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How Do Knee Sleeves Work? (CrossFit Equipment Series)

If you’ve been at Vegvisir for more than a day, I’m sure you’ve done a squat or two in class. In those classes you’ve probably also seen a couple athletes slide some colorful sleeves onto their legs and proceed to squat with them. 

These are knee sleeves and they can be quite the helpful tool when it comes to reducing stress on your knees during a squat. Let’s talk about how they work, the difference between a sleeve and a brace, the different types of sleeves, and some of the brands we have tried!

How Do Knee Sleeves Work?

Knee sleeves are compression wear usually made from some padding (usually foam) and neoprene (the stuff diving suits are made from). The neoprene being the reason these things help!

When we do any sort of movement in life, our joints can incur 3 different types of force: compression (force is applied towards the center of the joint), tension (force pulling away from the center of the joint), and sheer (force comes across the joint). The latter is the force we are concerned about when talking about injuries and where a knee sleeve can help! 

(Think of your joint like a twig. If ya wanna break it you don’t push your hands together on either end and push in. You don’t try and pull it apart by pulling on both ends. You apply lateral force across the center, it bents, and it breaks. Same principle applies to you bones and joints).

A knee sleeve’s compression can provide stability to the joint by reducing lateral movement and patellar movement. Along with this it has the added benefit of warming up the connective tissue of the knee and increasing blood flow. This can help improve performance during compound movements such as the squat!

How Are Sleeves Different From Braces?

This part is pretty quick! Knee Sleeves are for athletes who are focused on reducing the risk of an overuse injury and squat multiple times per week to a full range of motion with relatively high loads and/or volume!

A knee brace is for athletes who have suffered injuries and it is recommended or required by a doctor to be worn during activities. These athletes should not use a knee sleeve as a substitute as sleeves do not provide the support required for the joint to be safe when it is not 100%. Braces can be made of tougher materials and even sometimes be so rigid they limit range of motion by design.

If you have an injury that requires support, please schedule an appointment with your doctor to verify what you need before starting any fitness routine.

5mm? 7mm? What??

When you go out and search the internet for your first pair, you’re gonna see a couple different types of sleeves. There are Nylon, 5mm, 7mm, and wraps.

A nylon sleeve is going to be the least supportive sleeve while still bringing the benefit of warming up the joint! For athletes who want to maintain a more natural feel and not rely too heavily on equipment, this is gonna be your best bet!

  • We have only ever seen or used 1 brand of these in our gym and that would be the Hookgrip 2.0 Knee Sleeves.
    • https://www.roguefitness.com/hookgrip-knee-sleeves-2-0-black-pair?sku=HO0007-M&gclid=Cj0KCQiA9OiPBhCOARIsAI0y71BQftmxcexeCrNqk9h13RRr4EKLypqEwznfjkjtcuZV3WVuQ6MRPU8aAqwgEALw_wcB

Next are the sleeves we talked about in the beginning; Neoprene Knee Sleeves. These are the most abundantly found and sold knee sleeves because they provide the benefits mentioned earlier. The difference really is the thickness of the sleeves padding. A 5mm is the standard sleeve most athletes get and it gives slightly less support than the 7mm. We recommend going on the 5mm side, just so we aren’t relying too much on that equipment support, but if you have pain in your knee from doing lunges, the 7mm padding is gonna feel so much better than touching that bare knee to the floor!

  • We have used these brands:
    • Bear Complex
      • These tend to be the cheaper knee sleeves that you can get without sacrificing performance. Their only issue is that they tend to wear hold in the padding earlier than other brands that we have used. 
      • https://www.bearkomplex.com/products/bear-komplex-knee-sleeves-black
    • Mark Bell’s Slingshot Knee Sleeves
      • These may only come as 7mm but they are some of the toughest knee sleeves we have used. If you are looking for support and some sleeves that I haven’t seen crumble on athletes we have seen use them, these are your bet. They will run you more than the Bear Complex sleeves, but you’ll be able to get some sales at Target of all places during certain times of year.
        • https://markbellslingshot.com/products/sling-shot-knee-sleeves-2-0
    • Rehband Knee Sleeves
      • These are the ones that you will see CrossFit Games and Olympic Weightlifters wear quite often. They are the premier brand, but be careful when you get your first pair. The pricing is only for one sleeve so you will have to put 2 in your cart in order to have the pair you need! They are absolutely a great sleeve and are pretty easy to wash and not have smell later over time.
        • https://www.rehband.com/products/body-parts/knee/

Knee wraps are the last one to go over, and if you aren’t in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting competitions, you should probably go ahead and skip to the conclusions. The reasons being not because you couldn’t use them, rather they HURT. Wraps tend to be long nylon/spandex or  tough pieces of fabric that, instead of sliding on, are wrapped incredibly tightly around your knees so that they end up providing a tremendous amount of support for the knee. This is necessary for athletes lifting 2.5-3x their body weight or going for world records as a safety precaution.

  • Mark Bell strikes again, which makes sense he is one of the most famous powerlifters in history. These wraps are great for reliability and are easy to “close-off” without having to have a degree in knot tying.
    • https://markbellslingshot.com/products/strong-knee-wraps?variant=2725319081994&currency=USD&utm_medium=product_sync&utm_source=google&utm_content=sag_organic&utm_campaign=sag_organic&gclid=Cj0KCQiA9OiPBhCOARIsAI0y71DoRdZkp5O5y3dyla9N6ec9t0w8xfuIqgajb9gWZcaDLb-ozMlbpxYaAkGcEALw_wcB

Knee sleeves are a great tool to help prevent injury during your training week. If you find yourself squatting often, they could be a great investment to make, but they certainly aren’t required. Lifting with proper form, knowing when to call it on lifts, and maintaining a proper recovery routine can keep you lifting healthily long enough to out lift your grandkids. 

If you’re interested in going after some knee sleeves, shoot and email back with any questions you have

Or to talk with a coach today, click the link found HERE to schedule your No Sweat Intro

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