In the third and final installment of this series we’re talking about knee sleeves and wraps. Like weightlifting belts, when used properly knee sleeves or wraps offer a legitimate advantage. However they can also alter our movement patterns.
Though there is no available evidence that wraps protect the knee against injury, an experiment conducted by Harman and Frykman showed that wraps can improve performance (15). Through a spring effect alone, heavy wraps around the knees added an average of 25 pounds (110 N) to squat lifting force. The notion that wraps work only by stabilizing the knee, lessening the athlete’s fear of in jury, or providing a kinesthetic cue is incorrect. The wraps actually provide direct help in extending the knee. On the basis of lack of evidence that knee wraps prevent injury and the opinion of a number of health practitioners who assert that knee wraps can actually cause injury, athletes should probably minimize the use of wraps. If used at all, knee wraps should be limited to the sets with the heaviest loads (48).
– The Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, Third Edition, Baechle & Earle, page 87
Knee sleeves for very heavy and maximal efforts are welcome. They can help us lift more weight, placing a higher stress stimulus on our bodies, eliciting a greater adaptive response. Issues arise when we choose to wrap our knees every single time squats are programmed.
Very little research has been done on the efficacy of knee wraps. Detrimental side effects have been reported, however, including skin damage and chondromalacia patellae, the wearing down and roughening of the posterior surface of the patella (15).
– The Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, Third Edition, Baechle & Earle, pages 86-87
Be it light thrusters (Fran), wall ball shots (Karen), or even air squats (Cindy) the most common explanation I hear from athletes wearing knee sleeves is “they keep my knees warm”. So do sweat pants. In addition to the detrimental side effects listed in the quote above, regularly wearing wraps or sleeves just to handle sub-maximal loads costs us opportunities to strengthen the muscles that support and stabilize the joint.
We train for the unknown and unknowable. The Revenant bear isn’t going to let you warm up, stretch out and do a few warm up reps. The take away from these 3 posts is not that weightlifting belts, wrist wraps and knee sleeves are bad. Overuse and abuse is. Train to be awesome without them. Occasionally practice with them. Wrap up and strap in on game day to take full advantage of the equipment combined with your incredible, unassisted capability.