Knee Wraps Help Your Lift, But Harm Your Knees

You’ve seen serious lifters wrap their knees before a back squat. What do these knee wraps actually do? Science takes a look and shows exactly how knee wraps help, or harm.

The back squat is commonly deemed the king of lower body exercises, and many lifters rely on knee wraps to protect their knees when squatting due to the heavy loads that are involved. Knee wraps are also worn to gain mechanical advantage during the squat. There is evidence supporting the notion that wearing knee wraps enables athletes to lift more weight or perform more reps than they could without them. However, according to a new study, wearing knee wraps during squatting may not be the best idea. This study investigated the effects of wearing knee wraps on mechanical output and performance characteristics of the back squat.

Ten resistance trained men participated in the study. All had squat experience and had squatted with knee wraps, although they did not use them regularly. The study was divided into two sessions that were 7 days apart. Session 1 was used to determine the 1-rep max (1RM) in the back squat. In session 2, each lifter performed 6 single back squats with 80% of their 1RM. 3 of the lifts were performed with knee wraps, and the other 3 were performed without them. The knee wrapping technique used was known as the “Figure of Eight” method used by Harman and Frykman.1

The results of the study revealed that wearing knee wraps during the back squat resulted in a 39% reduction in horizontal barbell displacement that continued during the lifting phase. The lowering phase vertical impulse remained within 1% whether the knees were wrapped or unwrapped. However, the lowering phase was performed 45% faster. This indicated that vertical force during the lowering phase was significantly larger and was likely a result of the generation and storage of elastic energy in the knee wrap. Subsequent vertical impulse was 10% greater as well. The mechanical work involved in vertically displacing the center of mass was performed 20% faster and resulted in a 10% increase in peak power.2

The results of this study indicate that the elastic properties of knee wraps actually increased mechanical output during the squat, but it altered the technique in such a fashion that is likely to change the muscles targeted by the exercise and possibly compromise the knee joint.3

When the pros and cons of wearing knee wraps are measured, it is concluded that wraps should not be worn when squatting during the strength and condition process. If you think you have weakness in the knees, the knee joint should be assessed and treated instead of wearing wraps and possibly jeopardizing knee health. For those of you looking to compete in powerlifting, now you know exactly what your wraps are doing for you.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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