Knee wraps vs. knee sleeves for squats? What on earth are you talking about?
Aren’t they the same thing? No! Before we go any further let’s make one thing clear, knee sleeves and knee straps are significantly different when talking about squatting and powerlifting.
While their purpose can be similar, straps and sleeves offer different benefits and drawbacks when going deep under a ton of weight. With that in mind, we wanted to detail which accessory would be best for you.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- Which is better for the novice lifter? Advanced bodybuilder?
- Do knee wraps allow you to lift heavier weight?
- Do knee sleeves prevent injuries or decrease pain?
- Is there an ideal wrapping technique for lifters?
...So, let’s dive in!
Knee Sleeves For Squats | What Are They?
Knee sleeves are common in almost every kind of gym these days.
Whether it’s bodybuilders at Golds Gym in Venice Beach, powerlifters at Westside Barbell in Ohio, or crossfitters at Reebok Crossfit in New York, there will be people there wearing knee sleeves.
Heck, some even say they look stylish.
Many lifters use the sleeves to offer compression, keep the knees warm, and more.
Why Use Knee Sleeves
Often, knee sleeves are made out of a composite neoprene material which offers two benefits to the knee capsule:
For whatever reason, the knee capsule loves compression and heat but I’ll try to explain some of the anatomy so that it makes more sense.
Anatomy of the Knee
The knee capsule contains synovial fluid, which is found in the cavities of highly mobile joints called synovial joints. This fluid circulates around the patella, tibia, and femur. It helps lubricate and provide nutrients to the joint.
Knee sleeves work to protect the knee for the same reason that getting a light pump before attempting a heavy lift helps to prevent injury -- you are quite literally warming up the blood and synovial fluid in the joint.
Whether it’s the shoulder, elbow, or knee, the mechanism is the same.
However, the knee is particularly complicated and one of the most common areas for a lifter to be injured.
The patella, otherwise known as the kneecap, attaches to the quadriceps via the quadriceps tendon -- tearing this tendon and having the quad muscle become detached from the knee is THE MOST COMMON major injury to powerlifters from heavy squatting.
Not only is a quadriceps tear scary as hell (the muscle is completely torn from the bone, rendering it useless so you can’t straighten your knee) but a quadriceps tear is also a major setback. You can expect the joint to be immobilized for a month and the rehabilitation process can take additional months after that. And that’s just to get back to square one.
Tendons attach muscle to bone, tendonitis is the inflammation of a particular tendon -- so tendonitis in the knee usually refers to the quadriceps tendon but can also refer to the patellar tendon.
Tendonitis is pretty common but it’s more of a nagging injury than a major setback.
You can recover from tendonitis without missing too much gym time, but it does hurt and you won’t be able to lift very heavy or very often (tendonitis usually occurs from overuse).
Knee Sleeves to the Rescue
The main benefit knee sleeves offer lifters if protection from future injuries and damage.
If you’re worried about developing tendonitis don’t even hesitate and just throw on some knee sleeves. The price for peace of mind concerning your knees costs less than Avocado Toast in Manhattan…
Don’t fret about it just throw them on and forget about it.
However, knee sleeves are not designed to protect your old injuries. If you have a nagging injury you’re trying to lift around, a knee brace is a much better option.
With the added compression knee sleeves offer, you’ll find increase blood flow to the knee, reduced pain, and increased recovery time. Ultimately, this can also help you recover from any workout a little faster.
The Downsides of Knee SleevesKnee sleeves will limit a certain range of motion in your knees, but typically in a good way, e.g., limiting patella movement. Overall, knee sleeves for squats are a solid choice for intermediate lifters looking to stay injury-free and recover quickly.
While knee sleeves are fantastic for certain lifters, they’re not for everyone. Outside of not protecting nagging injuries like a brace, sleeves will not help you lift heavier weight. These aren’t a miracle accessory.
You’ll also want to invest in knee sleeves that offer benefits, as the cheap supermarket kinds rarely do the job. I know what you’re thinking: “It’s just a neoprene sleeve, how complicated can it be?”
It seems like it shouldn’t be hard but cheap ones won’t fit right, they’ll feel strange to walk around in, and they’ll look like trash, especially when they don’t fit right.
Cheap Walmart knee sleeves look plain silly.
Lastly, you’ll need to be diligent about caring for the sleeves, as they require washing every week. This is especially important for guys (girls typically don’t produce quite as foul of an odor).
You know how knee sleeves provide heat, right?
Heat means sweat and sweat means stink.
Wash them once per weak minimum so that everyone in the gym doesn’t have to wear a HAZMAT suit.
That pretty much wraps up knee sleeves so let’s move on to knee wraps.
Knee Wraps for Lifters | What Are They?
Knee wraps for lifters are a gym accessory designed for one exercise: the squat. If you’re a big bloke with trouser splitting thighs, you’ve probably tried some wraps already.
Powerlifters often wrap their knees before performing heavy weight squats. Bodybuilders will use them as well but to a lesser extent.
Why do they use them, you ask?
Because many believe that wrapping the knees with an elastic-like material will allow them to burst through plateaus and lift more weight.
The truth? Knee wraps do help lifters add more weights to their squats. See, knee wraps allow a lifter to store energy on the downward phase of their squat. The energy stored is somewhat “elastic” in nature, thus allowing the lifter to shoot up from the bottom of the squat.
As such, bodybuilders who use these accessories tend to add more weight and lift the weight faster while squatting. As well, these wraps have been proven to reduce pressure on the quadriceps tendon. So it looks like this will help your quad stay attached to your knee when doing a max effort squat.
You don’t want to use knee wraps for anything more than 10 reps though. The elasticity will provide too much assistance and the bottom of the squat won’t be hard enough to produce an adaptation response (the only reason why we lift is so our body can adapt and get stronger).
BUT, a lot of lifters get injured doing heavy squats in the higher rep ranges, say 12 reps with 140 kilos. You’re trying to get stronger so you have to push it but if you put on knee wraps then your legs aren’t doing enough of the work.
I would go with knee sleeves in this situation. You’re patella well get some compression which will help keep the tendon attached but they won’t rob your legs of having to do any of the work.
The Downsides of Knee Wraps
The main downside to knee wraps is that the mechanism by which they increase your squat it simply the elasticity of the bands. They make it easier to get out of the hole (the bottom-most position in your squat) because they want your knees to be straight, so to speak. I’ll explain:
A pole vaulter is catapulted over the bar because of the stored energy created when the pole is bent. The pole wants to be straight and thus it flings the athlete into the air in order to be straight.
Knee wraps also store energy in the bent position, they are tightest when your knee is bent, and they help you stand back up again. This certainly helps you lift more weight but it’s unclear as to whether this makes you bigger or stronger.
Obviously, lifting more weight for its own sake has merit in powerlifting, but not in bodybuilding, which is why you see powerlifters using them more often than bodybuilders.
While knee wraps offer huge benefits to gym goers looking to get over the hump while in the squat rack, they’re not perfect, either. If your knees are susceptible to pain in the patella area, the wraps may increase friction. Increased friction will typically increase pain levels, too.
As well, knee wraps change many a lifters’ squat form. Some say for the better, but there’s no consensus here. If you decide to invest in wraps for squats, make sure you’re diligent with your form for a few weeks before adding any extra weight.
Knee Wraps Vs. Knee Sleeves For Squats | Best Way to Prevent Injuries?
If you’re deciding whether to buy wraps or sleeves, there are a few things to consider before purchasing. First, you must decide why you want straps, sleeves, or a brace. Ideally, here’s why you buy each item:
- Wraps: Knee straps are designed to increase weight on your squat in a safe and relatively painless manner. Knee straps increase support and help you bounce back up on the bottom of a deep squat.
- Sleeves: Knee sleeves help keep the knee warm during your workout. By adding compression, you increase blood flow to the knee and protect it from future injuries. This accessory is ideal for intermediate lifters looking to stay injury-free.
- Brace: If you have a previous injury that is still bringing pain, a knee brace can offer support while you train. While braces can be beneficial, most lifters find rest and recovery after an injury more important than any brace.
Overall, powerlifters and bodybuilders looking to add weight to their squats will benefit more from knee wraps than any other accessory. For CrossFit athletes looking to stay injury-free and warmed up throughout a WOD, knee sleeves offer great value.
For intermediate lifters, both options can be ideal when struggling with minor knee pain or tweaks. Knee sleeves heat the knee up throughout a workout, which eliminates pain and increases recovery time.
Bonus | How to Properly Wrap Your Knee
Every gym bro and their mama will have an opinion on which way is best, but the basics are this…
There are two general ways to wrap your knee. There’s the “spiral” technique, and then there’s the “cross figure-8” technique. Every bodybuilder will have their personal preference on how to properly wrap knees with their preferred technique.
The reality of the situation? There’s no real difference in mechanics or assistance between the two (Source). Try out both methods and see which one feels best to you. Comfort while squatting is the most important factor.
Check out this video detailing one great method:
Wraps & Sleeves For All
Make no mistake about it. If you’re looking to stay swole and add a little to your squat, we can help.
If you’re looking to reduce wear and tear on your knees while lifting heavier weight, knee wraps and knee sleeves may be of interest to you.
At Gunsmith Fitness, we take pride in producing some of the premier equipment in the industry. Our knee sleeves are guaranteed to last and built with premium, thick neoprene. Our knee wraps are made with elasticated cotton designed to offer extra support to serious athletes.