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The Knee Sleeve CONTROVERSY

Posted Sep 12 2008 11:48am
I just posted this on a training forum, but figured it was good enough for the blog! Hopefully it explains why I recommend the use of knee sleeves with weight training. Enjoy!



I guess I’m a little confused as to why there’s so much controversy surrounding this topic.Evidently, everything that’s written in an article these days must be supported by mounds of scientific evidence.

With that being said, here’s how and why I got interested in knee sleeves.

I was originally turned on to the idea by Australian strength coach Ian King.In a personal communication with Coach King, he stated that he had endured 10+ knee surgeries.He also stated that knee sleeves were part of the equation he used to nurse himself back to health and competition.He used the knee sleeves with all of his athletes, who also reported improved sense of well-being.

As if that wasn’t enough, I began speaking with two-time IPF World Heavyweight Powerlifting Champion Brad Gillingham about knee sleeves as well.Brad is not only super strong (over an 850 pound squat and deadlift!), but he’s no young buck either; Brad is over 40 and still going strong in a brutally demanding sport.He stated that the knee sleeves decreased his warm-up time, increased joint temperature and, again, improved his psychological well-being.He went on to state that the following Elite level lifters used knee sleeves as well:

Liz Willette (600+ pound squat as a female)

Greg Wagner (800+ pound squat at 275)

Nick Tylutki (800+ pound squat at 242)

Ray Benemerito (750 pound squat at 198)

Shawn Culnan (800+ pound squat at 275)

Pat McGettigan (Not sure of weights, but super strong)

So right then and there I decided that if I started using these at a young age, it would most likely improve my joint health both now and in the future.But I’m willing to admit that this is all anecdotal evidence, albeit from highly qualified athletes and coaches.

Returning to the rationale for use, there’s basically three reasons that people use knee sleeves:

- Increased joint temperature/improved joint lubrication

- Improved proprioception

- Improved psychological well-being

It’s pretty common knowledge that any time you significantly increase joint temperature, you’re going to improve lubrication at the joint and a decrease in the viscosity of synovial fluid.Yet another reason why warming up is actually good for you.

If you look at the scientific research on proprioception when using knee sleeves, the conclusions are pretty equivocal.The issue I have with these studies (as I do with most weight-training studies) is the fact that they use “healthy” college students to perform the tests.What is healthy?Have they weight trained extensively?Are they familiar with the machines or exercises they’ll be using?If you want to determine the efficacy of a training aid such as knee sleeves, use a well-trained population.I know this is not always an option, but it needs to be stated that this a limitation of most current strength training research.

Finally, while it can’t be assessed or determined scientifically, the Birmingham 1998 study mentioned that 72% of subjects FELT that the sleeves improved their performance.Now I realize this isn’t “scientific,” but is anyone else here ready to refute the psychological influence on performance?I don’t know about you, but if I FEEL like something is going to improve my performance, chances are it’s probably going to help, and it’s definitely not going to do anything to impair it.

I hope this clears things up.I understand what my biases are, but when it comes down to it, I’m always going to lean towards learning from people who are in the field and getting results versus guys in lab coats who are arguing minutia.In my opinion, the list of elite strength trainers and coaches alone was enough to convince me to use knee sleeves and recommend them to the people I train.

Stay strong

MR

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