How to Use Knee Sleeves
What Are Knee Sleeves?
Knee sleeves are a hollow, cylindrical piece of material, typically neoprene, that goes around your knees when you lift.
They’re typically 7mm thick, though you’ll find thinner and thicker options.
What they are not are knee wraps. Knee wraps are wrapped tightly around your knees and often times require another person to wrap around your knees.
Knee wraps are for competitive, geared powerlifters.
Knee sleeves are for everyone. Let’s explore why you would wear them.
Why Wear Them?
Knees and joints get achy and creaky. Knee sleeves give your knees a hug, with a little compression and a little warmth.
They are not meant to add weight to your squat. If they do, it’s negligible. Instead, they help your knees feel a little better and give just a bit more compression.
The thinner the material, the less warmth and compression you’ll get. There’s really no reason to get thinner than 7mm, but some options at that size or thicker will clearly add weight to the bar.
If you’re a competitive powerlifter and federation allows a thicker, more compressive option, go for it. If you just want some knee sleeves that give some warmth and compression, go with something else.
How do I Put Knee Sleeves On?
Knee sleeves can be a little difficult to put on, especially the bigger, more compressive knee sleeves. You should be able to pull up the smaller, less compressive ones in one single pull. The thicker ones might require a few yanks.
Get your foot through the knee sleeve. Then fold the top portion down, maybe about an inch, and then pull up.
You want your knee to be centered on the middle of the knee sleeve vertically. You also want the seams on the sides, not on the knee cap or small of the knee.
How to Use Knee Sleeves for Squats (& Other Lifts)
Now, for how to use knee sleeves and when to use them.
Put them on at the beginning of the workout. You want warmth, so don’t wait until your warmed up to put them on.
The one lift you really don’t want to wear knee sleeves for are deadlifts and deadlifts variants. The bar will get caught on or at least have to pass over the lip of the knee sleeves. You don’t want deadlifts to be any harder.
For deadlifts, Matt, pulls them down and inside out. This prevents interference as the bar moves up the shin.
The knee sleeve can be worn for any lift, and really should be worn for lifts that require a decent amount of knee extension and flexion – so squats most especially.
Matt likes to wear them during presses, not to help the lift but to provide proprioceptive feedback for him to not bend his knees.
Lastly, they can really be worn for the duration of the workout. If you want to take them off after your squats, you can, but you don’t have to.
How to Wash & Care For Knee Sleeves
Knee sleeves are going to smell and change colors. Regular washing and care can help, but it’s unavoidable. There is no magic cure.
You can wash them in the washer, but definitely don’t put them in the dryer. They’ll last longer if you hand wash them – use dish or laundry soap and water.
You want to avoid keeping them wet after use. Ensure they get a chance to dry (so don’t throw them in a bag and never take them out).
Febreze or similar products can help. Some claim you can boil them to clean them, then add dish soap and eventually allow to dry off. Others recommend soaking in hot water and vinegar.
Which Ones Should You Buy?
The best option for you is the knee sleeve that accomplishes what you want to get out of a them. That being said, we can give some broad recommendations.
Generally, we’d recommend against the thinner, cheaper options (3mm & 5mm). Typical brands you might find are Harbinger or Mueller.
These brands are cheaper, but they won’t last anywhere near as long as the higher quality options. They also won’t provide the same amount of compression and warmth as the more expensive options. Lastly, they won’t stay up on your knees where you want them throughout the workout, so you’ll find yourself pulling them up throughout your workout.
On the other extreme, you have SBD. These are high-quality knee sleeves, but they’re really best for competitive lifters who are looking to add weight to their squat. You would need to double-check that these are allowed in your federation, but if they are, go for it.
These will be harder to get on and will make it noticeably harder to flex your knee (which means they’ll help you extend your knee).
Lastly, you have Rehband. These are Matt’s pick for best everyday knee sleeves.
He had a pair that lasted 17 years. He only bought a new pair because his old pair smelled bad and turned brown. His old lifting partner still wears them, though.
He recommends the 7mm, and he wears the blue color. They’re high quality, they last, and they do what he wants knee sleeves to do – provide warmth and a little compression.
One word of caution when you buy higher-quality knee sleeves. You may see the initial price and think it is reasonable. Double-check what they’re selling you, because that might be the price for only 1 knee sleeve, not 2.