Aggression… This is what pushes us as athletes through the grind of countless hours and thousands of pounds of volume every day. However, with such aggression, Injury can seem inevitable. Though there’s no cure-all that can prevent any and all injury from happening, it’s important to be well-equipped with preventative measures. Since our previous article brushed on my immediate #1 piece of training gear shoes (hyperlink), knee supports take an incredibly close 2nd place for all levels of competitive lifters.
Knee supports come in many varieties, but for the sake of categorization we will place them into 2 simple categories:
- Knee sleeves
- Knee wraps
Not to be confused with therapeutic braces or supports, athletic knee supports are designed to provide:
- Appropriate compression to encourage blood flow
- Recovery to the joint
- Prevent swelling and pain during heavy training
- Provide overall support throughout your lift.
What does adding knee support mean for a powerlifter?
I will put it in very simple terms for you… Whether you are single/multi-ply or raw, squatting an overall average volume of 14,000 combined pounds to an average lifter’s squat program (and mind you, this is 1 day under the bar out of the usual 2 or 3 per week) requires support for both range of motion and recovery to prevent knee injury and to keep you moving forward with your lifting program.
- Are easily equipped and removed for shorter rest periods
- Enable powerlifters to perform dynamic rest to aid in lifting recovery
- Can benefit raw or geared powerlifters
- Are great for high-volume or frequent squatters
- Provide minimal increases to the total weight able to be lifted
- May not last long due to tears or stretching
Until the lifter has an idea of what style competition they would prefer to compete in, a simple pair of spandex compression sleeves or 5mm neoprene sleeves would be great without breaking the bank. The more material used, the more expensive the sleeve. Keep in mind that the 7mm+ or double ply will be pricey and will begin to creep into the material range that begins to benefit the lift more and more, providing rebound through elasticity out of the bottom of your squat.
- Provide enhanced support to lower quad and hamstring which may greatly benefit quad health in relation to knee
- Can be used for strict casting, rebound or a combination
- Take away a bit from the compressed tissues. It isn’t suggested that wraps are used for low percentage volume work.
The style of wrap you will like best is very much discovered through trial & error and you should research the different kinds available, because there are so many materials and styles on the market. The first idea to keep in mind is the concept of casting to rebound. Casting refers to the wraps’ ability to “cast” or stiffen the joint through compression, providing massive joint and muscular support. Casting specific wraps have an initial goal of creating a hard cast around the joint which is provided through a variety of material specs such as extra stretchy to provide more consistence and tight wrap jobs or stiffer material for an overall harder cast.
Rebound-style wraps have much more elasticity, providing tight support when wrapped well but allowing much more stretch and rebound under load. Stiffness is a common factor in wraps, and depending on the style, the focus can vary greatly. Most modern knee wraps provide a unique combination of both, sometimes containing two types of materials in either larger or smaller amounts of each, elastic banding either exposed or wrapped to provide grip to the skin or fabrics, and maintain better stability without slipping. To really get an idea of what works best for you, try a few different styles to see which is more appropriate for your squat style and form.
Another important factor to keep in mind is the wrap length. Starting at a simple 2 meters and going as long as 3, length plays a huge role in what you‘ll typically get out of a wrap. Shorter wraps are preferred in many lifting circles as they typically provide the same surface area as a sleeve with minimal material to wrap around the knee allowing freer range of motion for the squatter. The longer wrap obviously means more material. With this in mind, 2.5-3 meter wraps provide that much more of what the squatter may be looking for, whether it be material to bear load and provide more loading through range of motion, tightness and casting for a stiffer wrap job or more material to allow a better self-wrap application while squatting solo. The most important factor to keep in mind here is that not all lengths are appropriate for all squatters and may not be accepted by all federations under rules and conduct.
Should You Wrap?
I firmly believe any competitive squatter should have a pair of knee wraps to use when hammering out high-percentage work. It’s important to keep in mind that depending on the person’s competitive goals, the factors above will play a crucial role in what style to choose. Most beginners should go for something easily applied with a nice combo of both casting and rebound. This way, they can get the feel of the motion and find what would be more appropriate for their squatting style and musculature. It’s easy to figure out what works best when you get the opportunity to squat in different types and lengths of wraps to get the feel for them.
I’ve used a huge variety of wraps and find a more casting-focused wrap to be preferred as a speedy rebound from a stiff wrap can cause me to lose glute engagement out of depth while others love something that will launch them out of the squat and make their knees turn 100 shades of purple.
It is all about feel, so keep it simple, keep it cheap and avoid spending $100+ on a pair of wraps if you have no idea what you’re even buying. There is no point in purchasing something for better grip if your current set-up only needs a little chalk on the fabric to keep from slipping. Additionally, it’s not a good idea to buy extra-long wraps if you have thinner legs just because your buddy at the gym said so.
Be smart with your purchase and keep in mind; first and foremost, this is for safety and not just performance.
Written by Rob Saeva of No Coast Strength and Conditioning
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