Knee Sleeves: Are They Worth the Expense?

Knee sleeves are an increasingly common sight in gym settings and the market is flooded with different brands of sleeves promising to do everything from relieve your pain to increase your lifts. In this article, we’ll dig down to reveal exactly what knee sleeves and cannot do for you, so you can decide whether or not to make the investment.

What are Knee Sleeves?

Knee sleeves are a neoprene sleeve which you slip onto your leg to cover your knee and an area a few inches above and below it. They are different from knee braces which are made from more rigid materials and designed to protect an existing injury from further movement. Braces are purely and simply a mechanical support, whereas sleeves also improve proprioception. Knee braces provide a protective cushioning that is designed to give protection to the anterior knee and the patella.
Sleeves are also distinct from knee wraps, which are an advancement tool to allow advanced powerlifters to lift heavier weights.

Knee Sleeve Benefits

There are five key things that knee sleeves can do to help you in the gym:
  • Increase blood flow
  • Keep the joint warm
  • Reduce patella movement
  • Increase VMO activation and proprioception
  • Provide a sense of stability
There have been a number of studies conducted to determine the usefulness of wearing a knee sleeve, most of them done with regard to sporting contexts. In one random study of 1396 cadets playing tackle football at the US Military Academy it was shown that a prophylactic knee sleeve did not significantly reduce the severity of ACL and MCL injuries. However there was a trend toward a reduced rate of less severe ACL and MCL injuries in athletes who used the sleeves. Only 16 ACL injuries occured, 4 with the sleeve, and 12 without the sleeve.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of wearing a knee sleeve is the sense of mental security that it provides. When you wear a knee sleeve you will feel more stable and secure. This, in turn, helps you to be more in control of the movement you are about to do. As a result, you will be less guarded in your movement, and more able to move naturally and recruit the right muscle at the right time.
However, when you attempt to do a movement, such as a squat, when you have a feeling of impending pain, it is very likely that compensatory movements will kick into play, which likely increases the likelihood of an injury. Often the injury that results is not at the knee, but in the lower back.

 Not a Solution

While a knee sleeve can provide assistance while you are working out with knee flexion in exercises, it is in no way a solution to your knee ailment. The sleeve may provde security but it does not provide stability. Only corrective exercise programs can do this. Firstly, though you need to look at the underlying cause of the problem. When you do so, you will probably find that it has nothing to width the knee at all.

There are four common causes for knee pain as follows:

  • Tight ankles

  • Tight hips

  • Weak glutes

  • Movement dysfunction with squats and / or lunges

A knee sleeve will not prevent an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. Such a tear is result of a lack of stability in the muscles and ligaments which the patellar tracking problems that often result in ACL tears. In order to prevent an ACL injury, you need to address the dysfunction at the ankle and the hip, while also correcting any faulty movement patterns.

Can Knee Sleeves Make you Stronger

Some lifters get knee sleeves that are a size too small for them in the belief that the extra tightness will help them to lift heavier weight on squats. The tighter the sleeve, the more you are able to store energy behind the knee when you descend into the squat. This gives you more explosive energy coming out of the hole. So, tighter sleeves may actually allow you to push an extra 5 to 10 pounds on your squat.

If you wear a pair of knee sleeves that is the appropriate size for you then you will not get this explosive effect. In this case the sleeves are primarily adding comfort. The comfort comes from the compression which helps to increase blood flow  and reduces pain and swelling in the knee joint during and after a workout. Of course creating comfort is not the same thing as preventing injury.

Even though slightly tighter knee sleeves may help you to lift more weight, you need to be careful that they are not too tight.  Getting a better weight from slightly over tight knee sleeves is not the same thing as numbing your knees by cutting off circulation with sleeves that are way too tight.

So, Do You Need Them?

Knee sleeves are by no means an essential lifting tool. Beginners don’t need to get a pair as a part of their training kit. Rather than focusing on such training aids as sleeves, new lifters should put all of their energies into improving their form, progression and learning how to perform the movement.
After a year or so of training, you should consider the merits of investing in knee sleeves. If you suffer from knee pain, you are best advised to try and get a diagnosis of the problem before you start using knee sleeves. If you don’t, you will be simply masking a problem that could get worse.
The purpose of a knee sleeve is to protect the knee from future injury due to the pressure of lifting weights. They do this by compressing the entire knee area to keep it aligned and tracking correctly. At the same time, they add warmth to the area. This increases blood flow, feeding nutrients into the knee joint. A key benefit of this is that you will have less post workout soreness.
Your proprioception will also be improved when you use knee sleeves. Proprioception refers to the ability of the central nervous system to feel the muscles while they are working in space. This is key to proper execution, especially on the squat.
When you lift  heavy weight involving knee flexion, the kneecap is forced to grind down on itself. Lighter lifting (i.e. anything over 10 reps) doesn’t provide enough force so you don’t need to worry about sleeves if you training in that rep range. For people who have been training for more than a year, and who perform sets of below 6 reps on squats, the snatch and clean and jerk, sleeves will be useful.
One benefit of knee sleeves as opposed to knee wraps is that they are easier to put on and don’t have to be adjusted for different exercises. You simply put them on before your workout and then forget about them.

Emerge Knee Sleeves

Emerge Fitness 7mm Sleeve Review

The Emerge Fitness 7mm knee sleeve is a durable, form fitting leg brace that combines warmth and compression. It is a piece of cake to slip on and off and sits reliably in place, with no back of the knee bunching problems. Seam stitching is high quality and the 7mm neoprene fabric will last the distance. The neoprene also does a good job of absorbing the sweat around your patellar joint.
The Emerge Fitness band’s great strength is its price point. You can get a pair of Emerge sleeves for little more than what you’d pay for a single Rehband 7051. And, unlike many other low priced bands on the market, the Emerge confidently stacks up alongside the Rehband in terms of features. It may not have the brand recognition but it is a serious knee band that will do the business at a great price.


    • Extremely durable with reinforced cross stitching
    • Elasticity will improve your squat poundage
    • Double inay cross stitching
    • Cost effective


      • The interior lining may cause slight rubbing to the back of the knee in extreme heat.

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