Knee pads in volleyball: what are they all about? Pros and cons

You will have noticed that volleyball players often wear knee pads. It might not be clear why they do this. Is it just for show or does it have a real purpose? This is not something that you see in a lot of other sports. In this article, we will discuss why volleyball players wear knee pads and what you have to take into account if you want to buy them. Let’s see what I have learned from playing volleyball for more than a decade.

Why do volleyball players wear knee pads?

In volleyball, you often have to run, jump and leap. You want to avoid the ball hitting the ground. Sometimes you really have to dive to get a ball. This is called digging in volleyball. This means that you ‘fly forward’ and try to pass the ball to your team member or get it over the net.

Since you sometimes use a lot of force to dig a ball, you can make a hard landing on your knees. Players are often very focused on the ball and they forget that they have to land well to make sure that they don’t fall hard.

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

If you play volleyball every week, you will land on your knees quite a lot. This can be painful after a while. This is why volleyball players almost always wear knee pads. Therefore it is a protective instrument that helps volleyball players to land softer.

Knee pads contain gel or foams to reduce the impact. Gells are better at reducing the impact but they are less flexible. This makes them less comfortable. This is the main reason why foams are often used in knee pads. This is a decision that you will have to make when you buy them.

You will also have to check if the knee pads use elastics or velcro to keep them in place. Elastics can be quite tight but keep the knee pads better in place. This is also something that you will have to think about.

The final aspect that has an impact on the look and feel of the knee pads is the material that they are made out of. A lot of brands use synthetic materials. These are less comfortable than natural materials such as cotton but are cheaper to produce and better at dealing with sweat. This also affects how hot your knees get. Synthetics are better at removing the heat so might be easier to wear for a long period of time.

Personally, I like the knee pads of Nike as these are shorter than a lot of other brands. This makes them more comfortable for me. Other people don’t like that the elastics are quite narrow and prefer brands that offer longer knee pads that don’t use many elastics.

Do professional volleyball players use knee pads?

Yes, professional volleyball players use knee pads to make sure that they can dive for every ball. Often it is hard to estimate in advance how hard you will hit the ground. Indoor volleyball terrains have a hard ground so it is possible to make forceful contact with the ground. If you sit on your knees when you pass the ball, you can use more force. This is one of the reasons why you often see volleyball players sit on their knees when they want to offer an assist.

Professional players perform this sport for several hours every day so they need some protection as falling on your knees can be quite painful. Some positions on the field have to do this less often as this is a defensive maneuver that mainly happens by the last row of the field. People that attack and smash a lot don’t have to dive that often so knee pads might be less useful to them.

Volleyball players rotate over the field so everyone has to defend from time to time but the libero can replace players that don’t enjoy defending so this makes sure that some players don’t have to dig (dive to get the ball). Therefore some professional players almost never use their knee pads but just wear them for the exceptional defensive maneuver that they have to perform. Some players lower their knee pads during breaks in the game as these can get quite annoying after a while.

Professional players are often sponsored by a brand and therefore can’t choose which knee pads they will wear.

Where do volleyball knee pads go?

Volleyball knee pads can be quite big so it can be confusing how you have to wear them. There should be a big piece of foam in the middle of the knee pad. That piece should be in front of you when you wear it. This piece has more padding and should go over the part of your knee that is bigger (your knee joint). Some volleyball players are quite tall and wear the knee pad lower as they feel that another part of their knee hits the ground.

You will have to experiment with the position of the knee pads and see what is the most comfortable for you. If you bend your knee and dive for a ball, the padding will absorb the impact and you won’t notice it if you land on it quite hard. This is why it is important to buy knee pads with a lot of padding. Cheaper knee pads don’t have that much padding and can be less dampening if you hit the ground with a lot of force.

This is also demonstrated in the video below:

It might be possible that you have to adjust the location of the knee pad a few times to make sure that it fits just right. Don’t worry if you have to take it on and off a few times. What is really important is that these knee pads have to fit quite tightly.

This makes sure that they don’t slip off while you are running or jumping. At first, this can be quite annoying but you will get used to it. This is also one of the reasons that you have to replace your knee pads from time to time as the elastics in them get loose and they will start to slip off. These pads have to deal with a lot of sweat and wear-and-tear. Therefore you have to replace them every year if you want them to stay in place.

Can you wash knee pads and are they machine washable?

You can check the washing instructions that come with your knee pads but in general, it is recommended that you wash these by hand. Knee pads often contain gels, rubber bands, and foams that are not able to withstand the force of a washing machine and they could get damaged. Therefore it is better to just fill a bucket with water and some soap and let the knee pads rest in them for an hour. This will make sure that all the sweat has been cleaned out of them.

The water can turn brown or black due to all the moisture and dirt that has been collected in them. You can just flush this water through the toilet. Afterward, you can go over the knee pads with a towel to clean the spots out. It is often easier to buy new ones if your current ones are really dirty. Knee pads generally don’t last that long so you will have to buy new ones every year.

Since these are not that expensive, it is not a huge issue. They have to deal with a lot of strain so it is understandable that their form will change or that their get discolored after a while. You can let your knee pads dry in the sun. Once again, I wouldn’t recommend that you use your drying machine to dry them as the rubber bands often are not able to stand up to the heat and deform quite easily. If this happens, the knee pads will not stay in place and it will be very annoying to play with them on.

You can hand wash knee pads together with your arm pads or arm sleeves but it is often better to use separate buckets, especially if your arm sleeves are newer than your knee pads. It takes some more time to wash them by hand but in the end, it is worth it as they retain their shape much better. I have had to throw away quite a lot of knee pads after they have been deformed by a washing machine so I wash always them by hand now.

In a lot of instances, it is better to replace your knee pads. They are not that expensive and this makes sure that they will function well. You might damage the foams or gels when you wash them as they can’t be exposed to high temperatures. Volleyball players often wear 4 or more knee pads per season as this is one of the items that have to deal with a lot of wear and tear. It is one of the items that you shouldn’t try to save money on. Especially if you are a defensive player and dive a lot, knee pads are an essential tool.

In this article, we have discussed some equipment for volleyball players. They often wear long socks and knee pads. Arm pads and arm sleeves are less common and mostly worn by newer players that want to improve their game. The great thing about volleyball is that you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment. Decent shoes, knee pads, and socks and you are good to go.

Therefore I would opt to invest in decent material as the quality is often a lot higher. I have seen cheap knee pads break after a few training sessions and in the end, it is often cheaper to invest in decent material. These items have to deal with sweat and a lot of stretching so  I always chose to invest in the best brands as these can last for several years and I don’t have to worry about it. If you want to give volleyball a try, you can always start with cheaper material and see how it goes. If you don’t like it, you didn’t lose a lot of money. You can always invest in better equipment later on after you have decided to pick up volleyball as a new hobby.