Athletic compression gear has been on a steady upward march for the past decade. Buoyed by the Under Armour brand’s product variety and marketing budget, the entire compression industry has seen significant growth in recent years. 2016 brings a few trends that should give athletes and fitness enthusiasts more choice and ultimately better quality for a lower price.
While UA does a nice job with their production and marketing, it isn’t just about them anymore. Several notable compression wear makers are now on the market and cranking out good products. Here are a few things we are seeing in the compression gear market.
These most definitely aren’t your grandmother’s compression socks. Compression socks have seen a boom in the past few years, in all parts of the market. On the higher-end of the market, you have high-performance compression socks by established companies such as 2XU and Skins. The Skins Essentials Active socks give you flatlock stitching and a very thin sock that goes nearly to the knee. At the higher end, you will usually be getting 25mmhg or more in compression pressure. These socks are usually going to retail for $55 or more.
Traditional compression tights makers such as 2XU and more recently CW-X have also gotten into the socks market. While the lineups don’t have a lot of variety, they bring the reliable compression technology they are known for to the lower leg. These socks, such as the 2XU Elite Sock, typically sell for $50 or more and get good reviews from active users and the socks in that tier are generally recognized as some of the best compression socks on the market..
The lower-end of the socks market is seeing many new entrants who are using cotton/poly blend materials in socks of varying compression. While some of these socks more resemble a simple, heavier sock, others offer compression levels that might be more in the 10-20 mmhg range and are suitable for running and active pursuits. The pricing on these socks is usually in the $15 – $25 range.
A Welcome Splash of Variety
A trend that we like in the compression socks market, and one which we think will find its way to other gear, is the introduction of much more style and variety than we saw in years past. While many makers are sticking to basic black or white socks, making their production runs more predictable, some companies have added a splash of welcomed style to the market. Vim & Vigr is a Montana-based company that has dozens of styles, in mild-and-medium compression levels. These styles are fit for day-to-day fashion in addition to exercise and other activities. Vim and Vigr has been innovative in its fabric choice as well, offering several fabric choices on most socks. This helps personalize the product for each buyer, as one material might feel more comfortable for someone than another does, something that is usually simply a matter of personal preference.
We also see some fashion-first companies entering the space that was once a sports industry. For example, Athleta, owned by Gap, has a small line of compression gear that has distinctive color and incorporates Smartwool technology. On the same note, we are also seeing more innovative designs by the traditional fitness gear companies, such as CW-X who took bold steps with their designs in 2015 and will likely continue in 2016.
Their socks tend to run in the $30 – $35 range, give-or-take depending on which sock you need.
Compression Pants Saw a Comeback
Five years ago, compression pants and tights seemed to have some strong momentum. Then, their popularity growth stalled while items like compression socks and compression sleeves gained more visibility. Compression shorts had always been strong and appeared that they were going to be the leading compression garment in the market. Then, in the past 18 months, people started looking for the pants and tights again. Perhaps it was the realization that whole-leg compression provides the best recovery.
Companies like Zensah, historically one of the better-known compression sock makers, are now in the compression tights and pants industry offering a higher-end line of full-length recovery tights and capris with all the technology you would expect from long-established brands. The leggings are not cheap – upwards of $80 per pair – but are intended to compete with some of the top brands on the market today. In addition to Zensah, some of the trusty pant makers like CW-X, 2XU, and Skins Compression keep making some high-quality products for athletes.
We predict that while the compression trend is moving past socks, 2016 will be a big year for the upper-body garments such as shirts, tanks, and arm sleeves.
More Evidence of the Benefits of Compression
The past year was not only a boom in terms of compression makers and product variety, but it also saw a validation of the industry in some of its supporting data. Most notably, a large study done by the British Journal of Sports Medicine combined the findings from 12 studies before it, and concluded that compression wear offers distinct benefits to recovering athletes. Specifically, the study found that wearing compression socks made a statistically significant difference in the recovery time between major workouts, enough to raise many eyebrows. This builds on the landmark French study suggesting that compression socks can reduce the effects of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) by over 25% in many athletes. While wearing compression gear during a workout might ultimately be a matter of comfort and personal preference, the data in the past year points soundly to the concept that wearing compression gear during recovery can help athletes reduce their recovery time in a material way.