Go to any gym or switch on the TV and watch almost any sport and you’ll see people wearing supports for their ankles, knees, wrists and backs. There are even shoulder and elbow supports available too. Supports come in a variety of materials, designs, colours and styles but the one thing they all have in common is, unsurprisingly, they provide support to the joints they are covering. So, the question is, do YOU need to use a support too? The answer is a resounding maybe!
Sports supports are generally designed to prevent unwanted joint movement. This may be necessary because of a current injury that results in joint instability, the desire to minimize unwanted joint movement which may prevent an injury or simply to keep the joint warm which can also reduce injury risk and makes exercise easier on old, worn or otherwise compromised joints.
Supports also provide a “feel good” factor and they firmly enclose the joint and provide an undeniable sensation of security. If you are about to do a heavy set of squats, pulling up your knee supports can really help prepare you mentally for what you are about to do.
With a joint support available for virtually every major joint in your body, does this mean that you need to wrap yourself in neoprene each and every time you head into the gym? The answer is no - unless you want to look like you are going scuba diving that is!
As beneficial as supports can be, there is a time and a place for using them and you don’t necessarily need to support each and every joint in your body. Not everybody wants or needs that much support.
If you have an old injury that has never quite healed properly or are suffering from the onset of osteoarthritis, using a support makes perfect sense and, as the knee joint is arguably the most injury and arthritis-prone joint in the body, knee supports are a great place to start when considering supports. A knee support can prevent your knee joint from rolling in or out when performing leg exercises, give you a little bit of bounce out of the bottom position of squats and leg presses and also keep your knee joint warm and supple – essential for older exercisers. Elbow supports can also be very beneficial for all of the above reasons.
If you are a heavy or frequent bencher or overhead presser, wrist supports can be very useful. Lifting heavy loads tends to force your wrists back into an over or hyper extended position. In your early years of training this is nothing but a short-term discomfort but as the years turn onto decades, all of this loaded wrist hyper extension can contribute to painful, arthritic wrists. Wrist supports can help you to avoid or manage this problem by keeping your wrists straighter. Powerlifters and weightlifters have long been users of wrist supports and more and more general exercisers are using wrist supports as a way of preventing and alleviating wrist problems. Keeping your wrists properly aligned also makes for a more efficient push which should result in more weight or reps.
A large percentage of the exercising population has suffered from a lower back injury at some point. These injuries can range from a minor ache to debilitating pain and while exercise technique plays a major part in back injuries, so do does warmth and support. Wide, slightly supportive neoprene back belts are not as stabilizing as weight training belts but they keep the area much warmer and for many of us, that’s more important than support. Back belts also provide an external queue as to These warming, supportive belts will not help you lose inches from around your waist though so don’t fall for that “belly fat burning belt” nonsense!
The thing that supports are not designed for is allowing you to ignore aches and pains and “hold yourself together” if you are severely injured. Trying to manage a genuine injury such as damaged cartilage or a ruptured ligament with even the best support will only make matters worse as continued exercise will prevent healing. However, for minor aches and pains and for alleviating sore joints caused by general wear and tear, supports are not only safe; they can be very beneficial and may even improve your performance.
If your joints are feeling the result of lots of heavy training or you want to avoid problems before they start, joint supports could make for a good addition to your exercise wardrobe. Remember though, you only get what you pay for so seek out good quality supports that are designed specifically for exercise such as Rehband – experts in making supports for athletes and hard-core exercisers.