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Thumb Stretch Tape
Tape plays a crucial role in the sport of Weightlifting: It is used as a bandage for cuts on hands, neck or shins to allow the lifter to continue to train or compete. Tape is also used around wrists and ankles for support, or below the kneecap for patellar relief.
This product review is focused on tape for the thumbs.
Most lifters wrap their thumbs to aid their hookgrip while protecting their skin from the knurling. Lifting on a sharp bar where the knurling is more abrasive (i.e., new bars in competitions), it becomes imperative that tape is used to protect the skin. Tape is allowed for use in all competitions locally and internationally as long as the very tip of the thumb is exposed so it is not utilized to extend the length of the thumb. (This is a rule infraction.)
During the majority of my career, I used standard white Athletic Tape. This is a 100% cloth tape used for many purposes within the sporting world like wrapping a hockey stick or holding fingers together. It’s the Duct tape for the athletic world. I used it because it was readily available and was the status quo. During the later part of my career, I noticed that pulling consistently on bars over 180kg began to put substantial pressure on my thumb. Yes, the athletic tape was protecting my skin; however, it was painful. Eventually I developed bruising and swelling under the center tip of my nail. When this began to worsen, I became subconsciously reluctant to pull as hard as possible on the barbell. When I realized this, I decided to audition every tape I could find so I could maximize my lifting. Each time I was in a store and saw a new brand that I had never tried before I would buy it. It wasn’t a priority, but something I kept in mind each time I was shopping. Eventually after years of this approach and not finding a suitable replacement, I became more diligent. I went to tape speciality retailers, medical supply stores, sporting goods stores, etc. to seek out even more types. During that time I found a few that were marginally better, but the cost and availability didn’t made them viable replacements.
When testing each new type of tape, I would load 200kg on a barbell, place in on pulling blocks, and initiate the second pull, which is the most violent part of the lift on the grip. I was concerned with the comfort (or lack of pain) when pulling on heavy barbells. The test was fairly simple: try each tape for 10-20 reps and record the performance.
I eventually surmised that cloth tape, with its lack of flexibility, made it very difficult on the thumb because when I wrapped my thumb, it was initially straight, but when I gripped the bar, it was slightly bent. Because the tape doesn’t bend, this causes discomfort. I also tried wrapping my thumb in segments, top and bottom separately to allow the thumb to flex. The lack of tape over the joint allowed the blood pressure to go to that area which led to bruising and swelling in the center around the knuckle. Wrapping the entire thumb was faster and less painful. The logical option was a different tape.
After years of trying every tape imaginable and performing numerous tests on at least 60 different types / kinds / brands of tape, I ultimately narrowed it down to tapes that were considered “stretch” tapes, or “flexible fabric.” Most of these were not durable and would not adhere to themselves at all.
Ultimately I found a replacement for the Athletic Tape. It was the best of all the tapes I tested. Jaylastic brand stretch tape. I used this tape in training for six months leading up to the US Nationals and was very happy with the tape. While attending the Nationals, I was attentive to other lifters and what they were using. As expected, about 99% of the athletes were still using the norm — white athletic tape. What I didn’t expect was that a few high-level athletes were using stretch tape. I asked them about it, and they told me that this tape was new to them and that they really liked it. I inquired where they got it, and they said it was was provided by the US Olympic Training Center. The inside of roll was blank and they had no idea of the brand. So, I contacted the USOTC and inquired about it. They told me that it was the same Jaylastic brand I was already using.
I really liked this tape and continued to use it for years. I found it to be superior to all others because the combination of cotton and polyester provided great durability and protection from the knurling, along with the ability to have moderate thumb flexibility after applied. However, like most good things, the honeymoon was eventually over. I began to find faults with this tape as well. The tape was not sticky enough; would frequently not stick to itself which caused it to unravel. I was constantly re-wrapping it between attempts. The lack of adhesive had another major issue: under extreme loads, the entire tape, as a whole, would slip off your thumb mid-lift. This was not good for confidence while attempting maximum weights; it felt as if the bar was slipping out of my hands. True, the fabric was great and allowed my thumb to not feel like it was going to explode, but not having enough adhesive was an issue.
To improve this situation I used a can of QDA (quick drying adhesive) spray. This sticky spray is generally used pre-tape to aid in sticking, especially for sweaty or wet applications. This was a nuisance, and results were fair at best. Not to mention the overspray. It would get on my shoes or clothes, which attracted dirt, so parts of my wardrobe got very, very dirty. To prevent the unraveling, I took a small, very thin piece of athletic tape and wrapped it around an area of my thumb. Both of these additional steps were a hassle. Spraying my hands, waiting for 20-30 seconds for it to dry, then applying the tape, then wrapping a second type of tape around it to keep it on. It was ridiculous. The only other option was to simply re-tape multiple times during a workout when needed. In best-case scenarios in competition, after snatches I’d remove the tape and re-tape for Clean and Jerks. Usually after taking my second-to-last warm-up attempt, I’d re-tape to be certain that during my three attempts I would not be thinking of my tape, instead of other, more pending things, like not missing. Four tape changes during one meet. Not the best scenario.
I needed a solution that was un-demanding with exceptional results.
The answer was simple: get a tape with the exact same or even better material as the Jaylastic but with substantially more adhesive which would solve the two major problems I was having with that brand. After researching tapes and brands for over a year, I finally found a manufacturer willing to produce it by special order. My stipulations were fairly direct: make the tape with a special blended fabric, then add as much adhesive as possible. The analogy the tape manufacturer used was “Adhesive is to tape what cheese is to veal parmesan. It can make the meal bad if there’s not enough, but too much raises the cost and that’s not good for business.” I simply replied “I love cheese, so give me as much as the plate can hold.” He agreed to make the tape with the maximum amount of adhesive that the material could bear.
After a few trial and error orders with fabrics and sizes, the final product was perfect. It sticks to itself extremely well, which means it doesn’t come unraveled. And it sticks well to my skin so it never feels like I am loosing my grip during mid-lift. It stayed on during an entire workout, and the bar didn’t wear it out. It allowed my thumb to bend so pulling on maximum weights was painless. Also, it is tearable by hand so no scissors are needed to apply it, and the width is ideal for thumbs, so no having to split the roll.
Changing tape numerous times a day became a distraction all in itself. With the new tape, I was able to wrap my thumbs when I put my shoes on and take it off as I remove my lifting shoes. No multiple tapings, no thinking about it, no QDA spray, nothing. Tape and lift.