Should I wear that belt, sleeves, or wraps?

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Do you constantly wear knee sleeves, elbow sleeves, or a belt?  How about heavy knee wraps? One or more? All four!?  At the same time!?!?

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (okay, maybe all four would be weird) but, let’s talk about how it works and why you might want to add support to your body. 

Anything you wrap around your body that compresses the tissue is for adding stability. When you add stability you are relieving the nervous system from its duty of having to stabilize the joint and thus it can focus more on contracting the primary movers (aka muscles). 

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that when you put your belt and sleeves on you can lift way more weight. This is awesome! Kind of...

Lifting heavy ass weight is awesome and putting your nervous system under that kind of stress is great for strength adaptation. What it isn’t good for is perhaps joint stability and overall strengthening of the systems (aka joints). Tendons and ligaments need to feel the stress of load in order to adapt. Adding support (aka stability) to these systems will lessen the stress they feel and thus limit adaptation. 

Now, this can be a good thing if you are already suffering from some tendinitis or strained musculature around the joint. In my own experience, I started wearing stiffer knee sleeves when I had some tendinitis in both knees. This allowed me to keep squatting and keep my strength up without damaging my knees more. As my knees felt better I switched to lighter sleeves (and eventually to no sleeves) and lighter weights at a tempo to help bring my tendons and ligaments back up to par. It’s a process, but one that you will appreciate over the longevity of your Fitness lifetime. 

Now, knee wraps are just a more intense version of a knee sleeve.  You are looking maximum stiffness in the wrap and with that comes the maximum amount of added stability.  Again, great for lifting the heaviest weight possible but not a great long-term strategy for the health of your joints.

The same holds true for a belt. The belt helps to add stability to the trunk and as such the nervous system will put more power towards the primary movers of the lift. Good for PRs but maybe not the best for long term gains in strength and stability of all systems. 

My advice is this: if you always wear a belt or sleeves or wraps, take some time and stop using them. Let your body do the work. You will have healthier joints and a more balanced system (body) with which to do more work. Will you be able to lift as much? No. At least not yet. Will you be better for it in the long run? Absolutely.