Under Armour, the athletic apparel behemoth based in Baltimore, sprang more or less from founder Kevin Plank's belief in the value of compression. Tight-fitting "base layers," as Under Armour calls them, reduce injury and enhance performance by wrapping muscles more tightly against the skeleton, even as they wick away sweat to keep athletes cooler and drier, said Glenn Silbert, vice president of men's, youth and accessories.
"There is good science behind it," he said. The company doesn't release sales figures, but compression gear continues to be a fast-growing part of the business, he said. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, Americans bought about $930 million worth of compression gear and similar garments in 2011, up 5 percent from 2010.
One last, fascinating thought about compression garments: At least one researcher has found a placebo effect when it comes to recovery. That is, athletes recovered better in them because they believed they would.
In July, Rob Aughey, a senior lecturer in sport physiology at Victoria University's School of Sport and Exercise Science in Australia, told the Web site News.com.au: "When testing CGs in elite athletes, we found that wearing them did result in an improvement in the perception of pain and fatigue for the athlete. However, we found no evidence to suggest that the garments can help improve the actual rate of physical recovery."