Knee wraps. Most of us would use them to support the ligaments and tendons around the knee joint particularly in the lower-body movements we perform such as the squat. The typical knee wrap is made of cotton and elastic material which allows for comfort and support by providing some compression around the knee joint and usually come in the form of a sleeve. The heavier duty ones (i.e. used by powerlifters and weightlifters) include those that come in a roll and manual wrapping around the knee allows for a better compressive form of wrapping for support. Another type used would be the sleeve ones but these are made of stronger elastic material (probably something along the lines of neoprene). Both ways, they help strengthen the integrity of your knees when moving in deep flexion (or that's what's said). Donny Shankle using knee wraps in a 210kg clean. Picture by Rob Macklem.
Today, I present to you this article by the guys in the UK where they explored some of the performance benefits you could get from using knee wraps in your training, particularly in squats so that you could decide for yourself whether you should be using knee wraps or not. In this study, the wraps they use actually are actually the one that come as a long piece and you or someone else manually wraps it around your knees.
Subjects involved were ten guys relatively familiar with the back squat (mean of 4.4 years experience of resistance training, including back squats) and a pretty high one-repetition max (1RM) average of 160.5kg among them (alot higher than most people in my opinion). They were required to perform 15 single repetitions at 80% 1RM and that load was selected because it was heavy enough to get good data from it and it would not make sense to put them under the risk of injury.
In simple terms, the results of the study showed that main variables such as peak power and lifting vertical impulse (the amount of force developed over the upward duration of the squat) were significant or had a difference with knee wraps on. This suggested that by having knee wraps on, it gave the subjects a slight edge in terms of power and force produced over a period of time when lifting their 80% 1RM in the back squat. They suggested the mechanism of elastic energy created by the knee wrap at the bottom position contributing to the increased force and power produced. In other words, it contributed to the stretch-shortening cycle at the bottom of the squat to enhance force development during the upward phase.
Another interesting note brought up by the researchers was that the bar was moving more in a straight line vertically with knee wraps on. They went on to suggest that technique could be altered with knee wraps on, causing the posture of the lifter to be more upright during the squat. To me, this is very relevant as you would be able to develop more force through the knee joint before allowing the hip joint to kick in. Also, as a weightlifter, at the bottom of any squat position (back squat, front squat, bottom of snatch, bottom of clean), it is better to maintain an more upright torso to allow you to have the weight in stability before squatting it back up.
So what do I think about knee wraps? They do provide an advantage in terms of mechanical work in the squat as shown by this study. But I have yet to try it out on my own (though I have already ordered a pair for myself to play around with) and till then, I will keep my judgment open on the use of knee wraps and until I have tried them out, then I will provide my own experience on using them! If you have used them before, feel free to share how you feel about them!
And the Chinese would tell you.. "Who needs knee wraps?!" Lu Xiaojun with a 175kg snatch. POW! Picture by Rob Macklem.
Stay Strong and Keep Squatting (With or Without Knee Wraps),
The Training Geek.