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Almost every gym has that mountain of a powerlifter who looks like they spend more time under the bar than any other activity.
Chances are, you’ve seen them wrap what looks to be a dark elastic bandage around their knees before squatting hilarious amounts of weight.
Why are they doing this?
Should you wrap your knees for squats like they do?
And, if so, how do you wrap your knees for squats properly?
Read on to answer all these questions, and more!
Who Squats While Wearing Knee Wraps?
Not everyone who squats at the gym will be wearing knee wraps.
Generally, the more elite a powerlifter, the more likely you’ll see them wrap their knees for squats. But only when lifting heavy weights.
You shouldn’t see anybody wearing knee wraps while warming up, for reasons I’ll get into later.
You’ll often see competitive powerlifters wrap their knees, especially at wrap competitions.
Then you’ll see everyone wearing knee wraps!
There’s another batch of people you’ll see with wrapped knees, too:
People wrapping their knees for the wrong reasons.
So, what are those right reasons?
Why Wrap Your Knees for Squats?
Knee wraps are elastic-filled canvas ribbons which are, well, wrapped around that part of your leg which bends.
Especially above and below the knee.
This provides several concrete benefits, along with one “benefit” that doesn’t exist!
One of the reasons to wear a knee wrap is to keep your knees warm.
Warming muscles improves blood flow and increases muscular elasticity.
Both of these are important for getting as much performance as possible out of squats, since it’s such an important exercise.
This is why warming up for squats is so important, by the way. Click here to learn more about how to warm up before your squats.
This, combined with the warmth, is why competitive powerlifters and gymgoers seeking to break their personal record both benefit from knee wraps.
How does this work?
Elasticity provides carryover (that mechanical advantage from earlier).
As you lower yourself in the squat, the elastic material stretches, much like pulling a slingshot, which stores potential energy.
When you extend your knees to push up the weight, the elastic material pushes as well, transferring that energy upward to help you lift that weight.
This rebound energy can increase your vertical power by up to 10%!
One of the oft-touted reasons why you should wear knee wraps is to protect your knee from injury.
However, that isn’t how it works in the real world.
The idea is that the knee wrap compresses your knee joint, thereby holding the joint in place and preventing muscles, ligaments, or tendons from tearing out of place.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Wearing knee wraps does take away some of the effort expended by the tendons and ligaments.
But this isn’t a good thing, because you’ll cause the muscles to out-train the connective tissues, increasing your risk of injury.
Knee wraps also limit your range of motion, putting stress in a vulnerable joint.
And finally, wrapping your knees for squats too tightly while chasing that carryover can damage your skin and the underlying blood vessels.
This can cause bruising and, in extreme examples, necrotic tissue!
When Should You Wear Knee Wraps?
In light of the knowledge above, it should be obvious that you don’t want to wrap your knees all the time.
The standard advice is to wrap your knee for squats whenever you’re lifting weight that’s about 85% of your maximum.
I have seen people use knee wraps down to 70% without injury, but I wouldn’t recommend going down that low.
This means that you should stay unwrapped for most of your squatting workout and only wrap it up for the final, most strenuous part of your gym visit.
Also, you should never wrap your knees in an attempt to cover up knee pain!
That will lead to further injury.
Instead, figure out what is causing your knee pain and take steps to heal.
How to Wear Knee Wraps
So, you have a knee wrap and it’s time to break your personal record.
How do you put the darn thing on?
First of all: You don’t want the widest, thickest, strongest elastic wrap you can get.
Start with a moderately strong wrap and don’t wrap it as tightly as possible.
You’ll want to pre-stretch the canvas before wrapping around your legs.
You can use a wrap roller for this or, if you don’t want to use a tool, stand on one end and tightly roll the wrap from the other end.
Then, when you wrap it around your legs, only use one or two layers. Three or more layers will shorten your range of movement without increasing carryover.
How long a wrap you need depends on how thick your legs are. Most people will need a 2 to 3-meter wrap.
Aim for a moderate tightness as you wrap. The tighter it gets, the more carryover you’ll get, and the more weight you can squat.
But you don’t want to injure yourself and, if this is your first time wrapping, you won’t be able to take advantage of all that carryover yet anyway.
If you’re bruising yourself then you’ve gone too far.
As for how you wrap your knees, there are two techniques:
- X (or Cross)
Which one you use is up to you because both are equally effective at providing carryover.
A one-way spiral is an easy way to wrap your knees for squats.
Start by laying the wrap’s end on the outside of your calf, right at the top where it narrows before the knee joint.
Pass the elastic behind the leg, up between your legs, then over the front of the top of your shin.
Ensure that you’re pulling tightly each time you go from behind to in front or vice versa.
Move up the wrap half of its width each time you come around.
Again, make sure that you’re not pulling to either side when you’re wrapping the knee! You must not pull the knee cap out of place.
Stop wherever’s comfortable at the bottom of the quads, so long as you’re completely above the kneecap.
Wrap downward a bit, until you run out of material. Then loosen the last pass and use it to tie a simple knot.
If you used up the entire wrap without leaving any skin exposed then your wrap should be good to go!
X (or Cross) Technique
The X technique crosses the wrap over the kneecap multiple times.
You start horizontally around the leg, starting this time above the knee instead of below.
Once at the side of your leg, angle downward and wrap over the kneecap.
Pass the wrap horizontally around the leg below the knee.
Go diagonally upward over the kneecap again to form an X shape.
Repeat, then tie off the wrap.
You can even combine the two techniques, as shown in this video:
What About Knee Sleeves?
A knee sleeve is made from neoprene or another similar material.
They’re stretchy, but they aren’t tight enough to give any rebound energy.
They’re also not tight enough to cause a displacement injury or to cause your tendons and ligaments to become undertrained.
Knee sleeves basically exist to keep the knees warm.
It’s a minor advantage compared to knee wraps, but still an advantage!
Knee wraps, like many fitness tools out there, are often misunderstood.
When used properly, they can increase how much weight you can squat by 5 or 10 percent. This is good for competitions or breaking personal records but doesn’t apply to most of your gym visit.
Plus, if you wear too-tight knee wraps for too long, you increase your risk of injury!
So, go ahead and wrap your knees for squats if you want to push through and shatter your weight-lifting record.
But don’t rely on them to boost each and every squat you make!