By: Barbell Logic Team
*We recommend a few products below. None of these companies or products are partners of Barbell Logic or Starting Strength Online Coaching. We just like them.
One of the best things about barbell training is also one of the biggest let downs. Training tends to lead to obsession, obsession about what you eat and drink, over your sleep habits, and about programming issues like how much sets reps and weight is enough (or too much). It’s difficult to obsess over equipment, though. Unlike many other sports, there are few (if any) gadgets, pieces of apparel, or equipment that will improve your training. A bar, a rack, and shoes, and you are ready to start lifting. You will add a belt if you are really serious. But what about when you want to nerd-out and create a line item in your budget for your favorite hobby?
Welcome, then, the world of compression. Specialty equipment like chains, boxes, and specialty bars are useful in specific circumstances, but those can be difficult to justify. There is a host of supportive gear that can help keep you comfortable, warm-up your joints, and can make training a little bit easier, especially if you have aches, pains, and creaky joints. Below are some of our favorite pieces of supportive gear.
A lot of the claims around compression gear don’t stand up to scrutiny. Compression clothes don’t “flush” your muscles, help “reoxygenate” your blood, or manage inflammation; those things happen on their own. Compression clothes carry a strong psychological component: they feel great. Especially, when you are sore or when achy joints are a regular part of your day.
Knee sleeves are the most common compression gear for lifters. There is a small correlation between temperature and knee function. Synovial fluid changes in viscosity with temperature changes and during loaded movement. Cold knees take more force to move and tend to move a little bit more slowly. A warm knee joint seems to work better, and compression provides warmth to the joint. Also, as Rip has written, “Some people just have shitty knees;” knee sleeves make them feel less so.
Sleeves won’t immediately help you add a bunch of weight to the bar—and we don’t want them too. If the knee sleeve is tight enough to store elastic energy during the eccentric phase of a squat, it is too tight, performing as an external aid to the joint rather than helping the joint feel better. We don’t want a knee-wrap-exoskeleton taking the load for us. This takes away from the proper execution and purpose of the squat.
A good rule of thumb is that if you have to take your sleeves off between sets, they are too tight.
Elbow sleeves or cuffs are less common than knee sleeves but are extremely useful when you need them. Elbow pain in the low bar squat is common. You can usually fix it by fixing your grip and your positioning under the bar. But if you’ve aggravated the joint already, it may hurt for a while even as you troubleshoot and fix your grip. Elbow sleeves can help you get through this or any chronic pain you might be having, giving you just enough support to keep squatting, pressing, and benching.
We’ve had success with elbow cuffs from Mark Bell’s Slingshot.
Wrist wraps are supportive and provide a proprioceptive function. Unlike your knee, the wrist shouldn’t be flexing or extending under load. Instead, you want to keep a neutral wrist when you bench and press to ensure efficient force transfer from your elbow to the bar. For some lifters, maintaining a neutral wrist is one of the most challenging parts of these lifts. Wrist wraps give you some support for the joint and some tactile feedback on your wrist position.
Creaky hips? Compression tights or shorts can help with the feeling of support and warmth around your hip joints.
Matt uses Rehband Warm Pants to help with his old man hips.
See more of what’s in Matt’s gym bag below:
Compression gear is like a warm hug for your joints. While these things won’t add fifteen pounds to your one-rep max, they might help you train a little more comfortably and a bit more consistently. In the long-run, that’s definitely worth the investment.
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