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Knee wraps and knee sleeves are two popular lifting accessories to boost performance, reduce injury risks, and more. Depending on your lifting style, one may be more suitable than the other. Knee wraps physically help you lift more weight due to a built-in mechanical advantage. Knee sleeves are more versatile and use compression and warmth to improve form and more.
Differences Between Knee Wraps vs. Knee Sleeves
Knee wraps and knee sleeves are sometimes confused when people discuss what they do and how they help. Although both tools are used around your knees, they accomplish different things and are used for different reasons.
In basic terms, you use knee wraps to help you lift more weight and knee sleeves to improve form, increase blood flow, reduce injury risks, etc.
Both tools are affordable and compact, allowing you to easily throw them in a gym bag or store them in your home gym.
In this article, we’ll look at knee wraps vs. knee sleeves in detail. I’ll outline the pros and cons and provide a few recommendations.
What are Knee Wraps?
Knee wraps are built similarly to wrist wraps with elastic materials combined with cotton, nylon, or polyester.
The biggest difference between knee wraps and knee sleeves is that wraps give you a mechanical advantage. When you descend in a squat, the elasticity of the wraps accumulates and stores energy that transfers to the lifter in the ascent. Therefore, wraps provide a rebound effect that physically helps you lift more weight.
Unlike knee sleeves that are slid over the knee, wraps are applied in specific ways, including spiral and figure-8 techniques. Generally, knee wraps require more care and effort to wear correctly. Unlike sleeves, they’re also removed after every set to give the knees a break and allow the lifter an opportunity to reset the wrap.
A secondary purpose of knee wraps is as an occlusion training/blood flow restriction tool. Occlusion training is when you purposefully restrict blood flow to a targeted muscle to increase hypertrophy. It’s especially useful during rehab under lighter loads by generating a similar stimulus to higher loads without the added stress (1).
Who Should Wear Knee Wraps?
Knee wraps are most popular among powerlifters looking to hit PRs during max effort training and competitions. In competitive settings, some federations allow wraps under ‘equipped lifting.’
Strongman/women athletes may also use knee wraps when lifting heavy implements, but sleeves are generally more popular.
Olympic weightlifters may sometimes use knee wraps; however, rigid wraps can impede depth when receiving the barbell in some movements. Softer cotton knee wraps are more common among weightlifters.
Lastly, bodybuilders may use knee wraps on high-volume squats, leg presses, etc., particularly as an occlusion device.
Knee Wraps Pros and Cons + Recommendations
Knee wraps are more of an advanced tool for lifters to increase the amount of weight they can lift. They’re ideal for PR attempts and max effort training.
Secondarily, they can be a useful rehab tool under lighter loads with tighter compression by restricting blood flow.
Although hitting PRs is nice, knee wraps should be used sparingly and only during very heavy training (85%+ of 1RM) unless you’re using them as a rehab tool. The reason is that knee wraps can create a more vertical squat, which may not align with your traditional form. Using them too often may create muscle imbalances between the glutes and quads.
I recommend the Gymreapers Knee Wraps for most people. These 72″ wraps are built with a durable elastic material and include reinforced stitching throughout. The long velcro strip holds very tightly, so you don’t have to worry about the wraps sliding or coming undone.
These wraps are available in multiple colors at an affordable price. They also include a 1-year replacement guarantee.
What are Knee Sleeves?
Knee sleeves are compressive coverings that offer several benefits to lifters. First, they provide support and compression around the knee. In addition to increased comfort, compression may improve performance by providing a rebound effect at the bottom of a squat. That said, knee sleeves don’t offer the same rebound as knee wraps.
Second, knee sleeves increase proprioception with physical feedback. Many users find that knee sleeves cue their knees into a better position, creating a safer and more efficient lift.
Lastly, knee sleeves create warmth around the knee joint. Not only is this great for colder weather, but it promotes blood flow to the area, making them great for rehab and prehab.
Unlike knee wraps, knee sleeves are one piece and slid over the knee. They’re much easier to use, and you can wear them throughout your training session. In other words, you don’t have to remove them after every set, and you can wear them more frequently.
They also come in various sizes and thicknesses, which determine the amount of compression. 5mm is the best for most people, 7mm is better for heavy lifting, and 3mm is better for incorporating conditioning and dynamic movements.
Who Should Wear Knee Sleeves?
Knee sleeves are much more versatile than knee wraps. While wraps are best for powerlifters, virtually anyone can use sleeves with great results.
They’re most common in powerlifting, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, Strongman, and bodybuilding. Runners and jumping athletes are also great candidates for knee sleeves. You can also use them during injury recovery to provide warmth and compression.
Unlike wraps, you can use sleeves in all lifting federations/competitions. However, you should check your federation’s rulebook to ensure that the specific sleeves you use are approved. The IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) and IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) are the two most popular federations.
Knee Sleeves Pros and Cons + Recommendations
You can use knee sleeves across the lifting spectrum as a beginner or advanced lifter. While they don’t increase squat weight as much as wraps, they’re much more versatile. They also have more benefits, including warmth, comfort, and prehab/rehab. Additionally, sleeves don’t affect squat form like wraps do since they’re more pliable and less restrictive.
Because of their materials, knee sleeves are more expensive than wraps. However, a quality pair is still affordable at between $35 and $90.
I recommend the Rogue knee sleeves for most people because of their build quality, versatility, and value. Available in 3, 5, or 7mm thicknesses, you can use these sleeves for running to heavy weightlifting.
In addition to being approved by the IPF and IWF, they’re well-priced and made in the USA.
Should I Wear Knee Wraps or Sleeves for Powerlifting?
Knee wraps and sleeves are both great options for powerlifting. If you want to lift the most weight and are competing in an equipped class, knee wraps are the best choice. Otherwise, knee sleeves are more versatile and comfortable, and many users report increased squat numbers when wearing them.
Will Knee Sleeves Make Me Stronger?
Knee sleeves will not make you stronger on their own. However, they help you lift with better form and efficiency. Coupled with a rebound effect at the bottom of a squat, they've been shown to boost squat numbers for many lifters.
When Should I Wear Knee Wraps?
Knee wraps should be worn only for heavy lifting unless you're using them for hypertrophy reasons via occlusion training. Wraps are effective for PR attempts, but they're time-consuming and may alter your normal squat form. Wearing them with less frequency reduces the risk of developing muscle imbalances.
When comparing knee wraps vs. knee sleeves, consider your needs and know that both tools serve different purposes.
If you want the most help lifting heavy weights, go with knee wraps.
If you want compression, warmth, comfort, and still great performance, knee sleeves are the better choice.
- Lorenz, D. S., Bailey, L., Wilk, K. E., Mangine, R. E., Head, P., Grindstaff, T. L., & Morrison, S. (2021). Blood Flow Restriction Training. Journal of athletic training, 56(9), 937–944. https://doi.org/10.4085/418-20