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Does wearing knee wraps improve back squat performance?

Summary of a study looking at mechanics in lifters who perform 80% of 1RM squat in knee wraps or without.

Who

10 male athletes with 4.4 years of lifting experience on average, aged 21.9 ± 2.2 years (height: 171.8 ± 34.8 cm; weight: 93.3 ± 10 kg; back squat 1RM: 160.5 ± 18.4 kg) (UK). Lifters had experience squatting with knee wraps.

Design

cross-over design: after warm-up, each person lifted 3 sets of back squat single repetition at 80% of 1RM in each condition: with knee wraps or without (3 minutes rest).

1RM1 repetition maximum = maximal amount of weight the lifter can lift once

Wraps

  • liters wearing knee wraps wraped in figure 8 shape
  • 2-meters long, width 8 cm, 2 mm thickness

Nothing

  • liters wearing nothing on the knee

Outcome measures

  • mechanics of squatting
  • bar displacement
  • peak power
  • duration of descent and ascent

Main results

Squatting in wraps What changes Infographic

  • Descent phase:

    • horizontal displacement was reduced by 39%
    • shorter descent phase in wraps
  • Ascent phase:

    • vertical impulse increased with wearing knee wraps by 10% (±21)
  • peak power (W) increased by 10% (±24) on average when using knee wraps

  • No difference in:

    • ascent horizontal displacement
    • descent and ascent horizonal impulse
    • descent vertical impulse
    • lifting duration

Take home message

For a clinician
Wearing knee wraps for single back squat at 80% of 1RM provided mechanical adventage by increasing vertical impulse and peak power, and shortened the descent phase. Also, horizontal displacement of the bar was reduced. Squatting technique has changed however, causing less use of hip flexors and extensors.
For a parent
Wearing knee wraps for single back squat (at 80% of 1RM) provided mechanical adventage by generating more elastic energy on the way down, to be released on the way up. Also, bar moved less, wasting less energy. But the squatting technique was changed causing less use of the hip muscles.
For an athlete
Wearing knee wraps for single back squat (at 80% of 1RM) provided mechanical adventage by generating more elastic energy on the way down, to be released on the way up. Also, bar moved less, wasting less energy. But the squatting technique was changed causing less use of the hip muscles, so if you want to develop these muscles lifting without wraps would be more beneficial.

Original article

Lake JP, Carden PJ, Shorter KA. Wearing knee wraps affects mechanical output and performance characteristics of back squat exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2012 Oct 1;26(10):2844-9.

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