Knee wraps and knee sleeves are two of the most popular pieces of powerlifting gear. Are you considering purchasing a pair but you’re not sure which one is ideal for your powerlifting workouts?
Let’s explore both pieces of gear to help you determine which one you need in powerlifting: knee wraps vs. knee sleeves.
What are Knee Wraps?
Knee wraps are a go-to piece of gear for powerlifters. Made of an elastic material similar to that of a wrist wrap, a knee wrap is placed on the knee using a combination of circular patterns and “X” shapes.
Start above the knee, wrapping the lower part of the thigh, make the first part of an “X” down and wrap it again just below the knee. Moving upward, form the other half of the “X” and tuck or pin the final length of the wrap.
Knee wraps offer a form of support and protection during exercises that demand a heavy weight load. In general, you shouldn’t be using wraps to perform an endurance or hypertrophy-focused exercise. When you’re going for raw power, where the rep set is between one and three, then you’ll want to wrap up.
Benefits of Knee Wraps
Here are some reasons you might want to consider using knee wraps:
Lift More Weight: It’s during the eccentric portion of a squat or deadlift that you will feel the knee wraps tighten. This will store a great deal of elastic energy, allowing you to explode up to the starting position with more weight.
More Peak Power: Continuing with the point above, the elasticity from wearing knee wraps can do more than help you lift more weight. Remember that you use peak power to move a heavy load as quickly and as safely as possible. Knee wraps can assist with this. You’ll notice that your overall power during lifts will improve. 
Quadriceps Support: While you shouldn’t rely on knee wraps as a form of protection, they will be useful as a form of support for the quadriceps. Some experts suggest that knee wraps reduce stress on the quadriceps tendon, which is under a lot of pressure during powerlifting-focused squats.
Disadvantages of Knee Wraps
The most cited disadvantage to wearing knee wraps is limited range of motion. One study found that barbell displacement was decreased during a squat when wearing knee wraps, and this negatively impacted the efficiency of the movement. 
Still, given the limited range of motion, the benefits to using knee wraps during powerlifting meets where you’re trying to set a new personal best far outweigh this potential disadvantage.
What are Knee Sleeves?
Have you ever worn a wet suit? The same material used to make a wet suit – neoprene – is what is used for knee sleeves. Like knee wraps, the compression-based material of knee sleeves offers support around the connective tissue in the knees, but without the restriction in movement.
Also, they are much easier to put on. Simply roll or slide the knee sleeves up your leg, aligning the center of the sleeve with your patella.
Benefits of Knee Sleeves
Here are some reasons you should consider using knee sleeves during your powerlifting workouts:
Functional without Limited ROM: Knee sleeves allow for a complete range of motion. This is important for beginning powerlifters as this will ensure they will learn how to properly activate the target muscles and achieve full extension.
Increased Performance: Continuing with the point above, a knee sleeve might be able to increase performance levels during your workouts. The compression material of a knee sleeve will naturally and safely increase the temperature of the surrounding tissue in the knee. This will increase blood flow and nutrient delivery.
Injury Prevention and Recovery: Give the increase in temperature at the knee joint, these sleeves might reduce inflammation and support the post-workout recovery process.
Disadvantages of Knee Sleeves
The only disadvantages to using knee sleeves have to do with the user. Three things to remember when using knee sleeves:
- Knee sleeves will warm up your knees, but you still have to do a proper warm-up and stretching session.
- Knee sleeves might make you forget about proper form so be sure to perform the exercise a few times without the sleeves to ensure you’re doing it properly.
- It’s easy to begin relying on the sleeves. Don’t do this! Try to use them every other workout or once per week.
Knee Wraps vs. Knee Sleeves: Which is Best for Powerlifting?
Both knee wraps and knee sleeves serve an important role in helping you start and build on a powerlifting career.
For beginners who are just learning how to properly squat and deadlift, knee sleeves are going to be preferred. This allows the powerlifting newbie to perfect their form while developing the necessary neuromuscular connections as well as increased tendon and muscular strength to begin to lift more.
Once you’re at an advanced stage of powerlifting, knee wraps are going to be preferred. They will offer additional support and stability when lifting closer to 100% or more of your one-repetition maximum.
With that said, we don’t recommend using knee sleeves and knee wraps as a crutch. Use them as tools to improve your powerlifting technique and results but give your body a chance to perform the movements without assistance at a responsible and safe weight.
Knee Wraps vs. Knee Sleeves: Which Do You Use?
Are you new to powerlifting and using knee sleeves? Have you been in the powerlifting circuit for some time and you don’t leave home without your knee wraps? Have a video of yourself in a pair of knee sleeves or wraps performing squats or deadlifts? Tag on Instagram so we can share it!
- Lake JP, Carden PJ, Shorter KA. Wearing knee wraps affects mechanical output and performance characteristics of back squat exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(10):2844‐2849. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182429840.