"Knee sleeves are a fad, if you cant' lift the weight without sleeves you shouldn't bother lifting the weight" I thought to myself as I walked passed a gym full of CrossFitters smashing out their workout of the day wearing knee sleeves.
That was a handful of years ago, and I honestly wish I wasn't so dismissive of the benefits of knee sleeves at the time!
There's always going to be the guy in the gym with his lifting belt, gloves and knee wraps loading up far too much weight on the bar before proceeding to perform quarter repetitions - but that's not the purpose knee sleeves serve.
Today I don't perform heavy barbell back or front squats without my knee sleeves.
If I'm doing some accessory work such as goblet squats or pistol squats as part of a fat burning circuit it's no so much of a big deal, but when I'm placing 315lbs+ on my back at 5am on a cold Winter morning the knee sleeves are a very welcome addition!
"SJ, What Actually is a Knee Sleeve?"
A knee sleeve is a tight fitting neoprene sleeve, designed to compress and warm the knee.
The vast majority of knee sleeves are available in two thicknesses, 5mm and 7mm.
5mm can be used all-round for box jumps and the like while 7mm is best suited for those heavy compound movements such as the barbell back squat.
Unlike a knee brace, a knee sleeve is not designed to protect an already injured knee - it's designed to provide compression and warmth to prevent any injury from occurring (while increasing your stability in movements such as the squat!).
4 Big Benefits of Knee Sleeves
1. They Increase Blood Flow
The compression and warmth provided by correctly fitted knee sleeves (make sure you measure and get the right size for you!) increases blood flow.
Increased blood flow reduces pain and inflammation in the knee.
2. You'll Feel Far Studier
The compression provided from your neoprene knee sleeves will increase your overall confidence when performing exercises that're intensive on the knees e.g. the front and back squat. I personally find 'getting out of the hole' (driving up from the bottom of each repetition) to feel far sturdier with my knee sleeves.
3. You'll Reduce Your Risk of Injury (Particularly Long Term!)
The vast majority of knee issues out there come down to one of two things - incorrect form or an insufficient warm-up.
Now, squatting with knee sleeves isn't going to correct your horrendous form (and as such this is why I do NOT recommend beginners wear knee sleeves while they're learning correct form on each exercise).
The warmth and compression provided to the knee via your neoprene knee sleeves will get your knee joints warmer quicker and keep them that way between sets.
4. You'll Warm Up Quicker
Jumping straight into a working set of squats is a sure-fire way to injure your knees or lower back, warming up (and keeping your joints warm!) is far easier when you're rocking your knee sleeves.
No need to spend half an hour doing some light cardio to get the knees warmed up before your squats... I opt to perform a 5 minute foam rolling routine, put my knee sleeves on and proceed with a couple of light sets at 50% of my working set weight before getting to business!
Studies On Knee Sleeves
Has any research been performed on knee sleeves? You bet. Below are the takeaway points.
"The present findings suggest a rationale for using neoprene knee sleeves as a preventative measure or treatment in subjects and patients to enhance proprioceptive acuity in a fatigued state."
Immediate effect of the elastic knee sleeve use on individuals with osteoarthritis.
The elastic knee sleeve proved to be effective to immediately improve the functional capacity and pain of individuals with KOA, because it enhanced performance during the tests proposed. Thus, the knee sleeve is an adjuvant resource for treating KOA, because it is practical, useful, and of easy clinical use, and can aid in the practice of therapeutic exercises.
"SJ, There's Far Too Many Knee Sleeves Out There, Which Are The Best?"
There's a hell of a lot of different knee sleeves out there at a variety of price points - before picking up my blue 7mm Rehbands I read a ton of reviews and looked at my options...
I chose to spend a bit extra to buy a product that has a reputation of quality.
Sure, you can spend $30 for a pair of knee sleeves, but after a couple of months or hard training (or a few cycles through your washing machine) they're falling to pieces.
The quality of the sleeves (and the compression) were inferior to that you should've got to begin with...