Best Knee Sleeves for Squatting – Guide and knee sleeve reviews
Knee sleeves are becoming a staple accessory in the gym bag of many lifters. Primarily used for squats, lunges and sometimes deadlifts, a good pair of knee sleeves could enhance your training and take your performance to new levels. Finding the best knee sleeves for squatting and lifting is a task not to be taken lightly.
It requires research and reviews. Luckily, I have done all of it for you and come up with this guide.
Featured Knee Sleeves - Quick view
Do knee sleeves prevent injury?
Knee sleeves are an elasticated material used to compress the knee joint during physical activity. For this article, I am focusing mainly on squatting in knee sleeves so I will primarily be using squats as a measure for my recommendations.
The idea for compressing the knee joint comes mainly down to injury prevention. The knee sleeves are designed to keep the knee “in place” and keep the joint warmer through the compression. However, the effectiveness of knee sleeves when it comes to actual injury prevention is a bit of a grey area.
I could find no studies on the injury prevention from knee sleeves themselves but this study looked at the effects of knee braces (the bulkier looking knee-wear) on athletes. Interestingly, it showed fewer injuries in the non-braced participants.
So, knee sleeves have limited solid proof of preventing injuries. Of course, that can be hard to study. It’s very hard to tell if a knee sleeve would have prevented an injury once it’s actually happened or not.
What has been looked at and seems to favour the use of knee sleeves is the effects they have on reducing pain in already injured knees. This study showed a decrease in pain in subjects diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
The study stated that the reduced pain probably came as a result of the increased warmth around the joint provided by the knee sleeve. Increased warmth around a joint usually causes people to feel more comfortable and less pain.
Can you squat heavier with knee sleeves?
So far, I have spoken about the medical reasons for knee sleeves. I’m sure what you’re really interested in is the boost they will give your squatting.
You really can’t argue the fact that knee sleeves can improve your squat performance by a decent amount. More or less every competitor at the IPF world championships last year was wearing them.
Heck, you would struggle to find many local-level competitors not wearing them if their federation allows them to be worn.
It is important to note that you should not rely on knee sleeves to help your squat if you have bad technique. Perfecting your form always comes first. You can make sure you're technique is on point by viewing my squat form guide.
Back to the sleeves. The increase in squat weight comes as a result of the elasticated sleeves being stretched over the quad then bunched up and compressed behind the knee at the bottom of a squat. These factors create a slingshot effect out of the bottom position, which is the most difficult part of the squat.
Some lifters report an increase of up to 25lbs/11.3kgs from their knee sleeves. It does depend on sizing; tighter knee sleeves have a bigger effect but are going to be less comfortable and may restrict mobility.
A note on sleeve tightness for competitive lifters: you have to be able to pull on your sleeves by yourself if you wear them in certain competitions. You won’t be able to do that if they are super tight. No more of this technique, despite it's genius:
Another factor that can help with performance is the proprioceptive aids that the sleeves can offer. I find this myself, they offer feedback that makes it really easy to know when you have reached the depth you are aiming for.
Yes, you should be able to learn this without any sleeves, it just becomes much easier and repeatable when you do wear them.
Especially under heavy loads, I have found that there is more chance for me to sink the squat way too deep as the load is pushing me further down. Wearing my sleeves definitely helps me to hit a more consistent depth every time.
Who should wear knee sleeves?
If you are able to lift heavier when wearing a pair of knee sleeves, then wearing them at certain times during your training can really help you push past your current limits and progress in your squat.
As mentioned earlier, if you are already suffering from a slight injury then knee sleeves could help you to train around it while you recover.
However, you need to make sure that you are recovering and rehabbing the injury as well. If squatting in the sleeves impedes recovery, don’t use them.
If you are a competitive lifter and your federation allows the use of knee sleeves, use them. Be sure to use them in your training leading up to the competition as well.
Similar to using a belt, you have to get a feel for them first. It isn’t wise to just throw a pair of sleeves on and expect an immediate increase in your one rep max.
I think the bottom line for the use of knee sleeves is very similar to most other training aids and equipment. They can be an excellent tool and will improve your squat numbers.
Use them to supplement your training but don’t become reliant on them. I once became so reliant on my knee sleeves that if I forgot to bring them, I wouldn’t even bother squatting.
I don’t know what I thought I would achieve by skipping my squats completely, it was entirely down to my ego not letting me go a touch lighter for the day. Ridiculous! Don’t fall into that trap.
Best knee sleeves for squatting – Top pick reviews
All of the sleeves I am picking here, with the exception of one brand, have been made by manufacturers that specialise in powerlifting equipment. These are the guys that you want to be buying knee sleeves from, they will have researched and worked with the strongest squatters around to come up with these products.
All of the brands I have picked are also worn by some of the strongest guys in the world so that should tell you all you need to know.
I also believe all the featured sleeves are approved by the IPF, which is vital for competitors in that federation.
Each sleeve does have a few little differences that might sway your decision. I will get into those for each product below.
SBD knee sleeves
Probably the most popular brand of knee sleeves among lifters today. They have been around for a few years now and still remain the cream of the crop, in my opinion.
- 7mm thick
- High-grade neoprene
- 30cm in length
- Very durable
These sleeves will definitely give your squat a boost. A big plus for the SBDs is their length, this means greater coverage and support over more of your leg.
They should also last a very long time. Mine have done thousands of reps, worn for competitions, washed numerous times (an absolute necessity that you will soon understand once you have worn knee sleeves for a few workouts) and they still look and perform like new.
The only downsides I could think of would be that they only come in a single colour variation.
I really don’t think you can go wrong with the SBD knee sleeves, to be honest.
The only company on the list that doesn’t just specialize in powerlifting gear but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing when it comes to knee sleeves. The wild popularity of their original knee sleeves, the Rehband 7051, shows that Rehband knows exactly how to make a great pair of sleeves.
- 7mm thick, as you may have guessed
- Anatomically shaped for the knee
- 27mm long
- Colour options available
The original sleeves were the go-to squat sleeves for many before the powerlifting brands came along with their purpose-built knee sleeves.
Now, Rehband has a pair of knee sleeves that were made for the purpose of heavier, single or low rep lifts in mind. The RX 7mm sleeves.
Rehband has been specialising in knee equipment for over 60 years, they probably know the knee better than any manufacturer on this list.
The anatomically shaped design has been introduced to provide a more natural and comfortable joint motion while wearing the sleeves. One of the disadvantages of most heavy-duty knee sleeves is that they can be uncomfortable and a bit restrictive so this could be a huge benefit to some lifters.
One downside/annoyance of the Rehbands is the fact that they are sold in singles so be careful for that and make sure to order two.
I would be a little hesitant to suggest these for very heavy squats over the other brands on the list.
But, if you have tried and liked the original Rehband sleeves but are looking for something a bit heavier and geared towards increasing squat numbers, I have no doubt that you will like these sleeves.
In my mind, these are the closest thing to a competitor for the all-conquering SBD sleeves.
- Seams on the side of the knee
- 7mm thick neoprene
- Available in a range of colours and designs
The Strong sleeves are produced by Mark Bell of Slingshot and supertraining.tv. This guy obviously knows his powerlifting and hangs around a huge circle of other guys that know more than a thing or two about it as well.
The fact that mark has so many knowledgeable influences to call upon when it comes to designing and testing products, makes it no surprise that he keeps producing such quality gear.
The Strong sleeves are made of the same material, thickness and length of the SBD sleeves but they do have a couple of differences.
The seams being along the sides of the knee on these sleeves is really the main difference that I can tell. They are said to be there in order to reduce irritation around the knee during your workouts. I can definitely see this to be a good point.
The SBD sleeves have a seam that wraps around the knee and it can become fairly itchy once you begin to get a sweat on in the gym. It isn’t much but it can be annoying.
The wider choice of colours will be a huge plus to many. I know a lot of lifters that like to show a bit of personality or “flare” in the gym and on the platform so this will go down a treat with those guys.
I will admit, it’s always nice to have some design options to differentiate yourself.
In terms of performance, I don’t think there is going to be too much to separate these and the SBD sleeves.
I would say if you are worried about getting itchy legs from the SDB seems or you want to coordinate your knee sleeves with your shoes then go for the Strong sleeves.
I will admit that I have never worn or even seen these sleeves in person. They are not as popular as the other brands but they still look like an interesting and solid knee sleeve.
- 7mm thick neoprene
- 30cm long
- Unique X-seem construction
- 11 sizing options
I have included them here since, despite my lack of personal experience with them, I see these sleeves as a very viable alternative to the others on this list.
Again, this is going to be fairly similar to all of the other sleeves. Just some very minor differences. These are made of the same material as the others and are the same 7mm thickness, which is the thickest allowable by the IPF.
The obvious difference here is the seam design. This time they are sewn around the knee cap in an X-shape.
Like with the SBDs, the company claims that their seam pattern adds support to your knee joint. The X-shape does make some sense to me, your ligaments run over the patella in a kind of X shape already so I can see their thinking.
I must say that I have seen a couple of reviews that have complained about the Yellow Jacket sleeves not being the most durable. Some saying they have fallen apart after a while.
The yellow jackets only come in one colour, black with quite a striking yellow accent.
Final thoughts and recommendations
I love the SBD sleeves, you will find them in any list of the best knee sleeves for squatting and I cannot recommend them enough.
The only other sleeves I would think about are the Strong sleeves. They are pretty much the same as the SBDs but the colour options might be enough to sway some people.
So, I say pick one of those two and be happy with the confidence of knowing you picked a great knee sleeve to squat in.
Let me know your favourite knee sleeves for lifting in the comments and be sure to share this guide around with your lifting buddies by clicking the "share" buttons below.