Knee injuries are a recurring issue in sporting events across the country. All too often we see blown MCLs, PCLs, ACLs or any variety of torn cartilage in athletes. The use of protective or preventive knee sleeves is an attempt to reduce the rate or severity of knee injuries while at the same time keeping knee mobility.
Should I Wear Knee Sleeves for Squats?
Using your body to force up a decent amount of weight puts pressure on your kneecap. Doing so over time, while lifting progressively heavier weights, literally grinds down the knee bone. Many times, this is the proximate cause of progressive tendonitis. The Huffington Post recently posted an interesting stat, indicating nearly 1 in 20 Americans over age 50 have artificial knees. With a little math we know that equals four million people, and that’s just the average citizen, accruing wear and tear over a lifetime. Now just think about how much strain athletes or exercise enthusiasts put on on their knees doing a little lifting.
Knee sleeves don’t need to be worn for every weightlifting exercise. If the knee isn’t involved as the primary lifting source, they aren’t needed. However, they do provide the necessary support for a range of exercises, including squats, the snatch, the dead lift or the clean and jerk. Every lift slightly damages the knee, which over time can leave the joint weak and vulnerable. This dramatically increases the risk for both acute and chronic injury.
Unlike knee wraps or a knee brace, knee sleeves are designed with safety in mind, to keep a future injury from occurring. Knee sleeves give many safety benefits while at the same time offering no real disadvantages. The use of knee sleeves is an easy safety measure for both advanced and immediate lifters, as the support they provide stabilizes the entire knee joint, keeping it in place and helping to prevent injury. It helps to think of the sleeve as part of your workout equipment, no different than the barbell or weight plates.
Things to consider before buying
The first thing to consider is the style of sleeve you want. No, this isn’t a fashion choice, it’s about support and performance. There are three basic sizes for the knee sleeves, 3mm, 5mm and 7mm. Each thickness size is designed to maximize performance in different areas.
The 3mm is designed to benefit endurance athletes, mainly distance running. The 5mm is designed to be the all-around choice for support in a variety of activities, from running to lifting. Neither of these is ideal for anyone with a focus on doing heavy lifting exercises, such as squats, but it’s worth noting their use.
The 7mm-thick knee sleeve offers extra stabilization for heavy lifting and support during rehabilitation. Historically, the 7mm has mostly been used by weightlifters for extra support for a lift. However, today it’s also common to see them in gyms for those doing heavy lifting. The 7mm gives a distinct, tight feeling around the knee joint to ensure more intense activities, such as squats, can be performed safely and precisely.
Pricing is also an issue. There are many prestigious brands that tout an outrageous price tag to match an impressive review, but at the end of the day all knee sleeves are made of the same neoprene. It’s entirely possible to buy a decent sleeve without going overboard on price.
The 5 Best Knee Sleeves for Squats
Slingshot Strong Knee Sleeves
Endorsed by the powerlifting legend Mark Bell, these sleeves are quality knee protection that fits snugly and offers good insulation to the whole joint. Featuring a soft inner lining, they avoid itchiness and give a nice bit of leg comfort in the process.
This particular brand has a vertical slit seam up the side. This differs from other brands such as Rehband and SBD, which have diagonal seams. The vertical seam feels less intrusive when doing heavy lifts. The stitch on the sleeves is also cross-over double stitching, providing extra strength and stabilization.
The bands are stretchy but solid, providing a “slingshot effect” that will propel you back up during the lift phase of a squat. This should increase your squat poundage. In fact it’s advertised to increase your max squat weight by 20-50 pounds.
- Soft inner lining prevents itching and provides overall comfort
- Soaks up sweat easily
- Good amount of compression
- Slingshot effect makes the lifting portion of a squat much easier
- Due to their solid design and thickness, they are difficult to put on and take off.
- Not as affordable as other brands.
Nordic Lifting Knee Sleeves
These sleeves are 100 percent thick neoprene. They are very affordable, priced at about half as much as the top-rated competitive knee sleeves. The price doesn’t hurt their quality either, as they provide good overall support for the knee joint when squatting.
The Nordic sleeve has a similar look and feel to the Rehband 7051. The difference is the Rehband is slightly longer, which provides extra lower thigh coverage. Though a little shorter, the Nordic sleeve will still provide good overall support, giving compression and warmth. The sleeves also come with double stitching, giving them a little extra durability and strength.
The level of built-in elasticity is impressive. This allows anyone to make great use of the spring-loading effect whenever you come out of the squat “hole.” Practically speaking, this means you can safely lift more. The downside of this advantage is the Nordic sleeve isn’t approved for competitive lifting by either the IPF or the IWF.
- Cost effective, costing about half as much as the leading brands.
- Comfortable and not prone to bunching up
- Very elastic. The level of compression greatly helps when coming up from a squat.
- Not as much padding or knee protection as other brands.
- No moisture elimination or prevention, so they’re easy to get hot and sweaty.
- Not approved by most competitive lifting organizations.
Primal Elite Knee Sleeves
Like the Nordic Lifting Sleeves, Primal Elite Knee sleeves are 100 percent high-quality neoprene. They’re designed to contour and fit snugly to the leg, providing a high level of protection and compression. Because of their ergonomic design, Primal Elites are easy to put on and take off, yet they stay secure at the same time. In practical application this means you won’t have to worry about the sleeves bunching or slipping down your leg while you’re working out or training.
The stitching on the sleeve seams are double reinforced, meaning that not only are they secure, but they are built to last as well. Though not the most affordable sleeve on the market, they are far below the leading brands. That, coupled with their durability, makes them a solid long-term option.
The well-crafted design keeps the sleeve tight across the knee, helping to ensure proper squat form. Like the other two mentioned brands, there is also built-in elasticity to help you lift more weight. This isn’t a major marketing point, but it’s worth noting.
- Double reinforced stitching makes them both durable and secure.
- Ergonomic and contoured design favors stability and long-term use.
- Comes with a free gym bag.
- No inner lining, making them less comfortable during longer lifting sessions.
Gymreapers Knee Sleeves
These sleeves benefit from a lot of time and money that was used for product research and testing. The Gymreapers have been fine tuned over time over to have an impressive level of comfort as well as knee compression. These sleeves strike a good balance between safety and mobility, keeping the knee joint tight while at the same time leaving it just free enough for proper squat technique.
The stitching is reinforced, which works with the thick padding to make a lightweight sleeve that is still durable enough to last a while. They don’t bunch up, but they’re still loose enough to roll down if you feel like it. This makes them ideal for doing deadlifts or even box jumps.
- Extra padded neoprene is very comfortable.
- Reinforced stitching keeps the sleeve lightweight while at the same time secure.
- Good balance of compression and mobility.
- Not competition approved
Thru Fitt Knee Sleeves
Thru Fitt sleeves are designed to hug your leg, pure and simple. Not only will their tight design give good compression to your knee, but it insulates it as well, keeping the joint warm to reduce stiffness.
These sleeves will not fall apart after a few months. With a unique layout and reinforced seams to provide extra strength, these sleeves are built for months of lifting. The sleeve’s inner lining is soft to add comfort, eliminating itching and the constant threat of snagging a leg hair. Its level of snugness also prevents it from sliding down your leg while you squat.
Because it hugs the leg so well, it keeps a tight fit around the knee. Overall, this ensures a good level of compression, keeping the joint well-lubricated and in place.
- Soft inner lining is comfortable and eliminates itching.
- Approved for lifting competitions.
- Good joint compression.
- Reinforced seams make it durable and long lasting.
- The design makes it tricky to put on and remove
Constant wear and tear on knees makes them vulnerable to injury, both acute and chronic. Knee sleeves are an excellent way to prevent an injury before it ever occurs, while also increasing the quality of squats, as well as other lifting exercises. There are many different brands to choose from, each with their own particular strengths. When choosing the right knee sleeve to buy, it’s important to think about your particular needs and what will benefit your lifting the most, while at the same time staying safe and free of injury.