As a personal trainer who’s worked with many strength enthusiasts, one question I’ve been asked is what knee sleeves someone should get if they want to transition into powerlifting or improve their powerlifting performance.
The best knee sleeves for powerlifting are 7 mm thick, made of neoprene, and with reinforced stitching. That configuration provides excellent knee support, which help help translate to bigger squats. In addition, 7mm neoprene sleeves will also last longer under heavy load, even with frequent use.
With that said, you must consider several criteria when picking knee sleeves for powerlifting and must know when to use them to ensure safety and reduce the risk of nagging aches or injuries.
- Knee sleeves provide joint support through compression, allowing you to feel stable and more secure during squats and other movements.
- Sleeves warm up the knees because they are typically made of neoprene––the same material used to make diving wetsuits. It is renowned for its ability to trap heat.
- There are several things to consider when purchasing knee sleeves for powerlifting and deciding when to wear them for the best training and competition outcomes.
What Is The Purpose Of Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting?
The two primary reasons to wear knee sleeves for powerlifting are to improve joint stability and provide warmth. The increased stability and warmth that knee sleeves provide can help lifters to feel more confident when tackling heavier weights in training and competition settings.
Like other supportive equipment, such as lifting belts and wrist wraps, knee sleeves improve stability through compression. The compression can serve as a reminder for lifters to engage the stabilizing musculature around the knee joint and promote better technique for squatting (and sometimes deadlifting).
Additionally, knee sleeves are typically made of neoprene, a type of rubber used for making diving wetsuits. The material is known for its elasticity, durability, and ability to insulate and trap heat.
Warming up your knees as quickly as possible allows synovial fluid (the viscous liquid that reduces friction in the knee joint and acts as a shock absorber) to provide good protection and keep nagging aches at bay.
In contrast, doing reps while your knees are still cold can create some friction in the knee joint and lead to discomfort that affects your performance and willingness to push yourself as hard as you could.
What Makes Good Powerlifting Knee Sleeves?
The Right Thickness
Knee sleeves are generally 3, 5, or 7 mm thick. You might also come across 9 or 9.5 mm sleeves, but they generally don’t help much, and you’d be better off with knee wraps if you feel you need more support than 7mm sleeves can offer.
The ideal knee sleeve thickness for powerlifting is 7 mm because this thickness provides excellent joint support, leads to a more comfortable training experience, and keeps your knees warm, even when training in a cold gym.
Thinner sleeves (3mm & 5mm) are not as useful for powerlifters because they don’t provide as much support. If anything, they might provide some warmth but don’t expect any strength benefits.
Good knee sleeves for powerlifting should be long enough to cover the area from your lower thigh to your upper calf. For the average person, that means getting sleeves at least 9 to 10” long.
For reference, here’s how they should be positioned to support your knees while squatting:
Shorter sleeves could provide support but might move up or down on your legs in the middle of working sets, which could limit their effectiveness.
Most knee sleeves for weight training are made of neoprene, but it’s best to double-check before placing an order. As discussed above, neoprene is durable, elastic, and can quickly warm up the knee area.
An added benefit is that neoprene sticks to the skin, allowing the knee sleeves to stay in position until you remove them.
Knee sleeves that aren’t made of neoprene have a tendency to bunch up or slide down out of place which can be uncomfortable and less effective for supporting and warming your knees.
A good pair of knee sleeves should be approved by powerlifting federations, such as the IPF, USAPL, and USPA. That way, you can use the same pair of sleeves for training and competition.
If the knee sleeves you choose aren’t on the approved list for your federation, then you can’t wear them to compete. You would have to compete without sleeves or switch to a new pair strictly for competition, which would be a hassle.
Here is a list of approved apparel and equipment for IPF competitions that you should use to guide your decision when choosing knee sleeves for powerlifting.
A good pair of knee sleeves will last for years and be as supportive as when you first got them. I recommend looking for sleeves with reinforced stitching and some sort of warranty.
How Do I Choose The Right Size Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting?
The right size knee sleeve for powerlifting will be 7mm thick, cover part of your lower thigh and upper calf, provide support without impairing joint range of motion or affecting squat depth, and fit tight enough to provide some momentum out of the bottom of your squat.
Powerlifters can go with two different knee sleeve sizes: a pair that fits comfortably and provides a bit of support, and/or a smaller size that offers more compression, providing more stability during heavy training.
A regular fit works well for trainees who want a sleeve mainly for warmth and prefer less knee support. It’s also ideal for those who want to keep their sleeves on for the duration of their workout.
In contrast, tight-fit knee sleeves function more like knee wraps. Their job is to stabilize your knees and provide a strength boost; they are not meant to be comfortable. Given the amount of compression, it would be better to take these off between sets or exercises.
Most powerlifters who compete prefer a tighter fit on competition day because of the greater performance boost that comes from more intense compression. However, they may use a regular fitting knee sleeve for training when further out from a competition.
One way to tell what size knee sleeves you need is to borrow a pair from a training buddy. Put them on, do a couple of sets, and see how they feel.
You can also refer to sizing guides before purchasing by measuring your knee circumference. Extend your leg or stand up, use a measuring tape, and wrap it around your kneecap.
Pick sleeves your size if you prefer less support, or go one size smaller for a tight and compressive fit.
Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting: Top Pick
Our top pick for powerlifting knee sleeves for training and in competition are the Gymreapers 7mm Knee Sleeves.
Gymreapers 7mm Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting
The 7 mm Gymreapers knee sleeves are ideal for aspiring powerlifters and for those looking to take their performance to the next level. Made of high-quality neoprene, these sleeves provide great compression and warmth, leading to greater confidence when handling weights close to your 1RM.
“To perform well in the squat — and even the deadlift, if you prefer — you need a durable pair of sleeves that can handle heavy weights, on top of your own body weight. The Gymreapers 7mm Knee Sleeves can go the distance and then some. Not only are they constructed with reinforced stitching and high-quality neoprene to endure thousands of reps of squats, but they’re also USPA compliant, making them a reliable choice for meet day.”
The neoprene sticks to the skin well and keeps the knee sleeves in position, even during high-rep sets, so you don’t have to worry about them bunching up or sliding out of place.
As an added benefit, these sleeves are IPF and USAPL approved so you don’t have to worry about training and competing in different brands of sleeves.
Lastly, the reinforced stitching holds everything together, minimizing the risk of fraying that often occurs with cheap knee sleeves. Even if there is an issue, Gymreapers offers a 1-year replacement guarantee.
- Increased durability with reinforced stitching
- 1-year replacement guarantee
- Excellent knee support
- High-quality neoprene
- Powerlifting competition approved
- Multiple color combinations: black with white, black with red, or ranger green with black
- May need to size down to get ideal compression for competing
Related Article: How To Put On Knee Sleeves Properly (According To Expert)
When Should You Wear Knee Sleeves In Powerlifting?
When You Need Extra Support
Unlike some supportive gear like lifting belts, there is no rule against wearing knee sleeves on lighter sets. So, put your sleeves on at any point if you need extra knee support, or keep them in your gym bag if your knees feel great.
Whether it’s for heavier movements like squats, or accessory movements like leg extensions, knee sleeves can provide just enough support for you to get through training without pain or discomfort.
For Lower Body Training
Knee sleeves are most effective when used for lower body compound lifts like squats, lunges, and deadlifts (especially with a trap bar) which require more strength and stability from the muscles surrounding the knee joint.
One exception might be the deadlift. You’ll notice that some powerlifters wear knee sleeves while deadlifting and others do not.
Some find that the compression that knee sleeves offer helps to maintain tension during the lift, while others find that they get in the way as the bar drags up the shins. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and whatever allows you to lift the most weight.
This one is a no-brainer, but it is still worth mentioning. As a powerlifter looking to put up the best numbers and increase safety by stabilizing the knee joint, you should wear knee sleeves on all squat attempts.
When Training In a Cold Gym
Knee sleeves are a great tool when you’re training in a cooler environment. I recommend putting your sleeves on before you start lifting to warm up the knees as quickly as possible. That way, the synovial fluid in the knees can do its job, and you can eliminate any discomfort or wear and tear that would occur from lack of joint lubrication.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Knee Sleeves Worth It For Powerlifting?
Yes, knee sleeves are a fantastic piece of supportive equipment for everyday gym-goers and those interested in powerlifting. Wearing the correct sleeves can provide knee support, warm up the area to reduce joint friction, and offer a modest performance boost.
How Do I Choose Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting?
Go for a pair of 7 mm neoprene knee sleeves with reinforced stitching because they will provide adequate knee support for heavy barbell training. Make sure to reference the size guide and to size down for a high-compression performance boost or stick with your regular size for comfort and warmth.