So, what exactly is a knee sleeve?
A knee sleeve is a stretchy piece of material that goes around your kneecap to provide support to the joints and ligaments in the area while not reducing mobility. You may see professional athletes in crossfit, powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, basketball, football, and a wide variety of other sports wearing sleeves on various parts of their body.
Knee sleeves are different than knee braces in the way that they aim to prevent future injuries by keeping the knee warm, and compressed. Knee braces on the other hand are often utilized after a surgery or injury to give the knee extra support and prevent the knee from further damage.
To me, alongside keeping the knee warm, the compression that the sleeve provides is the greatest benefit. The basic idea is that compression and blood flow improve recovery times, and can go as far as reducing pain and swelling in the knee.
Knee sleeves also hold the patella (kneecap) in place during exercise and that could lead to a slight increase in performance as per this study showing a few percentage increase in performance in rugby union players during sprint tests.
So should I use knee sleeves?
A lot of people get hung up on the debate of whether or not knee sleeves ACTUALLY increase performance i.e. make you run faster, help you squat more weight, or make you jump higher.
In one of the previous paragraphs, I cited an article showing a measly few percentage performance gain from the use of sleeves – did that get you hyped up a bit to use sleeves and add a few more pounds on your squat? Well here’s another study that only shows improvements in recovery, and not in performance.
Clearly there is some grey area both scientifically and non-scientifically whether or not knee sleeves directly increase your performance – but for me that’s not the reason why I wear them, or would suggest anyone should wear them.
What do they really do for you?
It’s a small piece of cloth that compresses your knee – you really can’t expect that much of a performance increase from the basic device! In my opinion, the really greatest benefits of knee sleeves are:
- Increased stability
- They keep your knees warm
- Risk of injury is reduced
- The sleeve can keep you conscious of your knee tracking
As you can see, I’m not citing a direct performance increase as any of my reasons for recommending sleeves, but going through the list these all indirectly increase my performance because they allow me to train safer and for longer without worry of injury.
In my mind, they do increase performance because my training will not be interrupted by knee issues, tightness, swelling, and stiffness that often accompanies athletics, training, squatting, and the likes.
So who would I recommend knee sleeves to? Anyone who trains frequently and at a high intensity. The sleeves keep your knees warm, in place, and safe when you’re really amping up the intensity and training hard. Also on the recovery front, you can wear your sleeve while you’re not training to increase compression and blood flow to keep you feeling fresh for the next day’s training.
If you don’t have knee sleeves and are interested in wearing them for your training, I have written a knee sleeve guide to help you pick out a sleeve, or set of sleeves based on your sport and needs.
Also elbow sleeves accomplish essentially the same thing but provide the compression to your elbow joints instead. If you train with your elbows frequently doing a lot of throwing/pressing/lifting then I would recommend looking into them as well.
Thanks and take care!
Scott from Mobility Guardian