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Knee Wraps and Knee Sleeves for Powerlifting

By Gary F. Zeolla

 

      I have trained and competed in powerlifting equipped using single-ply gear, equipped using multi-ply gear, raw with knee wraps, raw with knee sleeves, and I tried training raw without knee support, but that did not go very well. For the first three, I used five different brands of knee wraps. And when I thought of switching to raw with knee sleeves, I found out it was a rather confusing situation.

      In this article, I will first compare the different knee wraps I have used, then I will explain the situation regarding knees sleeves. I will also explain my reasons for changing between these different methods of powerlifting and why raw without knee support did not work out. It is my hope that by relating my experiences, it will help other lifters struggling with these issues to make a decision as to what would be best for you.

      For those who don’t know, “equipped” means competing wearing a squat suit, bench press shirt, and deadlift suit. These are supportive equipment which can add significantly to how much weight a powerlifter can lift. “Raw” means to compete without such specialized gear. But all powerlifting federations allow a belt in their raw divisions, and many allow wrist wraps. Other variations of raw lifting will be explained later.

 

Crisscross Wrapping

 

      When I first started powerlifting back in high school in the late 1970s, I used a spiral method of wrapping, which is the method most lifters use. But then at Penn State, the professor/ advisor for the Barbell Club showed me the crisscross method. As he put it, the spiral method just puts a “lot of padding behind the knee.” I thus started using the crisscross method and have used it ever since.

      For the crisscross method, I start just above the knee, wrap once around the leg, then angle down across the knee, wrap once all around the bottom of the knee, then angle back up across the knee, making the first “X” over the knee, then behind the leg just above the knee and then another “X” etc., then finish with a full wrap around the top of the knee, then tie them off. Here is a video of me wrapping my knees.

      With this method, not all wraps work as many are too stiff for the angle needed to make the “X” across the knee and to tie them off at the end. But the ones that work and that I have used are:

 

*Crain Genesis Wraps – Available from Crain or from Amazon.
* Titan THP Wraps – Available from Lifting Large or from Amazon.
* APT Black Mamba Wraps – Available from APT.
* SlingShot World Record Wraps – Available from SlingShot or from Amazon.
* Iron Rebel Rhino Knee Wraps – Available from Iron Rebel or from Amazon

 

      Be sure to note that all of these companies carry other wraps besides the one listed, but these are the ones that I actually used and can be used with a crisscross method of wrapping.

 

Effectiveness of and Differences Between Wraps

 

      Having experimented back and forth with these five brands, I have found them to be about equally effective. By that I mean they add the same amount of poundage to the squat, which for me is about 10% when using 2.5 meter wraps.

      There are some differences between these wraps. The Titan wraps stretch the most, which gives them the most rebound in the hole. The APT and Rhinos wraps are the thickest, which gives them a cast-like feel, but it also makes the diameter of the rolled up wraps the largest; they are thus the hardest to hold onto while wrapping. The Rhinos are also rather stiff, which makes them hard to tie off at the end.

      But the SlingShots are the stiffest, which makes them the hardest to wrap and to tie off at the end of the wrap; but that also gives them an even greater cast-like feel than the APT and Rhino wraps. This provides more stability throughout all aspects of the lift.

      The Crain wraps are the thinnest, which makes the diameter of the rolled up wraps the smallest and easiest to hold onto when wrapping. They are also the most flexible, which makes them the easiest to wrap. They seem to help more in the top half of the lift than the other wraps. It even seems easier walking the weight out with the Crain wraps than with the others.

      These difference are very apparent when I wrap my knees. With the Titan wraps, I get four Xs over my knees, plus the top wrap. With the APT and Crain wraps, I get three Xs plus the top wrap or four Xs, without the top wrap. But if the Crains are really broken in, then I might be able to get four Xs plus the top wraps. But with the SlingShots and Rhinos I get just two Xs, plus the top wrap.

      However, it should be noted that I am only 5’,1” and the circumference of my knee is 13”. Those with bigger legs will get fewer number of Xs. But it should also be noted; that final top wrap is important, as it really locks in the wrap. Thus with the Crains, I have found I am better off with three Xs and the top wrap than with four Xs and no top wrap. That means, unless you can stretch the wraps more than I can, the SlingShots and Rhinos might not work well for those with bigger legs than me.

      But otherwise, as I said, despite these differences, there is no difference in the effectiveness of these five different wraps.

      In terms of cost, for a pair of 2.5 meter wraps, the Crain wraps are the least expensive at $30, then the Titan wraps at $43, then the Rhinos at $45, then the SlingShots at $47, then the Black Mamba wraps are the most expensive at $69.25.

      Overall, I prefer the Crain wraps. The ease of wrapping is the primary reason. I gave up on squat and deadlift suits and bench shirts years ago due to the difficulties of getting them on and off. And now, I prefer to make things as easy as possible with wraps. The second reason is the Crains help more in the top half of the lift than the other wraps and even with the walkout. Third, the lower cost is a plus.

      However, the reader will have to experiment to see which brand of wraps works best for you. But I will say, with these differences, each wraps gives a different feel to the squat. It would thus be best to choose one brand and to use it throughout a training cycle to fully get used to it, while going back and forth between brands could throw off your form.

 

Breaking in Wraps and Durability

 

      Some powerlifters recommend getting a new pair of wraps for a contest. I would advise against that, if by that is meant using a brand new pair of wraps at a contest. I have found it usually takes a couple of workouts to break-in a new pair of wraps, and then they are usually good for at least an entire training cycle. For instance, I have noticed that Crain wraps seem to work better after a couple of workouts. The same goes for the SlingShots. This is another reason not to evaluate wraps with just one usage. Give them at least a couple of workouts or preferably an entire training cycle before deciding if they will work for you.

      As for durability, any of these wraps would easily last for an entire training cycle and probably for a year or more.

 

Length of Wraps

 

      As for what length to get, that would depend on which federation(s) you plan on competing in, as each has different rules as to what is allowed. Some feds only allow 2.0 meter wraps, some 2.5 meter, some 3.0 meter, and some 3.5 meter.

      I compete mostly in the IPA, which allows 3.0 meter wraps. However, I started with 2.0 meter, as that was what I was used to from college, then later I switched to 2.5 meter, but I never have tried 3.0 meter. I have hard enough of a time holding onto 2.5 meter wraps with my small hands, so I fear 3.0 meter wraps could be prohibitively so. But the extra 19.6” might be enough to give me a fourth “X” across my knees, plus the top wrap, so the extra length might prove beneficial.

      However, my last contest was with the APF, and I might compete in the WNPF again sometime. Those feds only allow 2.5 meter wraps. I’d rather not go back and forth between different lengths, so I will probably stick with 2.5 meters. But the reader will have to decide for yourself based on what federation(s) you plan on entering and your preferences.

 

Color of Wraps

 

      On a minor note, the Crain and SlingShots are solid red, which is my favorite color and fits with the red and black color scheme of the rest of my gear. That is thus another plus in my book for the Crain wraps. The Black Mamba wraps are of course black, but they also have white strips, while the Titan THP wraps are black with blue, red, and yellow strips, so they did not fit my color scheme quite as well. The Rhinos used to be black with red and white strips, but they are now black with orange stripes.

 

Knee Sleeves

 

      Even with using the Crain wraps, using wraps can still make a squat workout longer and harder. I thus have thought of competing again wearing knee sleeves rather than knee wraps. Knee sleeves are much easier to put on, which is why I use them for all of my squat look-alike lifts. And some feds now have separate divisions for raw with wraps and raw without wraps. The latter often allows knee sleeves, but of course not knee wraps.

      Powerlifting Watch (PW) follows suit in having separate ranking lists for raw with wraps and raw without wraps. And they allow knee sleeves in the raw without wraps division. But they have a list of approved knee sleeves. These are the only knee sleeves that can be worn and a lifter’s squat and total still be included in the raw without wraps ranking list. Those wearing other sleeves will be included in the raw with wraps ranking list. The APT heavy knee sleeves I use were not included, so I emailed Johnny Vasquez to find out why not.

      He told me that these heavy knees sleeves are made of “wrap type material” (which he also called “rebound material”), while only sleeves made with neoprene were allowed. I had to Google “neoprene” to find out for sure what it is. It is “a synthetic polymer resembling rubber, resistant to oil, heat, and weathering.”

      Now I knew what he was referring to. On the approved list is Tommy Kono Knee Bands. These are available from Amazon. I tried them a way back and did not like them at all. They were very had to put on and to take off and even to pull up and down, and they overheated my calves and shins when down and knees when up. That is when I got the heavy knee sleeves. I like them as they are easy to use in all of these respects and do not heat up my legs, but they provide sufficient support to keep my aging knees from aching.

      I could try some of the other sleeves on the approved list. Johnny indicated to me that with some of them, the neoprene is mixed with fabric, such as Rehband sleeves (available at Amazon) or Titan sleeves (available at Amazon or Lifting Large). This makes them easier to pull up and down, as it would keep the neoprene from sticking to the skin, and it cuts down on the heating effect. But I’d rather not spend $40-60 on something I’m sure of, so I would prefer to stick with the heavy knee sleeves I already have and work just fine.

      I have four pairs of them, all of which are in good or excellent condition. That is fortunate, as APT is apparently no longer in business, as their website has been done for months. But if I need more, Lifting Large’s Red Crusher sleeves are similar and are available from Amazon or their website.

      Also, I felt like the heavy knee sleeves were no big deal, as they did not add anything to my squat. And back in 2009 when I entered a RAWU meet, I was told they were legal in that strictly raw without wraps federation, so I used them. I thus challenged Johnny as to why they were not approved by PW. He nicely took the time to send me a detailed explanation.

      Basically, he said he was familiar with the knee sleeves I was talking about and that I was correct they did not add much to the lift, though he thought they did add a little. But more importantly, if these sleeves were approved, then the gear manufacturers would outdo themselves coming out with other knee sleeves made with wrap type material which do add significantly to the squat. He also told me that RAWU no longer allows knee sleeves like mine.

      As such, he said that with using these sleeves, I would still be listed on the raw with wraps list, not the raw without wraps list. Though he admitted it is possible there are some listed on the raw without wraps list who were wearing unapproved sleeves, as it is impossible to verify every lifter, but that he does so for records.

      I can understand his concerns. When I competed back in the late 70s to early 80s, the “supersuit” and “superwraps” that I used only added about 15 pounds each to the squat, but today’s gear adds far more than that due to the “arms race” that has occurred among gear manufacturers since then. I can easily see the same happening with sleeves. Thus, I am okay with being included in the raw with wraps category if I ever compete again using my heavy knee sleeves.

      And thinking about it, he might be right—I might be getting a few pounds out of the heavy knee sleeves. I’ve been frustrated that I wasn’t getting as much out of my knee wraps as others do. But that could be because I am comparing my wrapped squats with sleeved squats. If I were to compare wrapped squats to completely raw squats, then there would probably be a greater difference.

      But I’m not about to do heavy completely raw squats to find out, as I have gotten injured every time I have done so in the past. That is why I use wraps for my competitive squats and sleeves for squat look-alike lifts in training. But this does make me wonder which division I would have to enter if I were to compete with sleeves in a fed that has separate divisions for raw without wraps and raw with wraps. I’m guessing it would be the latter.

      But for now, I will stick with using wraps, as my main goals when entering contests are in regards to the All-time raw master records and All-time raw open ranking lists, both of which are for raw with and without wraps. As such, I would put myself at a disadvantage by not using wraps.

      All of this is to explain why it is possible that some lifters lifting raw with sleeves will still be included in PW’s raw with wraps ranking list and would need to enter the raw with wraps divisions at contests. But the reader would need to check with PW and the federation you are planning on entering in regards to the sleeves you wish to use as to which division you would be placed in.

 

Conclusion

 

      After much experimentation, I plan on sticking with 2.5 meter Crain Genesis knee wraps for competition and APT heavy knee sleeves for training. But the reader would do well with any of the knee wraps or sleeves mentioned in this article. But experiment, and see which works best for you. But be sure to check the rules of the federation you plan on entering as to what length of wraps is allowed. And if you desire to use knee sleeves, be aware of the rules for the type of sleeves that can be used and to still be considered to be raw without wraps, if that is the division you desire to enter.

 

3.0 Meter Wraps Update

 

      Since the IPA allows 3.0 meter wraps and Crain carries them, I got two pairs for IPA PA States on March 4, 2017. I planned on using one for my final workout and at the contest, and the other would be a backup in case I dropped my wraps while wrapping.

      In that final workout, I first wrapped for what was to be my next to last warmup set. I was able to get four Xs across my knee plus the top wrap. But the set was only for 245, and I was only able to get down halfway on the first rep and stopped there. I then went up to 265 and did three full reps.

      My first work set was for 295. I was hoping to do four reps but only got a triple, as my form was off on the third rep. That could have been due to worrying about or being thrown off by the wraps. I then went up by ten pounds to 305, hoping for a double, but I only got one rep, as I did not feel stable for it. For all of these sets, I wrapped the same as for the first warmup set. But on the second work set, I noticed I had wrap left over, not enough for another X or even another top wrap but probably enough for another bottom wrap.

      Thus for the last set, I wrapped a second time around the bottom of my knee, in the middle of the second X. I was then still able to get four Xs and the final top wrap. That gave me four Xs, two bottom spiral wraps, and two top spiral wraps. It was thus between using a spiral method of wrapping and a crisscross one. And my knees felt really tight, and I felt very stable for the set. For it, I went up by another ten pounds to 315 and did another single. It felt better than the second set and was with strength to spare.

      Until that final set, I wasn’t sure if the 3.0 meters were worth it, but with it, I am glad I got the extra half meter. But with having to break them in, this workout got messed up and left me in a quandary as to what to attempt at the contest. But now that I got them broken in, I will use the same pair of 3.0 meter wraps at the contest. But I doubt I will use the other pair as a backup. Since they are not broken in, I wouldn’t want to mix one of them with one of the broken-in ones. If I drop a wrap, I would be better off re-rolling and wrapping with the broken-in pair.

      In the future, I will use 2.5 meter wraps for most of my training routine, but switch to the first pair of 3.0 meter wraps for the final workout and of course use them at the contest. I’ll use this pattern, as I have three pairs of 2.5 meter wraps that are not very worn, so I might as well use them in training and save my two new pairs of 3.0 meter wraps for contests.

      But I will have to keep in mind that the second pair of 3.0 meter wraps need to be broken in before using them for a peaking workout or at a contest. Again, it was not until after I had wrapped for five sets that the wrapping felt good, and I was able to get them stretched enough that the extra half a meter proved worthwhile. Keep that in mind when trying new wraps.

    Here is a video of that final workout. I only recorded the top two sets, plus two sets of speed work. You can see how the final set looked better than the preceding one.

The above article first appeared in the free FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site December 1, 2016.
The  “3.0 Meter Wraps Update” was added February 23, 2017.

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