Knee sleeves are one of the most widely used and studied pieces of gym equipment. They’re up there with the likes of wrist wraps, belts, and chalk. There are several reasons one would want to gear up with knee sleeves, the most obvious being the potential to increase performance.
However, knee sleeves can provide much-needed stability for one of your most used and vulnerable joints. Using them can differentiate between injury and healthy lifelong usage of your knee joints.
What Are Knee Sleeves For? Who Should Use Knee Sleeves?
In short, knee sleeves are for anybody who performs any knee-intensive activities. Users may include athletes such as basketball players and volleyball players, particularly when they’ve experienced a minor knee injury. However, it’s much more common within the powerlifting, weightlifting, and bodybuilding communities.
Many powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters use knee sleeves for similar reasons to using a belt; they improve performance. Moving more weight isn’t the only reason people use knee sleeves. However, a very general purpose for them is to prevent injuries. Warm, lubricated, and supported knees sport much greater longevity when working heavy loads over time.
What Do Knee Sleeves Do? 7 Answers To “Why Use Knee Sleeves?”
Knee Sleeves Warm Up Your Knees
Whether performing your warm-up squats or working sets, knee sleeves expedite the process of providing warmth to your knees. Imagine a blanket wrapped around your legs, trapping the heat to increase the temperature. This effect may not sound very impactful, but it comes in handy for lubricating the knee joints, which is very important for preventing knee injury or re-injury.
You Can Achieve Knee Compression With Knee Sleeves
Knee sleeves, like knee wraps, press on your skin and create a compression effect. While the pressure is lesser when compared to knee wraps, it’s not insignificant if you choose the correct size of knee sleeves. This compression can help prevent injury, but it can also improve the mechanics of your squat form.
Knee Sleeves Can Ease Existing Pain From Arthritis or Osteoarthritis
The knee sleeves’ ability to warm and compress the knees and surrounding areas can be like a tight hot pack for your knees. It can soothe chronic aches and pains during squats or other knee-intensive activities.
After Knee Injuries, Knee Sleeves Can Help Prevent Further Damage
Along with the pain-reducing effect, wearing knee sleeves can prevent re-injury. As alluded to before, the warmth and lubrication can prevent the knee from wearing down over time and avoid injury or re-injury in the area.
The support they provide also makes the joint more stable, in effect not unlike that of wrist wraps. This support can further prevent injury by making the effective cross-sectional area of the knee larger and more rugged.
Knee Sleeves Might Be Just What Your Squat Form Needs
You’d be surprised to find out how much simply wearing knee sleeves or knee wraps will improve the mechanics of your squat form. It’s typical for people to flare their knees out at the bottom or have a little butt wink (the downward motion of the butt at the bottom of the squat due to excessive lumbar flexion).
Knee sleeves can prevent both form issues by giving your body a nudge to push straight through the knees. Many claims that knee sleeves add as much as 20 lbs to your squat alone, but others deny this. However, even if they do not provide an immediate increase in squat force, the improved form will cause an increase in power over time.
Your Sense of Stability Will Be Improved While Wearing Knee Sleeves
The rugged support of the knee sleeves will make your knees significantly more stable. With particularly tight sleeves, it might be hard to bend your knees without a load. In effect, your knees will have a larger cross-sectional area and the stiff outer layer they provide.
Knee Sleeves Can Protect Your Legs From Scratches and Cuts
While a potentially less significant benefit than the others, the resistant material covering your knees could protect your skin from scratches and cuts. Suppose you accidentally walk into a weight tree or a rack and hit your knee. In that case, the extra layer of protection will be surprisingly capable of protecting your knee area.
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Which Knee Sleeves Should I Get?
Choosing a pair of knee sleeves can be difficult. There are several different aspects of the sleeves to consider. Most knee sleeves, especially those for lifting weights, are made with some elastic material, usually neoprene.
The most common thicknesses of knee sleeves are 5 mm or 7 mm, with the 7 mm thickness providing a more stiff and more rigid structure. Suppose you’re planning to lift heavy weights, especially while squatting or performing Olympic lifts such as the ‘snatch’ and ‘clean and jerk.’ In that case, I would highly recommend getting a 7 mm sleeve. However, if you’re a basketball player trying to prevent re-injury, a 5 mm sleeve may be all you need.
The size of your knee sleeve is of importance because, in general, they should be snug or tight but not restrictive. However, getting a sleeve that’s too tight is surprisingly easy. The general rule of thumb here is to choose a sleeve that you will not need assistance from somebody else to use.
In addition, you should choose a sleeve that’s comfortable enough that you don’t need to remove them between sets. Hitting this sweet spot is not easy to achieve, so it’s best to check out this sizing chart which should give you a good idea of what sleeve to choose based on your knee circumference.
With this sizing chart, measuring the knee circumference right at the knee cap with the leg straightened is essential. Adjust one size up if your calves measure 2 inches more than the knee measurement. The size given on the chart will fit snugly; choose one size smaller for a tight-fitting sleeve.
Knee sleeves also vary in pricing from as cheap as $30 to $40 for a pair, up to over $40 for each. The most significant differing factor in knee sleeve quality is usually durability. A cheaper pair often needs replacing after a year or two, while a more expensive pair can last a decade. I recommend spending on the higher end if you have the money, as it can save you money in the long run if you’ll be using them a lot.
Another prominent quality difference can come in the form of stiffness. You’d be surprised to hear that different brands come in at different rigidity levels at the same price. Still, more expensive sleeves are often more rigid and stiff. Cheap options like Rehbands will be flimsier, while more costly sleeves such as SBD or Mark Bell’s Sling Shot brand sleeves will be higher quality and provide more support.
Overall, choosing a knee sleeve will come down to several factors. Your sizing depends on the circumference of your knee, while the stiffness you desire and the budget you have will determine the brand and thickness you choose.
One thing is sure, preventing injuries is always easier than recovering from them. Knee sleeves can help you prevent injuries while making gains and may also help stabilize your legs and strengthen your performance at the same time.