Both of these have distinct advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. While knee wraps might help you lift more weight during the squat, knee sleeves are usually used to help in recovery.
But let’s dig into this a little deeper. What are the exact differences between knee sleeves vs knee wraps? And when should you consider using one or the other?
What Are Knee Wraps?
Knee wraps are frequently worn by weight lifters, such as powerlifters or bodybuilders. Similar to wrist wraps, they are typically made with a polyester material containing rubber filaments that make it stretchy.
Most knee wraps are about two meters in length. They wrap around the knee as tight as you can get them in a figure-eight or spiral technique. The key feature of the knee wrap is that it can help you lift a heavier weight by acting similar to a spring that you wind up.
As you lower down into your squat, energy is stored in the elastic material of the wrap. This energy helps you spring back up as you come out of the bottom of your movement. As a result, you can come out of that bottom position faster and potentially even lift heavier weight than you would be able to without the wraps.
Below, we dive into the advantages and disadvantages of the knee wraps a little further. What should you know?
Undeniably, one of the biggest advantages of the knee wrap for weightlifters is that it can allow you to lift more, particularly during the squat. The springing action provided by the elastic material also allows you to come up faster from the bottom of your squat. To put it simply, it makes squatting easier and can help you reach your next personal best.
Another advantage of the knee wraps is that it takes stress off of the quadriceps tendon. This tendon attaches to your patella, or knee cap, and the quadriceps muscle, the muscle in front of your thighs. As you squat down, the quadriceps muscle pulls on this tendon, which pulls on the kneecap and is a frequent cause of knee pain.
This tendon and the quadriceps muscles work together to stabilize the knee, but the quadriceps tendon can easily become injured by lifting too much, too soon. In fact, a quadriceps tendon strain is a very common injury that occurs due to overdoing it when squatting or jumping.
Tendonitis is also a common problem, which is the inflammation of the quadriceps tendon. Again, this frequently happens from overuse or lifting too heavy of a weight.
While knee wraps might help you lift more, they may not necessarily be helping you get stronger. We recommend using knee wraps sparingly and not at every lifting session. Moreso, powerlifters or bodybuilders may want to save these for competitions only or for sessions where they are trying to beat their one-rep max.
Why is this the case? Because knee wraps tend to take over the work that the quadriceps usually do. The quadriceps work to extend the knee, which means they are very much engaged during the upward movement of your squat. Yet, a knee wrap somewhat takes over this movement. This can create various imbalances in the lower body.
For instance, you may become more glute dominant in your squat if you use knee wraps too frequently. This can create weakness in the quads, make you more reliant on the glutes, and increase your risk of injuries, such as back pain due to overuse of the glutes or tearing of the quadriceps muscles.
Additionally, knee wraps restrict movement. This also means that you may not be achieving the full range of motion in your squat when wearing these. Also, wearing them too frequently can result in friction between the knee cap and your upper thigh bone.
This is because the material is wrapped tightly around the knee, which tends to bring these bones closer together. As a result, if worn too often, this can lead to degeneration of the cartilage, eventually causing arthritis.
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What Are Knee Sleeves?
A knee sleeve is essentially a compression sleeve that you slide onto the knee joint. They are frequently made of neoprene, a material frequently used in diving suits. These sleeves provide warmth and compression to the knee joint. They are particularly useful for preventing injury and helping to accelerate recovery.
Yet, knee sleeves shouldn’t be used to protect against a recurring or current injury. In these cases, you should use a knee brace, which provides much more support to the joint. It’s also best to discuss your knee brace options with your physical therapist or athletic therapist.
They know your situation best and can provide knowledge regarding what type of knee brace is suitable for you and your injury.
Knee sleeves are a compression device used to help decrease your risk of injury and to help accelerate recovery. Again, because this is important, they should not be used for recurring or current injuries.
However, the compression and warmth that knee sleeves provide help to increase blood flow and decrease swelling or inflammation in the knee joint. Inflammation in certain joints, such as the knee, is common after intense or tough workouts.
This is a natural response that typically subsides within 24 to 72 hours, depending on the difficulty of the workout.
Since the knee sleeve increases blood flow and decreases inflammation, you recover faster. The increased blood flow provides the joint with the nutrients and cells it requires to heal. It also clears out byproducts, like lactic acid, quicker, which allows you to perform better at your next training session and may allow you to take fewer rest days or avoid prolonged recovery periods.
Knee sleeves may also help with the proper mechanics of a movement, such as during the squat. By simply wearing them, they provide a small amount of lateral stability. However, most importantly when it comes to the correct biomechanics of a movement, the knee sleeves make the athlete or lifter more aware of their knee joints and where they are in space.
This can help you avoid caving your knees inward, which is a common issue for many beginner weightlifters or exercisers.
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Unlike knee wraps, knee sleeves won’t help you lift heavier weights. They don’t provide any sort of spring action. Rather, knee sleeves are a great accessory to help you become more aware of your knee joints during movement and to help accelerate recovery.
However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that knee sleeves will automatically help improve your technique. This comes down to increased awareness and practice.
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When to Wear Knee Wraps vs Sleeves
So, which one is better for you? Let’s take a look!
As aforementioned, you should only use knee wraps occasionally or for competitions when performing the squat. They can help you lift more weight. But when relied on at every session, knee wraps can actually increase your risk of injury and cause muscle imbalances.
In other words, use knee wraps when aiming to lift more, such as for an improved one rep max or when competing in bodybuilding or powerlifting.
In contrast, knee sleeves may provide more support and better recovery on a regular basis, especially if squatting is one of your main movements. However, if you’re struggling with an injury or a recurring injury, knee sleeves should not be relied on. Instead, use a knee brace.
For squats, again, use knee wraps occasionally for competition or to achieve a higher one-rep max. Do not use knee wraps for the deadlift. Knee wraps tend to be too restrictive for this movement, and they can actually hinder your technique leading to injury.
Knee sleeves, on the other hand, are useful during training. In particular, powerlifters over 50 will likely find knee sleeves to help with recovery and help increase awareness, which can significantly reduce your risk of injury.
Knee sleeves can also be used for numerous movements, including the squat and the deadlift.
Crossfitters may also find a ton of benefits with the knee sleeve. Many Crossfitters aim to workout at least three to four times a week. Yet, recovery is a major obstacle in returning to the gym and improving performance, which is where the knee sleeve may help.
We do not recommend that Crossfitters use knee wraps, since these tend to restrict movement which may lead to injury. With many different movements involved in a traditional Crossfit routine, knee wraps just don’t make much sense.
Should They be Worn for Recovery or to Prevent Injury?
Ultimately, choosing between knee wraps vs knee sleeves comes down to you and your goals. Knee wraps can help lift more weight and reduce the risk of a knee injury, particularly during the squat.
Yet, as aforementioned, they should only be used occasionally since frequent usage leads to other injuries and problems.
Knee sleeves are great devices for recovery. They improve blood flow and decrease inflammation, which can lead to an accelerated recovery time post-workout and even improved performance. Determine which one fits your needs and go from there!