You used to think that compression braces were for old people and out-of-shape delivery drivers. But, as you look around the gym, you see more and more young and fit people wearing them while they lift.
Could it be that there’s more to compression than you thought?
Compression helps to protect joints and maintain posture.
Most compression braces are specifically designed to help support joints with a more limited range of motion like the knee or the elbow. These joints are meant to bend in a particular direction and lifting too much or messing up form on a new lift could damage the ligaments that keep the bones in a joint together.
Compression tapes and wraps can be used as a more versatile and less expensive substitute for a dedicated brace. They can also be used on smaller joints that can be difficult to fit with out-of-the-box products. Wraps for knuckles are one familiar example.
If you’ve seen people walking around the gym with zany bands of colored tape, that’s called “kinesiology tape” and it’s related but not exactly what we’re talking about. Similarly, some gym folks will use cling film to compress sore joints as well as hold ice or cold packs. Again, similar, but not exactly why we’re here.
Don’t worry, HTBM has articles coming down the pipe on ice and compression as well as on how to use kinesiology tape. So, if you’re curious about these products as well, keep coming back.
Who Should Use a Compression Brace?
So, anyone can use a compression brace, but when should you?
If you ever have an injury or surgery and your doctor gives you a brace, consider using a brace after the injury has healed. Sometimes, these injuries can act up when you get back to regular physical activity. Using a brace when you lift, run, etc., can keep those joints, muscles, and bones from getting hurt again.
Depending on what the injury was, you may or may not be able to use the same brace that you got at the hospital in your workout. For example, if you have knee troubles, the brace that they give you might immobilize the whole leg. You’ll want to brace your knee, but you’ll also need flexibility.
Fortunately, most sporting goods stores, pharmacies, big box stores, and even hardware stores have affordable, adjustable braces that you can use. This article will explore some features to look for in a moment, but if you’re worried about it just ask your doctor, physical therapist, coach, or personal trainer for their recommendations.
Genetics could be another medical reason to invest in compression braces for your workout. Some people that are born with greater flexibility have a better range of motion but they also have “loose ligaments” that make them more prone to injury.
Fortunately, most people who have these conditions are diagnosed as children, so it probably isn’t anything that will sneak up on you. Still, it’s one of the reasons that you might want to talk to your doctor about any intentions to ramp up your workout intensity.
The Four Cases Everyone Should Use Compression Braces.
Finally, any lifter could use compression braces. This is particularly true if you’re, drastically increasing the weights on a lift, trying out a new lift, doing exercises with an impact on your body, or doing the same motion over and over.
If you don’t have any injuries or pre-existing health conditions that make you more likely to hurt yourself on a lift than the average bear, don’t think that you need a compression brace just because you saw someone else wearing one.
Quickly Upping Your Lift Weight
Using compression braces can be a good idea to safely level up your weight. If you’re a competitive lifter, using braces can help you stay competitive safely. However, if you aren’t a competitive lifter, looking at braces might just mean that you’re pushing yourself too hard.
If you’re lifting so much that you’re worried about hurting yourself, don’t lift so much. You lift so that your muscles get bigger and stronger and as they get bigger and stronger they will do a better job of maintaining a healthy posture. So, gradually increasing weights as you become ready for them means that you won’t need braces to protect your joints.
Safely Learning New Exercises
Because braces improve your posture, they can be a helpful (and healthy) tool for learning new lifts. However, if you would rather not deal with the cost and hassle of a compression brace, there are some safe ways to learn new lifts without them.
A classic HTBM tip is to practice new lifts with weights that are well below what you plan on lifting. This helps you nail down the form without risking your health – even if it means that you’ll look silly with 10lbs weights for a few minutes.
An alternative is to practice new lifts on a cable machine even if you plan on doing the lift with free weights. Cable machines guide your movements in ways that free weights don’t. This makes them ideal for learning and getting comfortable with new lifts in ways that are both challenging and safe.
Protecting Joints From Impact
Another area in which there is just no substitute for compression braces and that is exercises that have an impact on your body. All exercises should have an “impact” on your body, but here we mean situations in which your body is coming into brief but sudden and forceful impact with something else.
We already talked about wrapping your knuckles or getting special gloves if you’re going to be hitting a heavy bag. It’s a good example, but another great example is getting braces for your knees or even your ankles if you’re going to be running or jogging – particularly if you run or jog with added weights.
Protecting Joints From Repeated Motion
A final area in which compression braces can be helpful is protection from repeated motion. Though, just a heads-up, this isn’t necessarily a big one for our target audience of weight lifters and body builders.
Repeated motion, even with good form but more so with poor form, can wear down joints leading to discomfort and even damage. These injuries, together called “overuse injuries” are more commonly referred to by the joint involved and the activity that commonly causes them. Think about things like “tennis elbow.”
If your primary activity is lifting weights, you should be switching up your lifts often enough and doing few enough reps in any given session that overuse injuries shouldn’t be much of a problem for you. However, if you do have other hobbies or occupations that do involve repeated motions, that paired with your lifting could be a recipe for disaster.
What to Look For When Buying a Compression Brace
So, you’ve decided that you want to get a compression brace to help you in your lifting. How do you know what to look for?
The main distinction is between “braces” and “sleeves.” We’ve been using the term “brace” to cover both things, and they have a lot of the same benefits, they’re just different styles.
Sleeves are mainly for compression. They look kind of like a rubber sock with the toes cut out. They’re basically one-size-fits all, and they just pull into place around your ankle, knee, or elbow. If you want a more versatile and traditional compression, skip the sleeve and use tape or a wrap instead.
“Braces” are usually adjustable and offer more support. They can be more expensive so they may not be for everyone, but they are a big step up that might be worth the money if you’re looking for braces to compensate for an old injury. Because braces are more adjustable, they’re also a better route for awkward areas like the wrist and core.
Because braces are typically bigger, they’re also more likely to incorporate additional features like temperature control and copper wire. The copper wire is mainly an arthritis thing, and there isn’t a whole lot of science to back it up anyway, so don’t spend your money. Temperature control is generally only helpful if your old injury acts up when you use it – in that case it’s nice.
Are Compression Braces Right for You?
That’s pretty much it. That’s the rundown on compression braces, tapes, and sleeves. They’re handy for some people some of the time, so we’re glad that you decided to learn more about them. However, depending on who you are and how you work out, they may not actually help you out that much.