Squats got you down? Need a little support for those leg day woes? Knee sleeves could be a great addition to your gym bag. These sleek wearables can not only provide stability and warmth to your joints, but also a bit of spring and confidence — perfect for getting over that PR hump in the squat rack.
Before you slide into just any fitness accessory, however, there are a few details to understand. Namely, what these products are designed to do, what makes a quality pair and how to find the right set for your next heavy training day.
BEST OVERALL KNEE SLEEVESGymreapers 7mm Knee Sleeves Read More
BES UPGRADE KNEE SLEEVESMark Bell Slingshot STrong Knee Sleeves Read More
BEST BUDGET KNEE SLEEVESSchiek Sports Model 1170 Neoprene Knee Sleeves Read More
BEST KNEE SLEEVES FOR BEGINNERSRehband Rx 3mm Knee Sleeves Read More
BEST KNEE SLEEVES FOR COMPETITIONSBD Apparel 7mm Knee Sleeves Read More
What Are Knee Sleeves?
Like wrist wraps, weightlifting gloves and other training tools, knee sleeves are designed to help you get the most out of each workout. These devices use compression across your joints to help stabilize your knee and maintain proper alignment during lifts. The tight fit across your hinge also promotes better blood flow to the area, which can help keep everything warm, comfortable and at less risk of pain.
The compression aspect of knee sleeves also gives your squats, Olympic lifts and other exercises some increased elasticity. When you squat while wearing knee sleeves, the material wants to return to its more rigid state, providing a spring effect at the bottom and giving you a bit of bounce to help get back to a standing position. This can be a welcome benefit for athletes struggling with weight plateaus or those needing a little more motivation to get under the barbell.
Knee Sleeves vs. Knee Wraps
Another popular knee-related accessory is the knee wrap, which can also give your heavy training days some added spring. These elastic straps are wrapped tightly around the joint for maximum rigidity and energy load when at the bottom of a squat or leg press. For this reason, knee wraps are popular among powerlifters most of all. However, knee wraps might not be best for your training, especially if your workouts involve more dynamic movements.
For one, knee sleeves are much easier to slide on and off, whereas knee wraps require you to spend more time properly encasing the joint in a wrap job that's effective and sturdy. Additionally, knee sleeves are more accommodating to other movements — when wearing knee sleeves, you're still able to walk around or perform dynamic exercises depending on thickness. Knee wraps are designed for maximum tightness, essentially keeping your legs in a straight position unless under a heavy squat. This can also make for a less comfortable training experience if you leave the accessory on throughout your entire workout.
If you're a competitive powerlifter or want to really experience the thrill of maxing out your squat, feel free to consider knee wraps for those heavy training days. For everything else, though, or athletes that aren't chasing down 1,000-pound PRs, knee sleeves can be a more convenient yet still effective tool.
How to Choose Knee Sleeves
As is the case with most workout gear — from weightlifting belts to gym shoes — knee sleeves aren't one size fits all. There are key features to consider when choosing a pair for your needs that can affect your training experience for better or worse.
One of the most important factors to look at when purchasing a quality pair of knee sleeves is the sizing. After all, would you want to work out in a shirt that's too baggy or shorts that are far too tight? Finding the right size knee sleeves is vital as there's no room for alterations, and ill-fitting sleeves can mean less compression across your joint, limiting the effectiveness (and comfort) of your gear. Unfortunately, though, every knee sleeve is measured differently in terms of the brand's sizing. Be sure to follow each brand's specific sizing guide and take proper measurements to find the right size prior to purchase.
Outside of sizing, your knee sleeve's material will have the next biggest impact on performance. The most common material used in knee sleeves is neoprene due to its flexible makeup while still remaining rigid enough for continued use. Nylon, Spandex and cotton can also be used in tandem with neoprene to keep your sleeves soft and comfortable across the skin. Some knee sleeves can also feature silicone strips across the interior to help keep them in place during movement without slipping down your leg or bunching up at the back. While not completely necessary, this can be a nice benefit, especially for particularly sweaty workouts.
A knee sleeve's thickness is what gives this training tool its rigidity. A thicker sleeve can provide more compression and stability to your knees, but also limits mobility. Thinner knee sleeves can provide great warmth and structure for dynamic movements but might leave you lacking in terms of energy load when squatting or leg pressing a heavier weight. Knee sleeves for training typically range in thicknesses from 3–7mm, with 5mm sleeves serving as a solid in-between thickness. Think about your workout goals and what you're aiming to accomplish to find the thickness that aligns with your ambitions.
You want your gear to be as hard-nosed as your workouts, right? Well, if your knee sleeves aren't up for countless pulling and stretching, odds are you're likely to forgo training with them, leaving your knees unsupported and your wallet less full. To ensure your gear is fit for the trials ahead, look for knee sleeves that feature reinforced stitching and hemmed or enclosed edges. This can help ensure you're not damaging or fraying the ends when pulling your sleeve on or off. Also, look for quality materials like the aforementioned neoprene, nylon and Spandex, as these textiles are less prone to stretching out over extended sessions.
There are a number of other factors that can go into finding the ideal pair of knee sleeves for your setup but may not be top of mind. For example, if you're looking to compete in strength sports, make sure your chosen knee sleeves are approved by your governing body, like the International Powerlifting Federation. Also, knee sleeves can begin to gather some funk over time, especially since they're worn atop your sweaty knees session after session. Some knee sleeves can be easily thrown in the washing machine, while others require hand care to help preserve rigidity. Make sure to take this into consideration if you're looking for more convenience.
How We Tested
I've been using knee sleeves in my training for a number of years, and that experience has resulted in a fair share of replacement pairs and upgrades. I've always made note of a sleeve's thickness and rigidity, particularly during heavier lifting sessions, as well as how easy it was to determine the proper size for my frame. I've also worn a handful of these picks through more circuit-based workouts that required me to keep my joints protected while still promoting some much-needed flexibility. Additionally, I've also tested a few knee wraps across my powerlifting-focused regimens, noting how easy these tools were to lock in before a set, as well as their effectiveness in comparison to my normal sleeved setup.
Now, let's get psyched up for new PRs and get into the best knee sleeves for your training needs.
Gymreapers 7mm Knee Sleeves
These 7mm sleeves from Gymreapers are an excellent option for a wide variety of athletes. I felt no stability or compression issues during my typical squats and leg presses, and also appreciated the contoured design that fit my frame a little better than straight-tubed silhouettes. These sleeves also performed just as well in CrossFit training scenarios, providing sufficient mobility despite the 7mm-thick neoprene.
I would recommend rolling these sleeves down between sets or workouts, however, as there isn’t a lot of breathability across the neoprene construction, leading to plenty of sweat buildup if you’re not mindful. Also, if you’re not looking for as thick of a knee sleeve, it’s best to look elsewhere — Gymreapers doesn’t offer slimmer versions like others in this roundup.
Mark Bell Slingshot STrong Knee Sleeves
These sleeves from fitness mogul Mark Bell are right in-line with the other accessories available through the Slingshot brand, meaning they’re prime for really pushing your training to the next level. I’ve always admired how well these sleeves stack at the bottom of a squat, giving me that much-needed elasticity and energy return to stand back up with confidence and ease.
I also appreciate how rigid these knee sleeves have remained over the years thanks to a patented design that only features two seams at the sides across the tubed frame. The silhouette is less contoured, though, which can lead to some bunching at the back of the knee. I recommend readjusting these knee sleeves after each set to ensure comfort and performance throughout your entire session.
Schiek Sports Model 1170 Neoprene Knee Sleeves
You really get the most bang for your buck when it comes to the Model 1170 knee sleeves. I’ve owned my respective pair for years and have experienced little to no fraying or stretching thanks to the quality neoprene construction and reinforced stitching. Plus, the covered edges allow for better grip when sliding these sleeves on, making for quick and efficient pre-workout routines that don’t leave you sweating or struggling just to prepare for lift.
I will say, however, that I would appreciate it if the size guide wasn’t based on bodyweight. While my Model 1170s fit fine, I understand that everybody’s body is unique, meaning you could be left with an ill-fitting knee sleeve if your proportions aren’t in-line with their standards.
Rehband Rx 3mm Knee Sleeve
If you’re just getting used to knee sleeves, it can be a good practice to start light, and these 3mm options from Rehband Rx can be excellent for these needs. The contoured design allows for a seamless fit, and the 3mm thickness provides ample support that isn’t overwhelming or constricting for newcomers. I really like these Rehband Rxs for CrossFit modalities, or days that I know won’t be too aggressive in terms of heavy loads.
The Rehband Rx 3mm sleeve can be a great starting point, too, because the brand offers the same silhouette in varying thicknesses, allowing you to purchase additional 5mm or 7mm sleeves down the round as you grow more accustomed to the experience. The only dilemma? You’ll need to add two to your cart, as Rehband Rx only sells knee sleeves in singles.
SBD Apparel 7mm Knee Sleeves
If you compete in strength sports — or have the desire to do so this year — it helps to train with equipment that you can rely on when your next meet rolls around. These 7mm knee sleeves from SBD Apparel are approved by USA Powerlifting, the International Powerlifting Federation and the US Powerlifting Association, meaning you won’t have to worry about stepping to the platform with illegal gear, regardless of which federation you compete in.
Outside of meeting a plethora of credentials, I really like how compressive and stabilizing these sleeves are. The patented design hugs your joint with no slipping or movement, even during sweat-riddled training sessions. Just be sure to practice getting these on and off, though. Because these are so sturdy and tight, these won’t slide into place as easily as other knee sleeves in this roundup. Once they’re on, however, you’ll be locked in for some serious performance.
Exosleeve 5mm Knee Sleeves
Not every lifting session needs that spring and overwhelming compression. Sometimes, you just want a supportive fit that keeps your knees warm and comfortable, and I’ve found no better sleeve for these situations than the Exosleeve 5mm variety. I appreciate how the 5mm-thick neoprene hugs the joints with just a touch of rigidity, and the anti-microbial treatment means these tools can be better equipped for fending off any errant stench over time.
Like I said before, though, a quality knee sleeve is a well-fitting knee sleeve, and the size guide may be a little misleading when it comes to the Exosleeve 5mms. The brand states to measure the largest portion of your calf while your knee is slightly bent, so if you have smaller or larger calves, this could lead to some mismatched fits — and multiple purchases.
Element 26 6mm Knee Sleeves
CrossFit requires a lot of dynamic movements, and when trying to power through a WOD or circuit, there’s little time to stop and change out your training gear. That’s why having a knee sleeve that’s capable of providing excellent stability and flexibility is key for these workouts without hindering movement. I enjoy the Element 26 6mm knee sleeves for this modality, as the 6mm-thick neoprene promotes the ideal compression and stability you’d want for static lifts with an added sense of maneuverability thanks to their less bulky silhouette.
There’s also a sense of comfort thanks to the contoured fit of these 6mm knee sleeves, but the rear seam that runs vertically down the back of the knee could lead to some irritation, especially during longer workouts or extended use.
1Kilo 2 Ply Knee Sleeves
Much like CrossFit, the dynamic movements of Olympic weightlifting require a mix of stability and flexibility when it comes to knee sleeves — you’re not going to be able to perform many snatches if you can’t bend your knees properly for the catch. The 2 Ply knee sleeves from 1Kilo provide excellent support and mobility thanks to the unique 2-ply design using a proprietary elastic/Spandex blend that’s springy enough without feeling too cumbersome. Plus, getting into these sleeves is more convenient thanks to the addition of two pull tabs at each side.
Some athletes have said the energy return is so impressive that it feels near illegal, but it’s critical you ensure your measurements are correct when choosing your desired size of these premium fitness accessories. Unfortunately, 1Kilo does not offer free exchanges if you order an incorrect size, which may be a little much to ask especially for new athletes that have never measured their knees.
Iron Bull 7mm Knee Sleeves
Knee sleeves and powerlifting go together like peanut butter and jelly. After all, this is the discipline that will have you seeking some of the most gargantuan squat totals. I like the support of these 7mm knee sleeves from Iron Bull, providing the perfect amount of coverage and compression across the 11.5-inch long silhouette. Plus, the interior features a non-slip silicone grip, ideal for keeping your support in place throughout your sets and sessions.
Some athletes have noted, though, that extended use can cause these knee sleeves to stretch out, which can compromise the amount of compression felt across the joint. For this reason, it may be best to order multiple sets to have a backup pair. Thankfully, however, Iron Bull offers these sleeves in multiple colorways, so you can color code your training (and upgrade your in-gym style) accordingly.
Bauerfeind Sports Knee Support Sleeve
Knee support isn’t only beneficial during strength training workouts. Whether running atop the treadmill, rowing, cycling or other modalities, you can always benefit from some added security at this pivotal joint. For these less intense workouts, I like this option from Bauerfeind Sport. Rather than using a neoprene construction for a more rigid frame, this silhouette features an AirKnit design that can be a welcome addition for added breathability without lacking support.
Naturally, though, this knee sleeve is not designed for heavier training days where your joints will be under more strenuous loads. I recommend keeping this in your gym bag for those post-workout cardio sessions or days when you know you’re not lifting any intense weight. That way, you’re ready to give your knees the attention they need for all-around performance.
Gymreapers Knee Wraps
If you’re curious about squatting with knee wraps, I definitely recommend these picks from Gymreapers. Not only does the elastic material provide excellent stability and energy return, but the convenient hook-and-loop closure makes getting into these fitness accessories much more accomplishable when working out solo. Other knee wraps often require a partner or seasoned experience to achieve that locked-in feel.
I’ve enjoyed training with these knee sleeves, particularly on days when I want to really see how heavy I can go in the squat rack. There is a definite learning curve when jumping from knee sleeves, though, as well as a different comfort sensation. Some athletes might not enjoy the elastic feel across the skin at first, as it’s far rougher than what you’d find across the interior of a traditional neoprene sleeve.
SBD Apparel Knee Wraps
Much like the brand’s aforementioned knee sleeves, for competitive athletes, I cannot recommend SBD Apparel’s knee wraps enough. These wraps are also approved for use in USAPL, IPF and USPA meets, and the proprietary track design creates a secure wrapping experience for confidence when it matters most.
There’s a reason SBD Apparel is trusted by so many strength athletes, but for the casual gym-goer, I think these may be overkill. For one, it takes a lot of skill to wrap your knees, and oftentimes you’ll need a partner to truly lock in. Also, these knee wraps are designed with the platform in mind, and unless you’re eyeing a world record in the near future, you can probably get away with just a pair of knee sleeves. Premium engineering is great for meets, but for a weeknight training session, you can still achieve damn fine results with less.