat? ›

Compression wear is usually made of a material like nylon or polyester, which helps the body dry faster when you sweat. Compression gear doesn't repel water but lifts it upward instead, so the sweat can evaporate from the surface of the clothes.

How does compression clothing prevent injuries? ›

It protects your muscles

It has also been suggested that compression garments may help to protect muscles during exercise by reducing the impact forces on the muscles which in turn helps to reduce exercise induced inflammation, swelling and muscle damage.

When should you use a compression sleeve? ›

When Should You Wear a Compression Sleeve? Compression sleeves are most commonly worn during exercise, since that's when your muscles most need increased blood flow, oxygen and energy. You can also wear compression sleeves after a workout to support recovery.

Do knee sleeves weaken knees? ›

If you have ever had to wear one, you can almost watch your muscles melt away. On the flip side of this, a knee sleeve that provides compression and warmth to the knee, generally will not limit any range of motion and are not likely to cause any atrophy at all.

Why do guys wear leggings under shorts? ›

There are a few reasons why guys might choose to wear tights under their shorts. Firstly, tights can provide an extra layer of warmth on a cold day. Secondly, tights can help to hold shorts in place and prevent them from riding up. Finally, tights can help to reduce friction and prevent chafing.

Why do basketball players wear double socks? ›

Two Socks Worn Together

You can commonly see basketball players of all ages wearing two pairs of long socks during a game or practice. The double-layer helps eliminate friction between your foot, the shoe and the ankle brace.

Why do basketballers wear arm sleeves? ›

Some players believe the mild compression they provide helps keep their shooting arm warm and improves circulation. Although some studies show improved circulation and reduced soreness, there has been no definitive study on the use of basketball sleeves.

How long should you wear compression garments? ›

Some plastic surgeons may recommend still wearing it full time, but it depends on the pace of your recovery and the extent of it. How long should I wear a compression garment? Dr. Howland recommends that patients wear them for 6 weeks: 2 weeks “around the clock” and then 4 weeks for half the day.

Can you wear compression pants 24 hours a day? ›

Benefits of Compression Wear

24 Hour Comfort - Made with breathable Smart Fabric that moves with you, you can wear them all day, and sleep with them too. You can also wear your compression shorts under skirts and dresses and say goodbye to inner thigh rub, seat and chafing for even more comfort.

Can I take my compression garment off at night? ›

Yes, You will need to wear a compression garment to bed for the first four weeks. For most procedures like tummy tucks, BBLs, lipo and body lifts, you will wear it full time for four weeks including when you sleep. You can take the garment off to go to sleep after 4 weeks.

Why do NBA players wear leg sleeves? ›

Not only is the material comfortable to wear, but it also protects NBA players from scuffing up their knees when falling during basketball games.

Do NBA players wear compression socks? ›

Not every player wear compression gear solely for the health and injury reduction benefits. Many will wear them simply because they look good. Sports, especially basketball, is more fashionable than ever before. Many tights and related compression gear is quite sleek and comes in a variety of colors.

Why are football players pants so tight? ›

But players' pants were being pulled at by opposing teams in order to tackle them. So the pants were made tighter to the body. "It makes the art of tackling more legit," Mr. Sports Source said.

What is the purpose of compression garments? ›

Compression garments provide athletes with various health and performance benefits. By applying a balanced surface pressure to specific body parts, compression garments trigger the acceleration of blood flow and increase oxygen delivery to specific muscle groups.

What is compression used for in sports? ›

The current body of research identifies that compression garments may improve joint awareness, local blood flow, waste product removal, improve running economy, reduce swelling, reduce muscle oscillations, and decrease post-exercise muscle soreness whilst appearing to have no negative impact on performance.

What are the benefits of compression? ›

What Are the Benefits of Compression Therapy?
  • Improved blood flow.
  • Reduced swelling in the legs.
  • Preventing feelings of nausea or dizziness.
  • A reduced risk of blood clots.
  • Aiding in healing leg ulcers – and it can help prevent them from returning.
  • It is an effective treatment for varicose veins.
29 Oct 2021

How does compression help an injury? ›

Compression wrapping reduces the swelling and keeps blood moving more efficiently in the injured area. All types of compression wraps have the same goal: push out excess fluid and reduce swelling. Leg wounds are the typical candidates for compression wrapping, since gravity makes it hard to move fluid out of the area.

What does compression do to muscles? ›

At its most basic, compressing the muscles helps blood flow through the body more efficiently. Compression prevents blood from pooling in the body. Most people realize that compression garments are often used to reduce or prevent swelling, but there are many other uses for compression as well.

Should you sleep in compression clothes? ›

Wearing them 24/7 could also be hard on your skin. Nighttime is a good time to peel them off, rub in some lotion and let your skin breathe. But it's not necessarily harmful to wear compression garments while you're sleeping, especially for short periods.

How tight should a compression garment be? ›

A compression garment should only exert gentle, supportive pressure, so it should lay flat and smooth on the skin. As a general rule, the correct tightness for your compression garment leaves space to slide a hand under without difficulty.

Does compression prevent injury? ›

The main benefit of compression wear is that it keeps the muscles warm, which helps to prevent muscle strain and fatigue and thereby reduces the risk of injury.

Should you wear compression during or after workout? ›

Compressing after exercising is simple - simply slip on your compression garments within a 3-4 hour time period following a strenuous workout. For best results, it's important to compress clean, dry skin - but make sure to research how compression is best used for your specific sport.

What is the purpose of a compression shirt? ›

Designed to increase blood and lymphatic flow to the specified limb, compression wear is said to improve performance and shorten recovery time in both athletes and workout warriors when used post exercise.

Why does compression improve circulation? ›

By squeezing your lower legs, compression therapy helps the veins return blood to your heart and prevent the pooling of blood and swelling.

What are the negative effects of compression socks? ›

As with any treatment option, there are some potential risks of wearing compression socks. Compression socks can cause: Discomfort: At higher pressures, compression socks can feel really tight and uncomfortable. Skin irritation or damage: Signs of irritation may include tingling, itching, redness, or bruising.

How long should you wear compression pants? ›

You should wear your compression stockings during the day and take them off before going to bed. Put them on again first thing in the morning. You should be given at least 2 stockings, or 2 pairs if you're wearing them on both legs. This means you can wear 1 stocking (or pair) while the other is being washed and dried.

Does compression delay healing? ›

COMPRESSION STOPS BLOOD FLOW

Compression products act as a tourniquet and stop your blood from flowing into the area where you need it the most. Without fresh oxygen and nutrients that come with fresh blood, healing simply can't occur.

How does compression reduce inflammation? ›

Compression therapy helps to eliminate swelling. Though it seems counterintuitive, the pressure increases circulation. It does not slow the flow of blood. The improved blood flow helps promote healing, while the pressure helps prevent blood from pooling in the veins.

Does compression help soft tissue damage? ›

A contusion (bruise) is an injury to the soft tissue often produced by a blunt force, such as a kick, fall, or blow. The result will be pain, swelling, and discoloration because of bleeding into the tissue. Treatment for contusions includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.).

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