The Ins and Outs of Knee Wraps

TAGS: wrappers, training wraps, light wraps, dave kirschen, david allen, knee wraps, donnie thompson, dave tate, Julia Ladewski, Brian Schwab

These are just some of the questions I have been asked (and asked myself) over the years. When it comes to knee wraps, there are only two things that matter—support and carryover. The trick is to find what style and process works best for you. As I outlined this article, many formats came to mind, but nothing seemed to work for the variety of subtopics associated with wraps. So I came up with the idea to send a small survey out to some of our team lifters. I will share some of their surveys as well as the many observations I have made over the years.

How do you wrap your knees?

  • Are you getting the best support and rebound from your wrapping style?
  • Do you need to “get used” to your wraps before a meet?
  • When should you begin wrapping up?
  • Is it better for someone else to wrap your knees for you?
  • Should you pull the wrap in or out?
  • Does your stance affect how you wrap?
  • Should you wrap differently if you have large quads?
  • How should you train with wraps?
  • Are your wraps messing up your squat form?
  • Could you get a better carry over from your wraps?

My Observations

I will use the same survey questions I sent to the team lifters here, and then list their insights. The only difference is that I will respond based on what I have seen, heard, and done over the years. The team lifters’ focus will only be on what they prefer.

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Do you squat close, medium, or wide?

I have squatted all ways over the years and have seen some things that may be different for each style when it comes to wrapping your knees.

The first comes with “tagging” the wraps. This is what I call it when you make the last tuck of the wrap under the front of the knee so that a couple inches stick out in front of the knee. This is done to create an illusion of greater depth. While this does work and should be done with wide and medium stance lifters, I’m not so sure it is a good idea for close stance lifters. The reason for this is that the wrap will create an illusion of a longer lever, creating a longer distance from the end of the wrap to the hip joint. Since your joints are almost in a straight line, this gives a very easy market to judge from. If it was still pulled out to the front but up, it would distort this and make the top of the knee look lower than the wrap at the bottom.

This is not easy to explain. Judging a close stance squat is easier because the line is easier to see. It runs right down the leg, and the knee is in line with the hip joint. With a wide stance, this is not the case because the knee is out to the side of the hip joint.

Another difference is that the close stance squatter will be able to get more rebound out of the wraps because there is more hamstring of calve rebound. This is because the knees will have to come forward some for this movement to happen. This creates more surface area for the wrap behind the knee to act as a rebounder.

The wide stance squatter does have this option because all of the squat movement is going backwards, and the knee does not shift forward at all. One trick I learned from Ano Turtiainen is to keep as much wrap behind the knee as you can. I had the “unfortunate” experience of wrapping him several times when he lifted in the USA. I say unfortunate because I have never seen anyone who wanted to be wrapped as tight as he did, ever! Combine this with three people screaming in Finish for you to wrap tighter, numb hands, and four squat attempts, and you are left with bicep tendonitis for three weeks.

He did have one thing he asked me to do that made me think. He wanted me to make sure that every time the wrap went behind his knee, it had to land exactly behind his knee. So every wrap, regardless whether the front position had to be pulled up or down, had to land right behind the knee.

The more I thought about this, the more practical this seemed. Ano is a very wide squatter, and the only way for him to get any rebound from the wraps was to pull it as thick as we could in the back.

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I also feel and have seen the wider squatter may not need their wraps as tight. The reason for this is pretty simple. The wider you go, the less you will get from wraps. As stated above, this is because a wide squat is a sit back movement with most of the work done by the glutes, hamstring, and back. Wraps are more for stability of the knee joint with a wider stance squatter.

Also the wider you go, the less of a foot plate you generally have. By this, I mean that most wide squatters do turn their toes out some while the feet of a close stance lifter are straight. The straighter the feet, the more floor contact you have in relationship to the stability the floor will be able to provide. If your wraps are jacked tight, you may not be able to get the bar set up (or your stance if you walk out) because your stability is now hindered even more with the tighter wraps. This can be combated by getting used to the wraps early in the training or not going crazy tight in the first place.

Do you wrap your own knees? Why or why not?

As you will see below, this depends on the person but more so on the gear you are using. It would be very hard to wrap yourself in double ply gear. I always liked it better when someone wrapped my knees for me so I could focus on what I had to do. If you do have someone wrap you knees for you, make sure they know what they are doing and know how you like to be wrapped.

I wrote before about wrapping Ano. The first time I ever wrapped him, I had to meet him in his room the day beforehand so he could show me what I needed to do. I told him I have wrapped hundreds of knees and not to worry about it. He then told me that I have not wrapped his knees before so to him I have wrapped zero knees. I spent close to 45 minutes in his room wrapping his knees until we got it right. Since he did not speak English, we had to find a way for him to tell me what adjustments needed to be made while wrapping. These things may seem elementary and simple, but missing a lift from a bad wrap is not acceptable because it could have been avoided with just a little more preparation.

Notes for wrappers

If you are part of the sport, you will more than likely be asked to wrap someone at some time or another. We all hate it, but it has to be done so you may as well do it right. Here are some tips to help you do a better job:

  1. If you have more than one person per flight make sure there is at least one lifter between them. If they are back to back, find another person to take one of your lifters. A timing or wrapping mistake is not worth the risk.
  2. Bring something to kneel on. You think I am joking but jamming your knee into concrete sucks. A T-shirt or anything will do.
  3. Have extra wraps in case one lets go when you are wrapping. Better yet, have a couple extra wraps.
  4. Pre-wrap the wrap as tight as you can.
  5. Take Advil before, during, and after the meet. I am not a doctor though, and it would be a good idea to ask your doctor beforehand because it will help a lot.
  6. Know how your lifter wants to be wrapped and do what they ask.
  7. Stretch your hands and fingers as much as you can between wraps. If your grip fails on the third attempt, you will have one pissed off lifter.

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Do you pull your wraps both in, both out, or both the same direction?

There has been some debate on this, and the one solution for everyone is to do what works best for them and stick with it. Practice in training and DO NOT change on meet day.

I do have a few thoughts that may help you decide. I am somewhat biased and do feel everyone should warp with both knees out. However, I do see the case for pulling both in.

Many lifters feel if they pull them both in then they have something to push against as they squat. Those who wrap out feel the wraps help force the knees out.

I feel if you have a tendency to let your knees slip in some as you squat, wrap with both knees out. If you always push out and your knees never move, wrap them both in to give you something that could help you create more force. If you have very strong hips and your squat form is locked in, you might be able to get more from wrapping both in. BUT, and this is huge, very few fall into this category.

Most do not feel one in and one out is good for anyone so forget about it and work with the other two.

How do you knee you leg while wrapping: bent, slight bend, straight, straight and flexed, or elevated?

When I first wrote this question, I really did not give it much thought. However, there are many options with different advantages and disadvantages.

Before I get into this, it is important that you keep you toe pulled up as high as you can when wrapping. The reason for this is that it keeps your calf muscle flat and helps avoid cramps. If the toe is down and the calf flexed when you wrap, the wrap will loosen up and may even slip when standing (when you stand your foot is flat and the calf is not as big). So if you’re the wrapper, keep the toe up when you wrap.

To get the tightest wrap, you will have the leg elevated so that it’s in line with the hip (usually between the wrappers lags) and flexed. Flexing the leg does three things. First, it pulls the quad up and out of the way of the wrap. Second, it keeps the knee locked into the start and finish position of the squat. Third, it keeps the patella in place.

While this is the king of the wrap position, it is also very hard for the wrapper to do so the wrap job may end up less than optimal. Let’s say this is an experience position.

The next best is the heel off the floor with the leg flexed. I would also advise if you are the wrapper to lock the lifter’s foot between your legs and on top of your calf. This gets you closer to the wrap, keeps the leg flexed’ and allows for better leverages when wrapping.

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As far as the knee bend goes, I would only use a slight bend in one case. There may be times when you can’t get control of the bar out of the mono lift (if you are in a federation that uses one). Many times this is caused by not being used to the wraps. When you go to unrack, the weight the wraps are set to slam you knees locked. Thus, you stand up, your knees lock, and you tip over backwards. You can use a looser wrap or wrap with a slight bend in the knee so the wraps are not as preloaded at the start.

Do you progress from light wraps in the earlier weeks to tight wraps later on?

I have used both styles over the years. I like not using them in training and saving the wraps for the meet best. But that changed a few years ago when wraps and suits got better. Now I feel you need to get used to them to get the best carryover. I have seen some lifters use wrap progressions such as:

Metal Double Line: Weeks 10–7

Metal Triple Line: Weeks 6–4

Metal All Blacks: Week 3 to meet

I don’t know if I am sold on the progression for a couple reasons. First, this would get very expensive pretty fast, and second, the wraps are so different. The All Blacks are 25 percent rubber and react differently than the other two wraps. The All Blacks are for those looking for a big pop out of the bottom and are meant to be wrapped as tight as you can make them.

Since the feedback we have received places the All Blacks as the best of the best, I will use this wrap to illustrate what I feel is a better progression.

You should always have two pair of the same wraps (in case you need a back up). Three pairs would be optimal, but two will get you by. With two pair, you will have a training pair and a meet pair. If you are breaking in new wraps for training then wrap them loose for a few sessions and then go tighter as the meet comes around. For the meet, bust out the unused pair and use the training ones as your back-ups. (This is when the third pair would be a good idea.) I always used three pair of wraps:

  1. My training wraps
  2. My meet wraps
  3. My back-up meet wraps

I never liked using the same wraps for more than one meet (not really sure why). In this case, my meet wraps would become my next training wraps, my back-up wraps were my new meet wraps, and the back-up wraps would be replaced. You should be able to use the same meet wraps for a few meets or more depending on how well you take care of them. Note: Don’t keep them rolled tight in your gym bag all year.

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What style of wrap do you use in training and/or at the meet? For example, crisscross, over knee, straight wraps, crisscross behind the knee?

I have found that crisscross works better for smaller knees and legs and allows for more support and rebound while a straight wrap works better for bigger lifters. I will leave this open and let the survey below show what lifters like best.

Regardless of the wrap style, never have a gap in the wraps where you can see skin showing.

How low and how high on the leg do you wrap?

This will always depend on the lifter, but it is more important that the wrap be higher than lower. For a safety’s sake, let’s say 4–5 inches above the knee and one wrap under the knee.

Make sure to start at the bottom and work up. Create a nice anchor by using the shin (chalk will also help). The first wrap is the most important. Make sure the lifter of someone else holds the wrap tight to the shin as you pull the first wrap. Make this as tight as you can and lock in down tight.

When you wrap, do not make the same mistake I see ALL THE TIME. Do not just pull tight on one angle or two. Pull tight in a quad or all the way around. Most will run the wrap under the knee and then pull tight on the up phase and maybe pull tight when they cross back down. This is only tight two out of four directions. The best wrap is to keep the tension on the wrap at all times. Pull it tight and keep as much tension as you can all the way around the knee. This requires very strong hands but is the best wrap you will get.

Second to this is to wrap in a box. Pull as tight as you can on all four angles.

Do you use chalk or stick-um to help anchor the wrap?

The first thing to do is dry the leg and knee off as best you can. Sweat may make the wrap slip and will make for a less than optimal wrap. Chalk is a great tool and will help anchor the wrap. Chalk is a better option than stick-um because the glue is very hard to get off and may work against you in the dead lift.

—Dave Tate

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Here is how some of our lifters use wraps.

David Allen

David Allen uses wraps differently based on whether or not he is in gear or raw. In gear, his best squat is an official 840 using a wide stance and Metal All-Black Wraps. Without equipment, Allen’s best competition squat is 625 with Metal All-Silver wraps and a medium stance. Here are his tips for using wraps:

  • If you’re in gear, do not wrap your own knees. The pressure makes it hard to be bent over and you won’t be able to be in a good position to wrap.
  • If you’re raw, wrapping your own knees can be a good idea. You can get them set exactly how you want them every time.
  • If you’re in gear, wrap your knees before you put your suit straps up.
  • Wrap both knees outward. This stabilizes the knee better against knee valgus.
  • I prefer to have my leg elevated, knee straight and flexed. You can get your wraps tighter that way.
  • Start wrapping when the lifter before you has been called.
  • In the warm-up room, wrap for your last warm-up set. You can do the last two if you prefer, but take at least one in wraps.
  • In training, I use wraps for the final six weeks if I will be competing raw. In gear, I only wrap for the last three or four.
  • When I wrap my knees I started at the top, because I hate the feeling of the wrap sliding down over my kneecap. I overlap by half and try to pull the wrap as tightly as possible. I keep it fairly narrow so that most of it gets behind the knee.
  • I always start wrapping at the point that my vastus lateralus sticks out, then wrap down until one wrap is below my kneecap.
  • Play around with different wraps and find what you like, but never change wraps on the day of the meet. Take two pairs in case one goes out.
  • My favorite wraps for gear is Metal All Blacks. They stretch a bit, so I can put more material around the knee to cast it for support.
  • My favorite wraps for raw squatting is Metal Silvers. They have more spring. I descend fast and get a good pop out of the hole by using them.

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Dave Kirschen

Dave Kirschen has squatted 771 pounds in the 181-pound weight class and 805 pounds in the 198-pound weight class. He competes exclusively in gear, and has some suggestions for how to use knee-wraps in training and at the meet.

  • In training, it is okay to squat your own knees if you are lifting raw for that day. For a serious set, a training partner can get better leverage, especially if I am bound up in tight gear.
  • Wraps first, straps second, belt third.
  • I wrap both knees out. I feel like it helps me drive my knees out. I might be making that up, but as William Forrester said, “it’s like praying. What do you risk?”
  • Keep your knee straight and quad flexed while your knee is being wrapped.
  • In a meet, I begin wrapping my knees at three lifters out. This is a little earlier than most lifters, but most of the meets I do these days run a strict clock. I’d rather spend a little extra wrapped than cut it close and have to rush my set-up.
  • The only time I wrap in the warm-up room is if I feel that my technique is a little off.
  • Every fourth week during my training cycle, I squat in full gear. This is the only time that I wrap in training.
  • I don’t like very tight wraps, so they are about the same tightness every time.
  • I sometimes chalk my legs if the wraps are a little on the slick side. If I’m wrapping someone else’s knees, I use chalk on my hands to keep a better grip.
  • Tighten the wraps when you roll them up prior to wrapping, so you or your training partner don't have to pull them as hard when you wrap the knee. Better yet, have someone else do it. Better yet, have separate training partners roll and wrap them. You don't want your wrapper's hands to already be tired before they wrap you because they can lose their and drop the wrap.
  • Have at least a third identical wrap rolled up and ready to go in the event you or your training partner drop the wrap and have to start over.
  • For beginner’s, I recommend the elitefts Heavy Wraps. They are user friendly with good support. My favorite for myself are Kraits. Good stiffness and just enough stretch to get a lot of revolutions.

Donnie Thompson

Donnie Thompson’s best squat is 1235 pounds in competition. He (like most 1000-pound+ squatters) favors wide stance squats and could not possibly wrap his own knees at a over 370-pound competition bodyweight. From one of the heaviest squatters in the world, here’s what Donnie Thompson suggests:

  • I keep my leg straight and flexed while my knee is being relaxed, and always stand. Both wraps are pulled out.
  • Begin wrapping when it is announced you are in the hole.
  • I only wrap at the gym a few times, because I hate them. I introduce them only to do a heavy single in full gear.
  • I never wrap my own knees.
  • For warm-ups at a meet, I prefer to wrap for the last two.
  • My wrapping style: criss-cross over the knee and high on the thigh. I like the bottom to be right at the knee cap and the top to be up my mid thigh.
  • I use moderately tight wraps because I am a pussy and can’t take tight wrap-jobs.
  • I stick-um my knee and the wraps to help them stick.
  • If you depend on knee wraps too much, you will find a lot of disappointing attempts. They are meant for protection, and that is why I use them.

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Brian Schwab

Brian Schwab is one of the longest-active members of team elitefts. He holds numerous world records in both individual lifts and totals. He is a 148-pound and 165-pound lifter with best squats of 722 and 771, respectively. As a smaller lifter with a medium stance, Schwab’s approach to knee wraps differs from an 1100-pound super-heavyweight squatter.

  • In training, I always wrap my own knees. In a meet I have someone else do it so that I can conserve energy.
  • In full gear, I have someone wrap my knees before I put my suit straps up.
  • Louie has said that it helps to push the knees out if both knee wraps are pulled out. I actually don’t think this makes much difference, as long as the wraps are tight.
  • While preparing for a meet, I wear my knee wraps on two working sets every week. I have an older, more broken-in pair that I use for training and another that I start using about three weeks out when I start determining my attempts.
  • I wrap straight on the knee, from about two inches below the knee to roughly two inches above the knee. I try to get over my kneecap as many times as possible to get the most support.
  • I like my wraps as tightly as possible on all attempts.
  • Always use chalk on the wraps and your knees to help it stick.
  • Many times I See lifters with their knee exposes in the bottom position of their squats. I feel this is a huge wrapping error and could almost eliminate the benefit of wraps. This is why I prefer the straight wrap. I try to overlap halfway up the width of the wrap every time that I go around.

Julia Ladewski

Julia Ladewski is a 132-pound lifter with a 463-pound competition best squat. She also competes in the NPC as a Physique competitor and knows exactly how to alter her training to prepare for either challenge. This is how she uses wraps for her powerlifting training:

  • I squat wide and never wrap my own knees. It is too stressful with everything else going on. I like to be able to think about my squat while I’m being wrapped. I wouldn’t be able to get my wraps tight enough if I wrapped them myself, either.
  • I pull both wraps out and wait until they’re on to pull my straps up.
  • I begin to wrap as the person before me is walking to the platform. This gives me time to wrap, set my straps, and get my belt ready.
  • If I ever use wraps in the warm-up room, I only do it for my last warm-up.
  • Any time that I wear my suit in training, I wrap my knees. This usually ends up being 4-8 weeks out from a meet.
  • My wraps get tighter as the meet goes on. The first two attempts are usually medium tightness and the third attempt is cranked harder.
  • I do not use chalk to help the wraps stick. I usually don’t have an issue with them sliding.
  • Always have an extra pair handy when you’re wrapping so that if you mess up, you have another ready to use. BUT also make sure that the extra wrap is rolled up so that you can immediately use it as the replacement. If you end up put behind from a wrap issue, you’ll have to rush your set-up and probably miss your lift.

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