Knee sleeves are a great option for lifters and runners alike to aid in performance but most importantly, injury mitigation.
The main benefits of knee sleeves are largely down to the warmth they provide to the knee joint, which can go a long way to promoting blood flow and thus preventing injuries from occurring and, indeed, for the rehabilitation of previous injuries.
The compression they provide is also great for knee tracking and alignment and, when it comes to strength sports such as Powerlifting or Strongman, provides that bit extra support in those heavy lifts.
For more information on knee sleeves, please check out my beginner’s guide to knee sleeves, where I answer some of the main questions that often get asked.
Of course, with so many different brands and manufacturers of knee sleeves and different sizes and shapes, it can be difficult to determine the right knee sleeves for your particular sport and goals.
In this article, I will provide the best knee sleeves by sport, from Powerlifting and Strongman to CrossFit and even Weightlifting, to help you make the most informed choice.
Best Knee Sleeves for Squats
Across all strength sports, squats are one of the most widely used and versatile exercises and are arguably the biggest exercise for knee complaints.
It stands to reason then that squats are one of the most popular exercises for wearing knee sleeves, but what are the best knee sleeves for squats?
There are two separate scenarios for squats which will determine the best knee sleeves choice:
- Training with heavy weight and low to moderate rep ranges.
- Training with light weight and moderate to high rep ranges.
Remember, when I say heavy weight, this means heavy for you.
If you’re unsure, a rough rule of thumb would be any weight where you would struggle to do more than 6-8 repetitions, but remember this is just a guide, not a hard and fast rule.
Once you know which camp you fall under, this will help determine what type of knee sleeve would best suit your needs.
For those that are squatting with heavy weight, I would recommend a 7mm thick knee sleeve as this will provide that extra support in the hole.
My personal favorites are SBD knee sleeves and Stoic knee sleeves, which only come in the 7mm thickness and are specifically designed for heavy squats.
Rogue and Rehband knee sleeves also manufacture 7mm thick variants and are also a great choice.
These have a slightly different design to the Stoic and SBD knee sleeves in that they are shorter so cover less of the surrounding quads/hamstrings and calves and they also have an inbuilt bend in the design, whereas the Stoic and SBD knee sleeves have a completely straight design.
This design makes the Rogue and Rehband knee sleeves that much easier to put on and take off and are overall more comfortable to wear, however, you will get slightly less performance out of them as a consequence.
If I could only choose one pair of knee sleeves for squats, it would be the SBD knee sleeves, however, the Stoic, Rogue, and Rehband knee sleeves are all excellent choices.
For lighter squats, I would recommend a 5mm pair of knee sleeves, the 7mm knee sleeves above will, of course, work for lighter squats too but it may be overkill and you will find they will be doing too much of the squatting for you!
A 5mm pair of knee sleeves will provide the required warmth to your knee joint and good overall support during lighter squats, and will better allow you to squat under your own strength.
The 5mm Rehband knee sleeves would be my recommendation for lighter squats with the 5mm Rogue sleeves a close 2nd. Both are very similar in design so there is very little to separate them performance-wise.
Best Knee Sleeves for Powerlifting
In Powerlifting, the goal is to lift the most amount of weight for one repetition only in the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift.
Although top Powerlifters recruit a lot of leg drive in the Bench Press, knee sleeves don’t offer much benefit here, there’s just not a lot of stress and strain being put on the knee joint in this lift.
For this reason, it is not necessary to wear knee sleeves in the bench press. That said, nothing is stopping you either!
Many Powerlifters also tend to forego knee sleeves during the Deadlift. It’s common for the bar to drag up the lifter’s leg during the Deadlift and it’s likely the bar will catch on the knee sleeves and interfere with the lift.
So for the Deadlift, I would again say you can leave the knee sleeves in your gym bag.
Incidentally, some Powerlifters wear their knee sleeves over their shins during the Deadlift. This can protect their shins from the bar somewhat as it drags up. It can work well, but I would recommend a good pair of knee-high socks instead.
This leaves us with the Squat and as Powerlifting is all about lifting heavy, I would recommend 7mm knee sleeves, however, it is important to ensure they are IPF approved otherwise you won’t be allowed to wear them in competition under this federation.
Stoic, STrong, and SBD knee sleeves all feature on the IPF Approved List and all are excellent choices.
If I was to only choose one, it would be the SBD knee sleeves, mainly due to the seam design, which I find to be the most comfortable of the three.
Best Knee Sleeves for Weightlifting
Watch any Olympic Weightlifting competition and you will see lifters wearing a wide mix of knee sleeves, knee wraps, or even nothing at all (around their knees)!
Although knee sleeves will undoubtedly have performance benefits during Olympic Weightlifting, they also have a lot of downsides and of all the strength sports, you will find that Weightlifting is the one strength sport where personal preference really does factor the most.
In fact, former Weightlifting World Champion, Dmitry Klokov does not recommend knee sleeves, primarily due to how sweaty and loose they make the knee joint! You can watch footage of his seminar in the video below, discussion on knee sleeves starts at around 9 minutes.
Klokov does go as far as to state that Hookgrip knee sleeves are a good choice however. These are a lot lighter and more breathable than the typical neoprene and are instead made from a nylon, rubber, and spandex blend.
So if it’s good enough for a former world champion in Weightlifting, then who are any of us to argue!?
That said, if you are adamant that the typical neoprene style knee sleeves are for you, my choice would be the 5mm Rehband knee sleeves and it’s not uncommon to see these worn by competitive Weightlifters despite Klokov’s recommendation. They offer great performance benefits and should still be just thin enough not to interfere with your cleans or snatches.
Best Knee Sleeves for CrossFit
CrossFit is perhaps the hardest sport in this article to pin down to any one type of knee sleeve. Primarily due to involving so many different types of exercises and movements.
Box jumps, squats, running, they all feature heavily in CrossFit WODs (among many other exercises) and all put different types of stress on the knee joint.
If you have the disposable income, it may well be worth investing in different pairs of knee sleeves for different exercises.
For the most part, I would recommend steering clear of any 7mm knee sleeves. This rules out the Stoic, STrong, and SBD knee sleeves as well as the heavier Rogue and Rehband knee sleeves, as they are just a bit too heavy duty for the more dynamic and endurance-based movements of CrossFit.
If dealing with weighted movements and exercises, my choice would be 5mm knee sleeves such as the Rehband knee sleeves, which are already a very popular choice in CrossFit.
If you are willing to take it a step further, 3mm knee sleeves are a great choice for more endurance centric exercises where you aren’t lifting any additional weight.
Again, Rehband knee sleeves are a great choice with their 3mm knee sleeves fitting the bill well. Similarly, Rogue knee sleeves cannot be ignored as an alternative choice.
For those of you that get particularly sweaty during WODs, the Hookgrip knee sleeves cannot be discounted, but note that they will not offer the same level of support as their neoprene knee sleeves counterparts.
Best Knee Sleeves for Strongman
Strongman is similar to Powerlifting in that it’s all about lifting as much weight as humanly possible. Granted, there are events in Strongman where speed and endurance are required but these are mostly for shorter bursts or the Strongmen are weighed down by some massively heavy implement or contraption!
I don’t know about you but if I was choosing between a bit more freedom in my knee joint to run a bit faster vs protection from a yoke that’s multiple times heavier than I am, I’d choose protection every time!
For this reason, my recommendation goes to the 7mm knee sleeves which are going to offer the most support and resistance against weighted movements.
Similar to my Powerlifting recommendation, the SBD knee sleeves would be my sleeve of choice and indeed, watch any Strongman competition and chances are you will see at least one of the Strongmen wearing SBD knee sleeves.
No matter what strength sport you take part in, there’s a knee sleeve for you.
If you’ve read the entirety of this article, you may have noticed a bit of a trend. Generally speaking, the heavier you lift, the more you will benefit from thicker knee sleeves, but as you transition through to lighter workouts or straight cardio, the less thickness will be required from your knee sleeves.
All that said, it is worth remembering that you absolutely do not need knee sleeves for any of these sports, however, they are very much worth considering, if for nothing else than injury prevention.
If you would like a bit more information on the different knee sleeves brands out there, check out my article “The Best Knee Sleeves Brands“. For information on other supportive equipment, check out my articles on lifting belts and elbow sleeves too!