We all need a little bit of support sometimes, especially with our big lifts. Pushing yourself to your limits can be tough on your joints, but with the support of a pair of knee sleeves, you can plate up that barbell and improve your squat max.
If you’re a regular a the gym, you’ll know that a weightlifting belt is your best friend for supporting your core during heavy deadlifts. But what about your knees during your big squats? If you don’t know already, knee sleeves can provide support to your knees and give you the confidence to up your max squat weight.
In this article, we’ll explain what knee sleeves are, answer common questions about knee sleeves and provide you with science-backed benefits of using knee sleeves, so you can decide whether they’re right for you and your heavy leg day workouts.
What are knee sleeves?
Knee sleeves are sock-like soft neoprene garments that surround your knee joint and extend over your thigh, providing compression to improve the function of the joint. They sit snugly in place to keep your knees warm during your heavy lifts without being too rigid and reducing your range of motion. Because when you’re under the great weight of the barbell, knee sleeves can make your squats feel a whole lot better.
When it comes to the knees, they can be very sensitive when put under stress. There are ways you can strengthen your knee joints, and it’s likely if you’re an active person that, you’re probably doing this already. Exercises like weightlifting can strengthen the knees by thickening cartilage in the joint , and running, despite the wear and tear myths, can actually lead to reduced risk of osteoarthritis compared to non-runners.
But your knees aren’t going to feel bulletproof after one session; no, these improvements will occur over a course of consistent resistance training. What can help is wearing a pair of knee sleeves to help provide some extra support and stabilization as you train heavily in strength sports.
So whether you’re into CrossFit, a powerlifter, or you need some extra support as you get closer to your one rep max, you can find out how you can benefit from wearing knee sleeves in this article.
Benefits of Knee Sleeves
Trying to improve your one rep max? Take a look below as we outline at the benefits of wearing knee sleeves on your next leg day.
Support And Warmth To Your Knee Joint
It’s what you're probably all here for; yes, that’s to improve your squats. If you’ve reached a point in your squat progression where you’re feeling like you could do with some support around your knees, then knee sleeves will be your next best gym buddy.
The main benefits of wearing knee sleeves for squats are support and warmth. Knee sleeves are useful for warming up the knee joint and providing slight compression. This improves the overall comfort of your knee joint as you squat, helping you feel more confident as you load up the plates.
Knee sleeves provide support for your squats as you increase the load, and they have been found to improve stabilization and proprioception of the knee joint as you near fatigue . Think of it like this, when you’re more aware of the joints you use, you’re able to focus on performing the correct form, and knee sleeves bring awareness of the position of knee joints, which can improve your knee mechanics as you squat.
If you lead an active lifestyle, chances are you experience minor aches and pains from time to time, as it comes with the territory. The knee joint just happens to be a part of the body that is more susceptible to injury, and the likely culprits of said injuries tend to be from lunging, running, jumping, and squatting.
But knee sleeves can be beneficial for weightlifting to help with any pain in the knee joints. By bringing warmth to the knee joint, knee sleeves can encourage blood flow to the knee, which can help reduce inflammation and, therefore, minimize pain whilst you perform weightlifting exercises such as front squats or back squats .
Aid With Recovery
Knee injuries can take a long time to heal, and after you’ve passed the sedentary sofa-sitting stage of your injury and you’re working on building strength back in the knee joint, a knee sleeve can come in handy. Knee sleeves can help athletes recover quicker from injury by preventing too much movement in the patella. Wearing a knee sleeve whilst recovering from an ACL injury, for instance, has been found to help with balance and better muscle coordination when performing plyometric movements such as a drop jump . Not to mention, they’re easy to put on and remove and are comfortable enough to wear for your entire workout.
Squats Feel Better
Now, what no study can test is your feelings; only you can conclude how something makes you feel. Placebo or not, it’s often mind over matter with how far you can push yourself, and there’s no denying that heavy squats just feel so much better when wearing knee sleeves. If something feels better, you’ll likely perform better. Why? The psychology of weightlifting is complex, and often it only takes a new belief for you to exceed your limits. “I can lift heavier now I’m wearing knee sleeves; I’ve got this” might just be your next workout motto.
Knee Sleeves For Squats
When should you start using knee sleeves for squats?
You’ll want to whip out your knee sleeves when you’re repping out on a high-volume squat session or attempting your one rep max. As stated, knee sleeves can benefit when in a fatigued state as you rep until failure and can help stabilize the knee during your heaviest squats.
How much difference do knee sleeves add to a squat?
Knee sleeves aren’t going to suddenly have you squatting 30kg heavier, but what they will do is provide the support you need to boost your confidence under the squat rack. The mental aspect of wearing knee sleeves improves proprioceptive feedback and stabilization of the knee joint, so your heavy squats will feel a lot better, meaning you may find yourself shifting more weight.
Knee Sleeves Vs. Knee Wraps
Knee wraps differ from knee sleeves in many ways, one being the design as instead of a neoprene fabric sleeve, they’re made from a thick polyester canvas that has a similar feel to wrist wraps. They have little stretch to them and are designed to be wrapped tightly around the knee joint (in a figure-8 or spiral) for use during heavy squats. Unlike knee sleeves that can be worn for the entirety of your leg session, knee wraps should only be used for your maximum lifts.
What do knee wraps do?
Knee wraps are designed to increase your max squat weight by supporting the knee and helping with knee mechanics.
In the lowering phase of the squat, the elastic material of the knee wrap is stretched, creating tension and allowing the lifter to ‘store energy’; in the wraps. During the ascent of the lift, the elastic properties of the wraps transfer this energy to the lifter just like a spring being stretched. According to research, wearing knee wraps can increase squat speed in the concentric phase by up to 20% and the eccentric phase by up to 45% .
Being able to bounce up easier from the bottom of the squat means the squatter is able to increase the load, with one study finding knee wraps increased peak squat power by up to 10% .
Are knee sleeves or wraps better?
Knee sleeves and knee wraps offer different benefits depending on your goals. If you’re advancing in weightlifting or do CrossFit, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or traditional bodybuilding, you’ll benefit best from wearing knee sleeves to support your squats.
Knee wraps, on the other hand, are best suited for competitive powerlifters as they are fairly complex to use and specifically designed for powerlifters to add more weight and speed to their squats. For other sports, such as Olympic Weightlifting, the tightness and thickness of a knee wrap can be too restrictive whilst trying to achieve depth on exercises such as cleans and snatches.
Knee Sleeve Sizing
How should knee sleeves fit?
Use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your knee. Keep your knee slightly bent whilst measuring.
If you're in between two sizes, size down for a tighter fit or size up for a looser fit.
The decision to use knee wraps is completely personal; there are many weightlifters and powerlifters that use neither, and some that swear by them for their heaviest lifts.
With that being said, it’s recommended for intermediate lifters to only use knee sleeves during their heaviest weightlifting sessions. You should, however, avoid relying too much on knee sleeves and neglecting your mobility and technique if you choose to wear them.
Since the tightly wrapped fabric can be restrictive for achieving a large range of motion, knee wraps should only be used by advanced powerlifters for select exercises, such as the squat or leg press, to give you that extra support and bounce during your leg days’ toughest sets.
Now your knees are supported, it’s time to give some attention to your hands. Take a read through our article to find whether lifting straps, wrist wraps, or lifting gloves can help you get a better grip with your heavy lifts.