Are Knee Sleeves Worth It?

Here's how to assess if knee sleeves are worth investing in for your training.

Knee sleeves can be worn for a variety of reasons in a day-to-day setting, and in this article, we’re going to highlight knee sleeves’ efficacy in the gym. We’ve tested some of the best knee sleeves on the market, so you can consider us knee sleeve aficionados. If you’re brand new to barbell training and strength sports, then you might be scratching your head wondering, “Why do some athletes wear knee sleeves when squatting and doing compound lifts?”

The question that usually then follows this initial thought is,

“Are knee sleeves worth it?”

In this article, we’re going to breakdown the ins and outs of knee sleeves and their main purposes. Knee sleeves can 100% be worth it, but one should understand why they’re being used. At the end of the day, knee sleeves are like other pieces of supportive strength equipment and should be used when needed, and never as a crutch. 

Are Knee Sleeves Worth It?

Knee sleeves are worth it in the gym if you need them for joint warmth and support in heavy lifts. Depending on what knee sleeve you use, they can also be useful for providing a light compression and confidence in lifts. Like with most supportive strength equipment, knee sleeves should only be worn with intent towards a specific activity/adaptation, and not used as a crutch, or as a means to solely create joint stability.

Are Knee Sleeves Worth It?
Photo by sportpoint / Shutterstock

In the gym setting, knee sleeves are typically worn for two major reasons, and these include:

  1. Joint Warmth
  2. Support

Obviously, one might have other reasons for wearing knee sleeves in the gym such as rehabbing an injury and so forth, however, this article will focus on the two main performance benefits knee sleeves can offer.

1. Knee Joint Warmth

  • Why they’re worn: Promote light compression and overall warmth of the knee joint.
  • Who can wear them: Recreational lifters, functional fitness athletes, and weightlifters.

Generally speaking, knee sleeves for joint warmth can be useful when working out because they tend to promote overall joint comfort and a light level of compression. These sleeves can be beneficial for athletes who have a hard time getting their joints warmed-up, have long rests in-between sets, or work out in cooler climates. The last thing athletes want is getting cool when moving frequent sub-maximal/maximal loads — it’s like taking a long break in-between shifts in any sport.

All knee sleeves will promote joint warmth and compression to some degree, however, sleeves that are designed specifically to promote knee joint warmth will typically be lighter in construction. Often times, these sleeves will be made with a 3mm or 5mm neoprene, or a spandex blend of materials.

So, are knee sleeves designed for joint warmth and light compression worth it?

Why do you need them? Are they worth it?
Working out in cool climates? Yes, they can be useful.
Knee joints take a while to get warmed-up? Yes, but use them sparingly.
Prefer a light support in a variety of workout settings? Yes, depending on your preference.
Long rests in-between sets? Yes.

In reality, knee sleeves that are designed solely for joint warmth can be worn in multiple settings without a huge drawback in respects to dependency. In layman’s terms, out of all the knee sleeves on the market — typically — wearing a very light sleeve will not create an association between sleeve use and lifting success (in other words, it usually won’t become a crutch for success)

However, it’s always a good idea to objectively ask yourself every once in a while why you’re wearing a certain piece of equipment in the first place. A great example of this is using a piece of equipment following an injury, but then becoming reliant on it after you’ve recovered and healed. Ask yourself, do you need and are you using this type of knee sleeve to improve overall comfort levels and support confident movement patterns? If so, then they’re worth it.

Best Knee Sleeves Review

2. Knee Joint Support

  • Why they’re worn: Support compression for the knee joint to promote stability and confidence.
  • Who can wear them: Recreational lifters, functional fitness athletes, powerlifters, weightlifters, strongman athletes.

Supportive knee sleeves come in multiple forms and are typically worn by strength athletes who desire extra support in heavy squats and Olympic movements. Knee sleeves designed for the purpose of support will generally come in 5mm and 7mm neoprene options, which then result in thicker, more resilient to stretching, and tighter sleeves.

When it comes to supportive knee sleeves, it’s a good idea to understand how their differences can impact certain activities. Unlike knee sleeves for joint warmth, these sleeves will be much more activity-specific. For example, a thicker 7mm neoprene sleeve is specifically designed to provide additional support in movements like heavy squats, as opposed to more versatile, lightweight sleeves.

From this point of view, it’s slightly easier to assess and decide if supportive knee sleeves are worth it.

Why do you need them? Are they worth it?
Do you plan to compete with knee sleeves? Yes.
Do you train heavy often for a strength sport? Yes, but use them sparingly and objectively.
Are you just beginning barbell training? No. Wait until your training is a bit more specific.

When it comes to knee sleeves and support, they should be used with a slightly more strategic plan. Similar to a lifting belt, knee sleeves can become crutches in some respects, and remaining objective with training in them and their use is one’s best bet to ensure they don’t fall down a dependency rabbit hole. 

So are supportive knee sleeves worth it? Yes — if — you compete in a strength sports, train heavy often, and need a sleeve for extra knee joint support. If you’re brand new to training, then opt for training without sleeves until you develop movement mechanics, foundational strength, and more direction in your training.

Wrapping Up

Knee sleeves are worth it, but there needs to be an understanding behind their efficacy and purpose. Sleeves can be extremely useful pieces of supportive lifting equipment and best serve their purpose when there’s a specific ask and application that accompanies them.

If you’re brand new to barbell training and are still building baseline strength and learning movement mechanics, then opt for naked knee training or use a very light sleeve for warmth. At times, adding supportive equipment too soon in training can decrease overall objectivity down the road.