Not all knee compression sleeves are the same! There are varying levels of tightness, thickness, lengths, and aggressiveness to name a few things that differentiate knee sleeves when it comes to the support they can provide. Regardless of your activity level, as you age your joints undergo progressively unavoidable wear and tear so protecting them will eventually become a consideration if you remain active.
While it may not be imperative that you use them right now, it may be something to think about as you start to lift heavier, and as you age and start to feel the pull of gravity on your body a little more. So it will benefit you to learn about the advantages and types of knee sleeves, as well as how to choose the best compression knee sleeves for your needs.
What are compression knee sleeves?
Compression knee sleeves are like warm, tight, protective gloves for your knees. They look like tubular pieces of thick, kind of stretchy fabric that you slide over your foot and onto your knees. They’re usually made of neoprene and are supposed to support your knee stability, take some pressure off of your knees, and keep your joints safe while you engage in various activities such as running, and other competitive sports like wrestling and powerlifting.
You’ll often see powerlifters wearing knee sleeves, but they’re also used by your everyday average lifter, people who do Crossfit, bodybuilders, runners, and other athletes.
Studies have shown that compression knee sleeves are useful for:
- Keeping joints warm
- Increasing blood flow around joints
- Adding joint support and stability
- Reduce inflammation
- Decrease muscle soreness
- Enhance performance
- Prevent joint pain or discomfort
- Allow you to lift heavier and more safely
Knee sleeves vs knee wraps
Knee sleeves and knee wraps are often referred to synonymously, but they are definitely two different things.
Knee wraps are generally made from a cotton, elastic and polyester blend. They’re pretty stretchy and constructed to wrap around your knee in a spiral fashion. The tightness and pressure they provide can add to your speed and load capacity resulting in better lifts.
They’re normally used to enhance your performance during heavy squats and increase your movement mechanics.
However, according to research, wearing knee wraps can actually alter your movement mechanics and change the muscles being targeted. They can also create a little too much pressure in your knee by pushing your knee cap into your soft tissues, which can ultimately lead to injury, and potentially arthritis.
Knee sleeves, on the other hand, are compression garments that are usually made of neoprene which helps to hold in warmth around your joints and increase blood flow. This feature can speed up recovery by reducing some of the inflammation caused by weight lifting, in addition to keeping your knees warmed up throughout your workout.
Their main use is to prevent injuries and potential joint damage. They do not, however, protect you from old injuries; that’s what knee braces are for. Knee compression sleeves are solely there to help you to lift safer and prevent extra wear and tear from the physical stress of exercise.
If you plan to lift as heavy as you can, then knee compression sleeves will add a measure of safety and reduce your risk of future injury.
Some of the drawbacks of compression sleeves are that they can be uncomfortable. They’re supposed to fit tightly, so if you have a good pair that’s doing their job you’ll definitely be able to feel it. You also can’t just throw them into the washing machine to clean them because it significantly decreases their durability, so they may not smell the best in the long run.
And since they don’t necessarily come cheap, you’ll probably want to extend their life as much as possible.
So, what’s the main takeaway? Knee wraps are to help you lift more weight, period. And knee compression sleeves are for keeping you save and allowing you to lift while reducing some of the joint discomfort.
When and how to use knee sleeves?
So, now that you know how beneficial knee sleeves can be, you may be wondering how the heck to get those suckers on. They’re supposed to fit snuggly, so it can be a bit of a hassle and they’re supposed to be if you want them to function correctly. But there are some tricks to make it less of a workout just to get them on.
One of the most effective ways is the fold them in half by folding the top part down so you can see the inside, with the neoprene exposed. Then slide it over your foot and up your lower leg until you reach your knee with the fold sitting right under or on top of your lower knee. Then unfold the top part onto your upper knee the rest of the way.
Another technique is to just grasp the top of the sleeve tightly and shimmy it up your leg and over your knee.
There are a few different techniques that you can use. The best way to figure out what works for you is of course to just try a few and see what fits.
Knee compression sleeves have been reported to decrease joint pain and swelling, and allow you to perform better on exercises that would normally cause you a lot of discomfort due to the pressure put on your knees, for example during heavy squats.
Keeping your joints warm and adding a compression element can make a significant difference in your performance by keeping your joints safer and potentially lowering your risk of damage or injury by mitigating some of the weight distribution.
They’re also great if you know you’re going to be lifting heavy. People often say they’re able to reach PRs because they were wearing good knee compression sleeves. This isn’t necessarily because knee sleeves are magical by any means. It’s more likely due to increased confidence that your joints aren’t taken more than their fair share of the work during the lift.
Basically, if you plan on lifting for a long time, want to go heavier, or have already been weight lifting for a long time and have sustained injuries you need to protect from further injury then it may be time to look into getting some knee compression sleeves.
Is using knee sleeves considered “cheating”?
Some people say that using knee sleeves in cheating. But would you consider using a wrench to tighten a bolt cheating? If you have worn down joints from years of lifting, or just normal wear and tear from living your life, then compression sleeves can give you the ability to be more active and safe.
At most, they’re only helping you to gain a few more pounds on your lifts, and they facilitate this by supporting your knee stability and making you more comfortable, to a point. I say to a point because they’re supposed to be very, very tight and can actually be uncomfortable. However, what’s a little discomfort if you’re being safe and ultimately protecting yourself from the risk of injury or potential joint damage?
Why wouldn’t you want to be safer and confident in your joint stability when lifting heavy?
Especially after years of lifting, previous injuries, weak knees, and chronic knee pain, using knee compression sleeves can help to protect you so that you don’t cause more damage. It’s definitely more of a safety parameter than something used to “cheat” your way to better lifts.
What to look for when buying knee sleeves?
Since all compression knee sleeves are not created equal, there are a few things you may want to look for when buying a pair of your own.
There are 3 different thicknesses of knee compression sleeves. They come in 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm.
The thinner 3mm sleeves are good for supporting your joints during intense agility or endurance workouts, like a marathon or long-distance running. When you’re doing repetitive movements over an extended period of time, such as running 26 miles, you’ll probably want to have a little more comfort and mobility.
That’s why the 3mm sleeves are great for this type of activity, they allow you to move more freely while also adding some protection.
The 5mm sleeves offer a little more support and stability, without being as cumbersome as the 7mm can be. So these are more suited for most sports like wrestling, jiu-jitsu, basketball, and football to name a few.
The 7mm knee sleeves provide the most support and are the go-to choice for weight lifters who want to lift the heavy weight while keeping their joints stable and protected. The thicker 7mm knee sleeves create the most warmth around your joints and can give you a bit of spring at the bottom of your squat to take a little of the pressure off of your knees.
Mobility and comfort
You’ll want to make sure that you measure your knee correctly to choose the appropriate size. It’s recommended that you measure the circumference of your knee at the middle point while your leg is fully extended and straight. The knee sleeve is supposed to fit tightly to compress your joint, so it should be really snug.
Remember, the thinner the sleeve, the more mobility you’ll have. This is why marathon runners may opt for the 3mm over the thicker options. You’ll want to make your choice based on the type of activity you’ll be doing, as well as the level of comfort you’ll need to perform optimally during said activity.
The best compression knee sleeves will be made from neoprene. This is largely due to the fact that neoprene is an insulation fabric, which means that it will keep your joints warm. It’s also relatively easier to slide on because of its moderate elasticity.
The thickness of neoprene also lends to its compressive features. It’s a smooth and minimally stretchy, tight material that wraps your knees in a blanket of warmth and stability.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to choose the correct size knee sleeves for your knees. That means choosing one that’s not too long because that may compress more than just your knee and lead to altered movement mechanics.
If you’re a larger person, you may not want a super short knee sleeve. It’s kind of like the Goldi Locks situation, where you want it to fit just right.
It should be tight enough that you can feel the compression and maybe even a little spring at the bottom of a squat. However, if you have any kind of room or slack in your knee sleeve then it’s probably not providing adequate support or compression, although it may still keep your knees warm.
Knee sleeves aren’t exactly super inexpensive, although there are some more cost-effective options. Either way, your best bet is to choose a pair that will last you for the long-term. Since they aren’t all the same, once you find a pair that works for you, you’ll want them to hold up under pressure and actually last for a bit.
Hand-washing and wiping them down with some kind of sanitizer will extend their life over machine washing which can decrease their durability quickly.
You’ll also want to look for reinforced stitching which can prevent them from ripping. The last thing you want is to be at the bottom of a heavy squat and hear and feel your knee compression sleeve ripping apart!
5 Best knee sleeves in 2021
Below we put together a list of top 5 knee sleeves based on a collaborative effort between ourselves and reviews from fitness experts and enthusiasts.
A good pair of knee sleeves will not only boost your performance at the gym, but it will also minimize the risk of injuries in the long run.
The Nordic Lifting compression sleeves are 7mm and made from neoprene with reinforced stitching for added durability and stability. They’re designed ergonomically to provide extra comfort and help them to fit like gloves around your knees.
These knee sleeves come in size XS (under 11.8in.) all the way up to XXL (17in-18.3in). They only come in one color option though, which is all black with white trim detail. But hey, that goes with everything right?
They are sold as a pair and are unisex which means they’re appropriate for men and women. If you’ve been injured they can help to alleviate some of your joint and muscle pain, which may aid in recovering faster. They also help to support your joints, which can be very effective if you have weak knees and want to avoid an injury while weight lifting.
The Rehband 7051 compression knee sleeve is also 7mm thick. It’s designed anatomically to fit the shape of the leg so that they fit exceptionally well. These particular sleeves are sold separately, which puts them at a bit of a higher price mark than the previous product.
However, they were developed by a research and development team who also worked with textile engineers to create the best product so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck. These are suitable for men and women. There’s also only one color option, which is royal blue.
Rehband advertises that these knee sleeves “offer warmth, relieve pressure, and improve coordination.”
ProFitness knee sleeves are one of the most affordable on the list. They measure 10.5 inches in the front and contour to about 8.21 inches in the back for a more comfortable fit. This product is also made of 7mm neoprene. Sold as a pair, they come in 4 color options: red, gray, black and blue.
This set of knee sleeves is unisex and is available in size S, which is 11.8in-13in, up to XXL, which is 17in-18.3in. ProFitness also offers a 1-year warranty because they’re dedicated to customer service and want to make sure that you get a good product that fits well!
Bear KompleX compression knee sleeves have the most patterns available of all the choices. So if you’re into coordinating your knee sleeves with your workout clothes then these may be for you. There are 10 options to choose from, 2 of which are reversible. They are sold as a pair and come in 5mm or 7mm to suit various workouts. Made from high-quality neoprene, they should do a pretty good job of keeping your joints warm.
These are also unisex and measure at about 11in long all the way around. The company offers size S, 9.5in-11.5in, to XXL, 18in-20in.
Fitnessery knee sleeves are by far the most inexpensive product mentioned on this list, however, they actually offer the most features including a free mesh carry bag, detailed user guide, and 24-hour email support. They’re very accommodating and will help you find the right size and fit.
These sleeves are made with heavy duty neoprene and triple reinforced stitching. At 7mm thick they’re perfect for protecting you during heavy lifts, plus they are made with tear-resistant fibers which should enhance their durability. These sleeves come in a black and red design with white trim detail.