Knee Wraps Vs. Knee Sleeves for Squats| Which is Better For Your Knees?

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As a gym-goer, you probably noticed that more and more lifters, CrossFitters, and bodybuilders use knee wraps or knee sleeves for squats.  Maybe you also got caught in the middle of one of their discussions on what is better and began to wonder what all that fuss is about. To you they seem the same, don’t they? 

a person doing air squad with weight

Before we continue, we need to make something clear! Although they look similar, and they seem to have a similar purpose,  sleeves and knee wraps are very distinct. These accessories have very different advantages and disadvantages, depending on the results you want to achieve. For example, using wraps allows you to lift more weight, while sleeves speed up the recovery. 

But what are other distinctions between knee sleeves and wraps? When to use one or the other? Let’s dive in a bit deeper to find the answer to these and many other questions you may have. 

You will find in this post: 

  • What is the Knee and How it Works
  • Do Knee Sleeves Reduce the Pain 
  • Do the Wraps Help You Lift More Weight 
  • What Are the Differences Between Sleeves and Wraps
  • Which is Better for you 

… and more

The Anatomy of a Knee

Most folks don’t give too much thought to their bones and muscles either. Still, those among us who want to lift weights recreationally or professionally and build muscle strength need to take our knees seriously and learn as much as possible. 

These large joints are pretty complex. They are comprised of four parts – cartilage, bones, tendons, and ligaments, and their main purpose is to connect the shinbone and the femur.  Apart from that, as a joint, the knee allows for flexion and extension as well as some lateral and medial rotation. In simplest terms the primary function of the knee is to enable us to sit, run, jump, stand and squat! 

Okay, but why do people use sleeves and wraps when working out?! You have probably heard plenty of times so far that regular exercising helps our joints to become strong and healthy. While that is true, many bodybuilders, weight, and powerlifters experience pain and injuries! That is pretty paradoxical, you must think! 

Weight training does indeed improve knee strength, but only when done properly. The force placed on joints when we are lifting is mainly applied vertically, which makes weight training relatively safe for the knees.  However, to prevent getting hurt we need to make sure that our technique is impeccable, which is not always the case. That is where knee sleeves come in handy as they ensure the stability of the joint and help us maintain the proper position. On another side, as we mentioned, lifters who want to continually up the game by increasing the loads, find wraps efficient since they allow them to lift heavy without getting injured. 

weight lifting air squad

What Are Knee Sleeves

Knee sleeves are compression bands made of stretchy material called neoprene, designed to surround the entire knee. They ensure the stability of the knee during an intense workout. These days there are plenty of manufacturers of knee sleeves, and they offer a wide range of models.. More importantly, they offer varying thickness levels, elasticity, and snugness, so there’s something for everyone’s needs.

Benefits of Wearing Knee Sleeves

One of the biggest benefits of knee sleeves is to protect knees from injuries. However, after hearing this, some people get confused and start thinking sleeves are the same as braces, even though they are not. Braces are designed to prevent old injuries from getting worse. The purpose of knee sleeves is to protect the knee from future injuries and reduce the risks of damage. It is essential to know, however, that even the best knee sleeves cannot cure old injuries.  

Compression is another reason why people wear sleeves. Compression significantly improves the blood flow and thus reduces joint pain and swelling, during and after the workout. That means that wearing sleeves makes recovery periods shorter and improves performance on an everyday basis. Additionally, sleeves provide lateral stability and improve the mechanics of the movement. 

Downsides of Knee Sleeves

The problem with accessories such as knee sleeves is that people often regard them as a magical solution for everything, which they are not.  Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that you will become a master squatter just by wearing sleeves. That is not going to happen. You need to invest a lot of time in building your strength and perfecting your technique, first. Then you can start using knee sleeves to make sure your knees are stable when lifting heavy loads.

Another weak point may be the price as many complain about it. It is true that some models can be a bit pricey. But when you consider all the benefits, you see that they are good bang for the buck. 

Foul smell is another issue some users stress out. Well, squatting is rather strenuous, and it is only logical to sweat a lot. And when there is sweat, there is smell, isn’t there? The best thing you can do to prevent your knee sleeves from becoming stinky is to wash them regularly! Now, how often will that be entirely depends on you and how often you train. 

What Are Knee Wraps?

You have likely seen knee wraps if you enjoy watching powerlifting or bodybuilding competitions. They look like a long piece of fabric that you need to wrap in a spiral around your knee. They are made of a similar material as the one used for wrist wraps. The main purpose of knee wraps is to support the knee when lifting a heavy load.

Knee Wraps Benefits

Once you realize what they are, it becomes obvious why powerlifters and bodybuilders like them so much. One of the primary knee wraps benefits is that they enable you to lift a heavy load without risking an injury. They are particularly interesting for people who are squatting because they tighten in the descending phase of a squat, storing massive elastic energy. In the ascending phase, this energy gets released, which as a result allows competitive lifters to keep increasing the load.  

Experts say that using wraps reduces the stress on the quadriceps tendon, which attaches to the quadriceps and patella. Hence they are quite effective in preventing severe injuries even when lifting excessive loads. 

Knee Wraps Downsides

You might think they are the ideal accessory for you. But the first thing you need to know is that, although they help you lift more weight, it doesn’t mean they will help you get stronger. You will notice wraps are pretty restrictive, and can cause bigger friction between the patella and the cartilage. Ultimately, this can lead to more severe knee problems.  

Talking about downsides, it is also important to say that some studies show that wearing them provides nearly 39 % reduction In horizontal barbell displacement. Research further shows that this reduction changes the technique and the targeted muscles. Although it increases mechanical output, scientists believe that squatting without wraps gives better results.

Who Should Wear Knee Sleeves and Knee Wraps

Maybe you would ask, are wraps or sleeves better for beginners? What about professional lifters? If you are sure that you don’t have any prior knee injuries, knee sleeves are excellent for you regardless of whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter. They are also a good choice for other athletes engaging in activities that involve compound movements. 

Knee wraps are a suitable accessory for experienced lifters planning to increase the weight. Beginners who are only starting to learn how to squat should hold off investing in wraps. Additionally, knee sleeves or wraps are not what you are looking for if you have a knee injury. In that case, you should look for knee braces.

When Are They Used 

Sleeves are designed to be used throughout the training. Once you put them on, you are not supposed to take them off before the end of the training. Many people like to keep them on during the full-body workout, which involves lower and upper body exercises because they keep the knees warm. Wraps, on another side, are made to be put on and taken off as needed. You don’t need knee wraps unless you do some heavy squat sets or leg press.

Bottom Line

Both knee wraps and knee sleeves are practical accessories for those wishing to start a strength workout. Lifters who want to lift heavy loads or consider more professional or competitive lifting should consider getting knee wraps. Those of you who are lifting recreationally can do perfectly fine with knee sleeves only.