Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Guide To Wrapping Knees For The Barbell Squat

I'm going to preface this entire post by letting it be known that I am not an otherworldly squat phenomenon.  I am proud of my achievement, but am the first to acknowledge I've got a long ways to go.  I am however, a believer that there is something to learn from everyone.  And in my endeavor to become as strong as possible, I've been fortunate to learn some valuable lessons about the finer things of the sport, like the efficient application of knee wraps.  I won't claim to wrap my knees better than anyone else, and I won't pick anyone else's apart for flaws.  What you'll see in the text and videos below, is how I choose to set mine up, and have had nothing but success with in doing so.

Adapting to less than ideal circumstance is the cornerstone of my achievement as a powerlifter.  Perfect conditions rarely exist in the real world of training and competing, and I believe those best equipped to overcome adversity will always be standing atop the podium when the ninth lift is done and dusted.  I should note that if I had consistent access to a handler in contest and in my final weeks of meet prep, I would absolutely do so.  I don't take any extra pride in doing it myself 'cause I'm an independent woman who don't need no man.'  I wrap my own knees in meets because for every one I've ever competed in, my final weeks of preparation took place in the Gulf of Mexico aboard a deepwater drilling rig.  Since I am adamant about competing under the same conditions in which I train, and I wrap my own knees in training, I choose to do so in contest.  There have also been instances where my wife and I travelled long distance to both compete.  I would not place the burden of wrapping my knees, on someone who is also competing in the same day.  When we both travel, we BOTH wrap our own knees.

Who should consider wearing knee wraps?
Whether or not you might be a good candidate for squatting with knee wraps comes down to two main considerations.  

1.  Experience level:  Just as I believe a lifter should understand how to wrap their own knees before utilizing a handler, I wholeheartedly believe the lifter should have a well developed squat technique before introducing more advanced tools.  A tight wrap applied to a lifter with poor technique is a dangerous combination.  The mechanics of the squat become different with a new force applied to the body.  For me, I have to make a much more concerted effort to sit BACK, and remain upright.  Any tendency to tilt my torso forward during the descent of my squat, with a brutal knee wrap, is likely to fold me in half when I reverse the weight.  Long story short:  Keep the horse before the carriage

2.  Federation rules:  Not every powerlifting federation permits knee wraps in unequipped divisions.  if you choose to compete raw, and desire to test out knee wraps, make sure to verify they are allowed in competition.  Furthermore, check to see which length of knee wrap is permitted.  Some organizations will allow only 2.0, 2.5 or even up to 3.0 meter length wraps.  I've not covered 3.0 meter wraps in this guide, because I simply have no exposure with them.

Who shouldn't consider knee wraps?
If you feel as though you physically cannot squat with out knee wraps due to excess aches and pains in the knees, I would not recommend routinely wearing wraps.  The underlying cause of pain will still be present, and only masked by the support of the wrap.  The proper long term solution here is to address the source as directly as possible.  Deep tissue work, regular mobility activity and stretching will add years and years to a strength sport career.  Keep in mind, you're goal is to reach the same position as sitting at the kitchen table.  You're not trying out for the Blue Man Group.  Stretching and mobility work does not need to be extreme, just enough to maintain healthy connective tissue and pliable muscles.

I am particular about the characteristics, but many brands offer similar varieties.
Specifically to this article, I have always applied my own knee wraps in training sessions, and in contest.  The benefit of a skilled handler to wrap the lifter's knees on meet day can be invaluable.  The fatigue resulting from cranking them on both legs a half dozen times between warmups and actual attempts can really add up.  Additionally, the lifter cannot simply disengage mind and body in preparation for the upcoming squat.  Instead, he is fully engaged in a physical task that requires both great effort and a high level of attention to detail.

Alright, enough abstract talk.  Let's actually talk wrapping knees.  The next several videos will show my progression from a very light, mildly supportive application, to a full throttle competition-grade wrap.  The general theme here is that each will become progressively tighter and more secure, providing increasing support and rebound.  You'll note that while each wrap becomes more advanced, a few recurring themes exist throughout:

1.  Always wrap the knee from inside to the outside.  This means you'll apply the wrap to each leg in a different direction.  Many lifters and coaches believe doing this will help the knees stay pushed out evenly in the bottom of the squat.

2.  The wrap begins at the back of the knee, at or just below the crease when the leg is bent.  As the bottom round comes over the top of the knee, it should cover the bottom half of the patellar.  Beginning the wrap excessively low will not provide valuable support and rebound where it can best benefit, and can also result in some pretty nasty cramps in the calf muscle.

3.  Each round of the wrap (before applying the "X") should overlap about one half of the underlying wrap

Several different styles of knee wrap rollers are on the market, and are an invaluable tool to any lifter, never mind one who will apply their own wrap.  The advantage is FAR less energy expenditure through rolling wraps several times in a training session or contest.  As you'll see in the video below, applying the tightest possible self-administered knee wrap requires a sufficient preload.  "Preload" is what we'll call the additional tightness rolled into the wrap.  The tighter you roll your wraps, the tighter you will be able to apply them to your knees with less effort.

I made this roller out of scrap metal in about two hours, and was worth every minute.

Training Wraps
I typically compete twice per year, with a six month off season between meets.  Out of the entire off season, the final eight weeks will typically be in wraps.  Of those eight weeks, the first four will be in a "training" wrap.  These will be no where near as tightly applied as the ones in the final month of prep, and will be of a material with lots of stretch and give.  At this point, I am not interested in massive rebound.  My objective is to provide some additional support for the knees, and to allow myself time to adjust to the changes in the mechanics of my squat resulting from the wraps.

Keep in mind, the below progression is for eight weeks of training, and includes use for 2.0 OR 2.5 meter wrap users.  In other words, the lifter would use one or the other, not both.

Competition Wraps
I prefer my competition wraps to be of the least forgiving material I can get my hands on.  They will have very little stretch before feeling cast-like.  Naturally these will yield quite a bit of discomfort, but chance is are if you're cranking on a wrap of this variety, comfort is a distant memory anyway.  I aim to remove every last bit of stretch when applying the wrap.  When preparing the wrap with the roller shown above, I make sure to pull some tension out of it while winding them up.  This makes a BIG difference in how tight you can apply them yourself, with minimal exertion.

2.0 Meter
My wife Katherine currently uses a 2.0 meter long wrap.  I find this to be sufficient to help take her squat well into the mid-300 pound range, as a 123 lb lifter.  Before we even consider moving to a 2.5 meter wrap, we would first add a great deal more tension into her current wraps.  She currently uses a middle-of-the-road amount of tension.  In the Slingshot wrap you see applied below, she squatted 280 for a smooth double.

Light Training Wrap

Moderate Competition Wrap

2.5 Meter
I choose 2.5 meter wraps since they are allowed within the rules of competition, and I feel I can make use out of the extra half meter compared to the 2.0's.  The extra material becomes especially beneficial when I use the Titan wraps, as they yield very minimal stretch when wrapping.

Light Training Wrap

Moderate Training Wrap

Moderate Competition Wrap

Heavy Competition Wrap

If you feel this guide has benefitted you in any way, or if you see areas which I could improve upon, I would love to hear what you have to say.  My current working knowledge is the sum of many parts picked up by coaches, mentors, training partners, articles and videos.  I've never once claimed to re-invent the wheel.  I would prefer to adopt proven methods, and apply them in a matter that specifically suits my type of lifting.  Feel free to share this post anywhere you see fit.

Once they're on, the rest is easy.  Just sit down and stand up!

Thanks for reading,


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