Knee sleeves, no matter what type they are, all have one similar function – to provide support to the knee joints. The knees are a small joint in the legs, and if you haven’t had an injury already, you can still benefit from owning a pair of knee sleeves. Knee sleeves are commonly made from a material called neoprene and are easy to slide on.
Knee sleeves are most commonly seen used during squats and deadlifts. This is because both exercises require flexion in the knee joint. To properly perform a squat, the knees and the quadriceps should go to parallel (to the ground). This where the quads get the most activity, therefore getting the most out of the exercise.
Those who have trouble reaching that depth and have concerns about their knees would probably benefit from supportive knee sleeves. However, most of the time depth issues are caused by poor ankle mobility, and tight hips, rather than the knee joint . In fact, not going deep enough on the squat is more likely to cause knee problems than only doing partial reps. Using sleeves could help you reach at least parallel depth.
The support that these sleeves provide can be helpful in preventing an injury from happening due to the compression that they can provide. Compression is the basis of how knee sleeves work. They also increase blood flow to the area during and after the workout. A knee injury is definitely something that you don’t want because it can limit your mobility. You might even have trouble walking if you have a knee injury, on top of the possibility of not being able to work out your legs.
This article will discuss the different kinds of knee sleeves that are out there based on thickness as well as the other types of knee support that are available. Not all sleeves are created equally, and some are more suitable for different individuals and types of sports. This guide should help you determine which one is best for you and what knee sleeve you should buy.
“What size sleeve do I need?” To answer this question, it depends on what kind of sport or exercise you do. Knee sleeves normally come in three different thickness types: 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm. Basically, this thickness corresponds to how much support the knee sleeve can provide, and therefore, which type of activity is most suitable for a certain thickness. Here is an overview of the three different sleeve thickness sizes:
These are the thinnest sleeves that you will typically find. These will provide you with light support compared to the other two sizes, but it is also the most flexible. Activities that benefit from light sleeves are:
- Running (long-distance, jogging, sprinting, etc)
- Lighter workouts (especially body-weight workouts)
3mm knee sleeves are great for these types of activities because they will still provide you some support while also allowing you to have plenty of flexibility. This makes it suitable for sports requiring you to be agile. Despite being thin, they should also keep your knee joints warm.
The 5mm sleeves are a happy medium of knee sleeves; they are versatile. They are thicker than the previous option and will give you more support and compression without extremely compromising flexibility and agility. This size is almost like a multipurpose sleeve and it can be enjoyed by those who like doing a variety of activities, especially in the gym. This includes:
- Cardiovascular movements (such as jogging)
- Lifting (recreational lifting, bodybuilding, and CrossFit)
These are a common knee sleeve thickness that you will see in the gym. For instance, these are good knee sleeves for squats. Crossfit is a good candidate for this category because the participants lift weights but they also require a degree of flexibility. The knee sleeves that are best for very heavy lifting will be discussed next.
The 7mm knee sleeves are the thickest choice out of the three. These are ideal for those who are training with heavy weights consistently and need all of the support that they can get. These strong knee sleeves have the least flexibility out of the three but provide the most compression. This allows the user to lift more safely by reducing the stress on the knee joint. Here are some sports that will benefit from the 7mm knee sleeve:
- Olympic Weightlifting
As you can see, these are sports where people are trying to get stronger. Thick 7mm knee sleeves should allow the lifter to push themselves and up their 1-rep maxes. By having the best support possible, you will be able to lift more safely. This is why they are good powerlifting knee sleeves, along with other strength sports.
Knee sleeves are very useful for many different physical activities. Even without intense exercise, some individuals are able to find benefits by using these through just walking. Osteoarthritis affects many people in the world, and a study shows that using a knee sleeve can provide relief to those affected by the disease. It does this by reducing adduction in the knee .
What Are Other Types of Knee Support Out There?
There are a couple of other knee support options out there, but they generally serve a specific purpose. These are knee braces and knee wraps. These are sometimes confused with the knee sleeves. This is especially common between knee sleeves and knee wraps. It’s also similar to how people often mix up wrist wraps and wrist straps. They sound alike, but they are not the same. Here is an overview of knee braces and wraps.
Knee braces are used when an individual has had an injury and is experiencing knee pain. People with arthritis will also benefit from a knee brace. Therefore, it’s not as common to see someone use a knee brace for squats unless it’s for rehabilitation purposes. They are also sometimes made of different materials than the average knee sleeve and are normally adjustable.
There is also a myth regarding knee braces and having negative effects on the quadriceps. Through a trial involving over 100 people who were experiencing patellofemoral pain, it was concluded that this type of knee support does not weaken or prevent the quadriceps and surrounding muscles from getting stronger .
Since knee sleeves do technically brace the knees, it’s easy to misunderstand the differences between the two, at first glance. However, understanding the differences between knee braces and knee sleeves will help you make the purchase that is right for you.
Knee wraps are different than knee sleeves in that they don’t slip-on your leg; they literally wrap around the knee area and because of this, tightness can be varied. However, these are usually intended for the most support during maximum-effort lifts. Because of this, knee wraps are typically seen in powerlifting. They also have some elasticity, which can give you a little bit of a bounce out of the hole during a squat.
According to a study, this elasticity can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it can help you get out of the bottom portion of a squat, but it also alters the form of the entire movement. This alteration of the mechanics of the movement could actually possibly harm the knee joint. Therefore, it is advised to use them with caution and to not use them all of the time, such as during routine training sessions . For normal training sessions, sleeves are ideal.
Unless you are an elite-level powerlifter who is lifting an obscene amount of weight at a competition, some 7mm powerlifting knee sleeves should be sufficient enough for your sport. Additionally, certain knee wraps need to be IPF-approved in order to use them in a powerlifting meet (competition). The IPF, or the International Powerlifting Federation, is an authority for powerlifting, that sets the rules for competitions. If you’ve bought a pair that isn’t IPF approved, you might have wasted some money.
When Should You Start Using Knee Sleeves?
Most of the time, it is not necessary to purchase strong knee sleeves if you are a total beginner in a sport. The reason for this is that the weight probably won’t be heavy enough to warrant the support. However, if you want to purchase some because you want to see how they feel and you plan to invest time into working out and have long-term goals, then by all means, feel free to get some!
The only exceptions are if you are a bit on the older side and your knees need some stability to get situated into a routine, or if you are one of the athletes that would benefit from 3mm knee sleeves. Those athletes may use little to no weight for their sports training, but still, see advantages by using the thinnest knee sleeve type.
It’s also not required to use knee sleeves on all types of exercises; they should be reserved for those lower body movements, especially if they involve a squatting motion. Knee sleeves are good for squats as well as the Olympic lifts: the snatch and clean and jerk.
If you have been lifting weight for some time, and you are progressively moving up and weight, surely you will benefit from a pair of knee sleeves. Having the extra support may provide assistance in allowing you to increase the weight on a movement.
Having a pair of reliable, strong sleeves may also even give you an extra confidence boost with your lifts because you know that you are in good hands (or should we say sleeves?). Sometimes, sports like powerlifting can be a mental game, and extra reassurance that your knees will be safe might give you that extra boost, allowing you to perform your best.
How To Take Care Of Your Knee Sleeves
Knee sleeves can come in varying prices and qualities, but once you have figured out which type suits you best, there are some general tips on how to make them last, so you can get the most out of them without falling apart. When washing knee sleeves:
- Use a mild soap/detergent
- Use warm or boiling water to kill bacteria and mildew
- Air dry them
Normally, washing your knee sleeves by hand is the safest course of action in cleaning your knee sleeves. Some people have washed them in the machine without issues without putting them in the dryer (they are elastic}. However, if your sleeves say “do not machine wash” on their label, and they got ruined in the machine, it could be difficult getting a replacement pair. Periodically cleaning your knee sleeves will help eliminate any possible bad odors and bacteria that will develop due to trapped sweat and oils.
Summary and Conclusion
A pair of knee sleeves can be an excellent tool to have in your workout routines. They are right up there in usefulness along with wrist wraps. Having a pair can provide you with the comfort and stability that you need in your lower body exercises.
To sum up the benefits of knee sleeves, they can:
- Support the knees through compression
- Increase blood flow to the area
- Keep the joints warm
- Help prevent injuries
By choosing the right thickness of knee sleeves, you are able to have the most optimal kind of support based on your sport. Using 3mm sleeves, which are the thinnest, will still offer compression, but also have the most flexibility. This is great for runners. On the other hand, the 7mm knee sleeves are excellent for heavy lifting; they are the thickest and give the most support. The 5mm ones are versatile, and good all-around.
As mentioned before, a pair of lifting knee sleeves should make progression a little bit easier on your lower body lifts, such as the squat. It may also give you confidence and reassurance, knowing that your knees have some protection. However, they should not be used as a replacement for good technique. Having proper technique will carry you a long way. Even if your technique is on-point, sometimes it’s nice to revisit the basics. Who knows, you might even find flaws that you never noticed. Being proficient at a lift, plus having support with knee sleeves, will take you on the right path to reaching your goals.
- Callaghan, M., Parkes, M., Forsythe, L., Heathers, L., & Felson, D. (2011). The Effect Of Knee Braces On Quadriceps Strength And Inhibition In Subjects With Patellofemoral Osteoarthritis (Pfoa). Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 19. doi:10.1016/s1063- 4584(11)60301-4
- Schween, R., Gehring, D., & Gollhofer, A. (2015). Immediate Effects of an Elastic Knee Sleeve on Frontal Plane Gait Biomechanics in Knee Osteoarthritis. Plos One, 10(1). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0115782
- Lake, J. P., Carden, P. J., & Shorter, K. A. (2012). Wearing Knee Wraps Affects Mechanical Output and Performance Characteristics of Back Squat Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(10), 2844-2849. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3182429840