Knee sleeves are supportive pieces of strength equipment that come with a variety of options. Like most pieces of supportive equipment, their use comes with a time and place, so it’s not a bad idea to keep yourself equipped with a pair for times you need them most. Strength athletes typically reach for knee sleeves for joint protection, warmth, and stability.
A sleeve’s benefits will be dependent on your strength sport, preferences, and knee sleeve wants/needs. For the last five months, we’ve been on a mission to find the best knee sleeve for powerlifting, weightlifting, CrossFit®-style workouts, knee warmth, and even squats. Here are our current favorites:
- Best Knee Sleeve For Functional Fitness Workouts (and Our Favorite for CrossFit®-Style Workouts): Bear Komplex 7mm Knee Sleeves
- Best Knee Sleeves For Weightlifting: Eleiko 7mm Knee Sleeves
- Best Knee Sleeves For Squats: SBD Knee Sleeve
- Best Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting: SBD Knee Sleeves
- Best Knee Sleeve For Joint Warmth: Mava Sports Elastic Knee Supports
Keep in mind, this list was built off of our judging criteria for each knee sleeve, and you may find that a different fit from our top choices works better for you.
Why Knee Sleeves?
There are multiple reasons an athlete can utilize a knee sleeve. Below are a few examples of when different strength athletes will reach for a sleeve.
A powerlifter will typically use a sleeve to support their knee’s stability in squats/leg training. Often times a stiffer, more rigid sleeve will be this athlete’s go-to, since they’re training with heavier loads frequently. Sleeves can help an athlete build confidence in their heavy movements, and provide the knee with added compression. In addition, there are a few sleeves that are approved for competition, so they’ll offer stability and joint warmth over extended rest periods.
Weightlifters will utilize a sleeve for light joint support and warmth. These athletes will need a sleeve that’s mobile and follows the joint without inhibiting mobility. Since this athlete is often catching weight in the bottom of a squat, a sleeve can’t limit their ability to achieve depth, so thicker, more rigid options are usually not ideal. Also, this athlete will be taking longer rest periods, so a lighter sleeve can be useful remaining comfortable and maintaining joint warmth in-between sets.
CrossFit, functional, and recreational athletes will utilize a sleeve that fits their specific needs best. This athlete performs a variety of movements throughout one workout, so a sleeve that’s versatile is often their best fit. Support, mobility, and design will all play a role in how the sleeve impacts their performance. For example, someone doing CrossFit, or possibly more cardio based movements, may reach for a lighter sleeve so they don’t feel confined/limited by a stiffer neoprene sleeve.
What to Look for In a Knee Sleeve
Throughout our best knee sleeve search we looked at multiple aspects that make up a great sleeve. The first factor we look for is the knee sleeve’s stability and material. Secondly, we look for the mobility or rigidness of the sleeve during a variety of movements. Third, we assess the sleeve’s ability to keep our joints warm during a workout. Lastly, we assess the construction and durability, or actual design of the sleeve and how it will function for certain athletes.
Knee Sleeve Stability and Material
A knee sleeve’s material will often influence how stable a sleeve is under the bar. The most common material used in knee sleeves is neoprene, which is composed of a family of synthetic rubbers. This material is used for a variety of applications, but has gained its popularity in lifting due to its ability to remain flexible and stable over time.
Thickness of neoprene will also add to a sleeve’s stability. Common neoprene thicknesses range from 3-7mm, and the most common thicknesses used by strength athletes are 5mm and 7mm. Other materials used in addition to neoprene are nylon, spandex, and various cotton blends. The mixture of these materials with neoprene is what give sleeves their soft flexible nature.
Nylon and spandex are often used in lighter sleeves and tend to be more form fitting to the joint. These materials stretch very well and allow a sleeve to hug the knee tightly without slippage. Cotton is also a common material you’ll find in a sleeve and give them their soft texture on the skin. With our stability assessments, we analyzed a sleeve’s actual make and the activity it was being applied to.
Mobility and Rigidity
This assessment shadows the above point and often comes down to a sleeve’s thickness. A thicker sleeve will often limit mobility, and provide more support throughout movements. Conversely, thinner sleeves will work best with mobility focused athletes like Olympic lifters and functional fitness athletes. Material plays a role in this assessment, but so does the actual knee sleeve design.
For this assessment, we analyze how a sleeve follows the joint in different movements. A more mobile sleeve won’t hinder performance due to mobility issues. On the flip side, when we analyzed a sleeve’s rigidity we looked for support in bottom lifting positions. For example, the pop coming out of the hole on a squat.
Before sleeves became popular for recreational lifting purposes, they were often used solely for joint warmth. In fact, some athletes use sleeves without even realizing that one of their main purposes is to keep the knee warm. Material, strength sport, and fit will all play a role in this factor, as the level of compression will also influence some of the joint’s warmth under a sleeve.
In our warmth assessments we look at multiple factors that influence a sleeve’s ability to keep the joint warm. For example, we took into consideration how the sleeve fit and what type of material it was made of. The main factor we looked for was plain and simple, which was, how the actual sleeve worked to keep the joint warm.
Construction and Durability
A lot of athletes don’t realize how many knee sleeve designs there are, so we tried to identify as many as we could. For example, some examples of different sleeve designs include: four-panel, tapered, and cylinder. These different forms of construction will influence almost every other factor that will cater a sleeve’s perfect fit to you.
The most common sleeve design is a tapered fit, which is your standard fitting sleeve. This sleeve is versatile and will work for multiple athletes in a variety of sports, an example of this would be the Rehband 7mm Knee Sleeve. The cylinder-esque design is most commonly used in more rigid sleeves like SBD and Slingshot STrong sleeves. The four-panel design is the least common of the three, and has multiple pieces of material sewn together into one sleeve. Bear Komplex sleeves utilize this design.
Different sleeve constructions will come with different rates of durability. For example, some sleeves have reinforced stitching, which can range from hooked stitching to quadruple stitching. In addition to a sleeve’s stitching style, the placing of stitching also matters for durability. You don’t want stitching to be in a place that is making constant contact with knurling, as this will cause them to fray quicker.
Another method to predict a sleeve’s durability is to look at its edges. Most sleeves have hemmed or enclosed edges that will prevent them from ripping or fraying prematurely. Also, the tighter a sleeve’s edges are cared for, then the less chance you have of them stretching out over time.
Possibly the biggest factor of a sleeve’s durability is the material used. A good sleeve will utilize a high-grade neoprene, spandex, nylon, or blend mixture that doesn’t stretch out quickly under constant load.
Best Knee Sleeve For Functional Fitness Workouts (and Our Favorite for CrossFit®-Style Workouts)
Our top knee sleeve for functional fitness workouts is the Bear Komplex 7mm Knee Sleeve. This sleeve offers a few key characteristics we find useful for CrossFit-style workouts.
The Bear Komplex knee sleeves have a little bit of every feature you’d want in a versatile sleeve, which we thought was fitting for functional fitness workouts (a little bit of everything). First, these sleeves are composed of a rigid 7mm neoprene, but didn’t limit mobility too much. They were able to provide a little pop out of a squat, but not hinder Olympic lifting performance. Also, we like the four-panel design. If you want a versatile sleeve that’s a little on the thicker slide, then Bear Komplex would be a good option for you.
We also like the ExoSleeve 7mm Knee Sleeve for CrossFit-style workouts. These sleeves are made of 7mm neoprene, but have a little less stiffness to them. We think this is a nice feature for keeping the joint warm, while not hindering mobility. Also, we like their tapered fit on the calve and quad. They never had an issue with sliding down the leg, even as a workout progressed and we got more sweaty.
Iron Bull Strength 7mm Knee Sleeves also made our list for functional sleeves. These sleeves offer a little bit more of a rigidity to them, so if you like extra support, then they’ll be a good fit for you. They’re made shorter than the other sleeves on this list, so they didn’t really limit mobility, even though they’re on the stiffer side. One of the main reasons they made our list was how cost effective they are at $19.99. These sleeves are good on the bank account, and cover a wide variety of versatile knee sleeve asks.
The final sleeve is the Mava Sports Elastic Knee Supports, which is one of the more interesting picks on this list. Unlike the other sleeves on this list, this sleeve doesn’t contain neoprene. It’s made of nylon and spandex and offers very little support, or stability in strength movements. This sleeve made our list because you can run, and perform other cardio movements in it. For this reason, we added them as an option for those who want a very light sleeve for a variety of movements.
Best Knee Sleeves For Weightlifting
Our favorite knee sleeve for weightlifting is the Eleiko 7mm Knee Sleeve. We like the subtle stiffness of this sleeve and the amount of mobility it allows for.
The Eleiko Knee Sleeves have every characteristic we look for in a good weightlifting sleeve. Their 7mm neoprene hugs the knee tight and provides stability without limiting mobility. This is a huge factor for weightlifters, as they’re most often in odd positions catching weight overhead. They also have contoured edges, so there was never an issue with them sliding, even in awkward catching positions. On top of that, Eleiko’s sleeve is pretty easy on the wallet at a price of $47.00.
We also like the Emerge Fitness 7mm Knee Sleeve for weightlifting. They offer a 7mm neoprene that hugs the knee well without limiting mobility. They have a similar tapered design to the Eleiko sleeves, but are somewhat shorter. These sleeves were a little shorter, but we didn’t experience any issues with them sliding. This could be a key factor for shorter lifters, plus they’re an inexpensive option.
The Unbroken Designs Block Party Knee Sleeves also made our top picks for weightlifting. They offer a thinner 5mm neoprene that provides a little support with a lot of mobility. We never experienced any issues with mobility and this sleeve. Also, they did an exceptional job at keeping the joint warm, so you most likely won’t experience the knee getting cool during longer rest periods.
Our final weightlifting pick is the ExoSleeve 7mm Knee Sleeve. We mentioned these above, but we thought they worked well for weightlifting too. Their 7mm neoprene provides support, but doesn’t limit mobility. They did an exceptional job at keeping the joint warm and have a tapered fit. The tapering around the quad and calve helped this sleeve stay in one place, even at the bottom of a snatch.
Best Knee Sleeves For Squats
Our favorite sleeve and top pick for squats are the SBD Knee Sleeves (though our second pick is right on par and comes with a cheaper price point; read below). They cover a wide variety of characteristics that make a great knee sleeve for squats.
SBD’s 7mm neoprene provides stability and tends to fit well on a variety of lifters. One of the main reasons SBD made another one of our top picks was how you can wear this sleeve in IPF competitions. This makes them great because you can train and compete in them, so you can build confidence in heavy squats with this sleeve in both training and competition. On top of that, this sleeve is durable and supports performance in both the high-bar and low-bar squat.
The Evolutionize 7mm Knee Sleeve is also a great choice for squats at a much more affordable price point. These are comparable to the Slingshot STrong Knee Sleeve in regards to construction, but had a couple differentiating characteristics. First, their 7mm neoprene is stiff, but don’t feel uncomfortable overtime. They hug the knee well and can be worn for the duration of a squat workout without readjusting them. Second, we like that they utilize small rubber inserts on the sleeve’s edges. This kept the sleeve from sliding during heavy squats, even when wearing sweats, or compression pants.
Slingshot’s STrong Knee Sleeves also earn a spot in our top squat sleeve category. This is a sleeve that’s designed specifically for squats, and we find this to definitely be true. They’re designed specifically to provide the feeling of a light knee wrap and build the confidence of a lifter under heavy weight. If you want a stiff knee sleeve to provide you with a little extra rebound under heavy loads, then the STrong sleeves are a good fit for you. Keep in mind, we recommend using these specifically for heavy squat training.
Our final for squats is the Rehband 7mm Knee Sleeve. These are the least stiff of our list, but can be worn in IPF competition. This made them an excellent choice for a variety of lifters, because they can be used in training and in competition. Also, they don’t limit mobility like the above sleeve can somewhat do, so they’re great for those front squatting frequently. This is a great sleeve for lifters in need of light supportive sleeve in a variety of squats.
Best Knee Sleeves For Powerlifting
Our favorite knee sleeve for powerlifting is the SBD knee sleeve. These offer multiple characteristics a powerlifter will be looking for in a sleeve, and they’re IPF approved.
The SBD Knee Sleeve is used by a lot of powerlifters due to their stability, fit, and durability. They utilize a high-grade 7mm neoprene, which provides you with ample stability in the squat. In addition, they have reinforced stitching, so we never saw issues with durability. That’s a key factor for powerlifters who need a sleeve to remain rigid and stiff. Possibly the best part of this sleeve is that it’s IPF approved, so you can wear them in competition without issue.
Rehband’s 7mm Knee Sleeve also made our list for powerlifting. This sleeve’s 7mm neoprene is less stiff compared to SBD’s, but they’re also IPF approved, which earned them their spot. For powerlifters who want a less rigid sleeve for a little support, then these are a good choice. They keep the joint exceptionally warm too, and we liked this for competition purposes when you’re waiting around for your next attempt.
The Bear Komplex 7mm Knee Sleeve is also making our powerlifting list. Their 7mm neoprene is rigid and supportive, and provide a little pop out of the hole of the squat. They’re not IPF approved, but they’re USPA approved, which earned them their spot on our list. If you want a sleeve that has a four-panel design and provides stability in the squat, then these will be a good for you. Also, we like how they’re tapered and don’t slide during heavy lifts.
Slingshot’s STrong Knee Sleeve is the stiffest and most rigid sleeve we tried. They’re made of grade three 7mm neoprene, which is made stiffer than your regular 7mm neoprene models. From their site, Slingshot points out that these sleeves are comparable to a light knee wrap and add around 20-50lbs of rebound out of the hole. We like this for powerlifters training heavy and working to build their maximal load confidence. If you want a rigid sleeve that provides a ton of support in the squat, then the STrong Knee Sleeves are a great choice for you.
Best Knee Sleeve For Joint Warmth
Our top choice for knee warmth is the Mava Sports Elastic Knee Supports. They’re not thick or supportive, but for the sole purpose of warmth, these sleeves got the job done.
These sleeves are composed of nylon and spandex and provide very minimal support in heavy strength movements. The reason they made our number one pick was not for their support, but for their ability to specifically keep the joint warm. If you’re looking for a sleeve that can be worn in virtually every exercise for joint warmth, then these are a good option for you. In addition, these sleeves are friendly on the bank and start at $19.95.
The Unbroken Designs Block Party Knee Sleeve also does an exceptional job at keeping the joint warm. They’re a 5mm neoprene and have a soft texture to them. This provides the knee with a comfortable fit and warmth over a long workout. They also do a pretty good job at not letting sweat cool down around the joint, even during long rest periods.
The Emerge Fitness 7mm Knee Sleeves are another good pick for joint warmth. They’re made with a lightweight 7mm neoprene that hugs the joint well. They provide a little support, and don’t limit mobility in multiple movements. If you’re looking for a sleeve that provides support, is inexpensive, and keeps the joint warm, then this is a good option for you.
Rehband’s 7mm Knee Sleeves is our final pick in the joint warmth category. They have a similar design to the Emerge Fitness models, but have the IPF approved clearance. If you’re interested in a sleeve to keep joints warm during competition, then this sleeve is a good fit for you.
There are multiple models of knee sleeves in the supportive strength market. This list may seem daunting at first, but when you consider your sport and needs, then it can become increasingly easier to make your sleeve selection. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that sleeves are great additions to training, but not the end all be all for knee joint health.
If you’re having trouble making a decision on the right knee sleeve for you, then I’d recommend asking yourself three questions. First, what do you need the sleeve for most (sport, health, etc)? Second, how much stability do you want from a sleeve and do you compete? Third, what sleeve fits comfortably into your budget? These three questions are great to ask yourself when beginning to make your final sleeve decision.