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Wearing knee sleeves while you squat is pretty much a given. But, when you look to wearing them for other exercises, such as the deadlift, people have varying opinions on whether they have a benefit or not.
So, should you wear knee sleeves for deadlifts? Knee sleeves are used to keep the knee joint warm, improve blood flow, increase recovery times, and help you lift more weight. Wearing knee sleeves for deadlifts will provide the same benefit, but you usually want to wear a thinner knee sleeve compared with a sleeve worn for squats.
There are different sizes and types of knee sleeves that provide more or less compression. In this article, I’ll discuss why you want a thinner knee sleeve for deadlifting and the pros and cons of wearing sleeves for deadlifts. I’ll conclude that most people should wear some type of knee sleeve while deadlifting.
In a Hurry? Here is My Top Recommendations
The best knee sleeve you can wear for deadlifting is the Rehband RX 5mm Knee Sleeve (click for today’s pricing).
The 5mm thickness is enough support to provide warmth and stability. However, it’s not too thick where the knee feels restricted in its natural movement pattern or the barbell risks getting snagged on the sleeve while lifting.
Rehband also makes the most durable neoprene sleeve on the market, and it can withstand a lot of wear and tear without losing integrity in the material.
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
7 Benefits To Wearing Knee Sleeves For Deadlifts
There are 7 benefits to wearing knee sleeves for deadlifting.
1. Joint warmth
The primary benefit of wearing knee sleeves is that your knee joint stays warm while you lift.
Joint warmth is important to keep your knee lubricated and moving freely while lifting. This is particularly important for powerlifters who take extended rest breaks between lifts. Specific to powerlifters, rest breaks are taken sitting, not standing or moving, which will reduce how much your knees can stay warm without sleeves.
Furthermore, a study by Church et al. (2016) concluded that knee sleeves provide a level of warmth for the joint, which could potentially decrease inflammatory risk. This can lead to healthier joints and increased recovery times between workouts.
2. Added stability
When you have compression around your knee while deadlifting, it can increase the natural stability of the joint itself.
A study by Birmingham et al. (1998) concluded that it was much easier for a lifter to replicate a specific joint angle while wearing sleeves versus not wearing sleeves.
When extrapolating these results, this means that you might have better knee tracking while deadlifting, which leads to better overall deadlift technique with sleeves.
Make sure you know the differences between knee wraps and knee sleeves.
3. You can use them as shin guards
Knee sleeves make excellent shin guards.
Most lifters actually don’t wear knee sleeves over their knees while deadlifting, but rather over their shins. This is because lifters are using knee sleeves as ‘shin guards’. You can read my full review of the best shin guards for deadlifting.
One of the core technique principles of deadlifts is to keep the barbell as close to your body as possible, which means starting with the barbell on your shins. This will keep the weight closer to your center of gravity and will allow you to use more quads and glutes while lifting, versus hamstrings and low back.
When you’re trying to keep the barbell in contact with your body throughout the entire movement, you’ll find your shins bruising, or worse, bleeding. The knee sleeves can act as a barrier between the barbell and your shins, which will protect your skin from constant contact.
Keep in mind that if you’re using knee sleeves for shin guards (which is a valid reason), your knee sleeves may fray a bit quicker than normal.
4. Wearing them if you have old injuries
Many lifters have experienced prior injuries to their knees. For these lifters, wearing knee sleeves is simply a protective piece of equipment that allows them to feel a sense of security while lifting.
If you’ve had an injury previously, you’ll do everything possible to not re-injure an old wound.
Knee sleeves aren’t a magic cure for preventing injuries, but they give a lifter reassurance that their knees are protected, even if it’s a minimal effect or a placebo.
5. Builds confidence under heavy loads
If you’re a powerlifter who is getting fired up for a big lift, wearing knee sleeves might help build your confidence to execute the lift successfully.
A lot of lifters view supportive equipment, i.e. knee sleeves, like protective armor. When they feel compression on their body, they feel more resilient to external loading.
This is not to say that knee sleeves will automatically let you lift more weight. However, if you feel more confident going into a big lift, then your mental approach will be stronger, which will remove any sense of self-doubt.
6. Increased performance
There has been some research when it comes to squatting that wearing knee sleeves can increase your performance.
Miletello (2009) noted that acceleration from the bottom of the squat seemed to be the factor that separated more advanced powerlifters vs. novice powerlifters. It was noted that because wearing knee sleeves can decrease knee flexion at the bottom of the lift that it may help contribute to greater speeds out of the bottom.
In the deadlift, your knee isn’t bending as much when compared with a squat. However, some lifters have reported that they do feel a bit quicker off the floor when deadlifting. This may have more to do with how someone is built, whether they have limb lengths that warrant a more ‘bent knee position’ at the start of the deadlift.
This is something that you’ll need to try for yourself to see if you get the same benefit.
7. Might hide technical infractions (for competitive powerlifters)
If you’re a competitive powerlifter, then you’ll need to have a specific ‘end position’ in order for the lift to count in competition.
This includes having your knees, hips, and shoulders ‘locked’ and in an erect position.
For some lifters, they struggle with getting their knees completely locked. This is either because of muscular weakness or a structural limitation (i.e. they literally can’t lock their knees).
If you wear knee sleeves while deadlifting, you’ll find that it’s harder to tell when your knees are completely bent or not. As such, you might be able to hide some imperfections with your technique that you otherwise wouldn’t ‘get away with’ when not wearing sleeves.
I’m not here advocating for trying to cheat the rules or make excuses for a lack of knee extension strength. But, if you literally can’t fully extend your knee because of a structural limitation, then wearing knee sleeves is a great option.
Pro tip: go with a dark-colored knee sleeve if you’re getting knee sleeves for this reason.
Why You Want a Thinner Sleeve For Deadlifts (2 cons)
There are 2 cons to wearing knee sleeves while deadlifting, which can be mitigated by wearing a thinner knee sleeve.
For example, wearing a 5mm vs 7mm sleeve.
1. The barbell might get snagged on the sleeve
The main reason why people opt to deadlift without knee sleeves is because the barbell has the potential to get snagged on the fabric of the sleeve. This will slow down the momentum of the barbell and may make the lift harder.
The problem is not when the barbell touches the main part of the sleeve, it’s when the barbell gets caught on the very bottom of the sleeve on the lower part of the shin.
It’s almost a guarantee that if you wear 7mm knee sleeves that the barbell will continuously hit the bottom of the sleeve, which will prevent the barbell from traveling in a smooth upward trajectory.
This is why you will need to get a thinner sleeve so that the material is less likely to get in the way of the barbell traveling over the knee sleeve.
2. It might feel more awkward if you deadlift using a sumo stance
A lot of lifters who choose to deadlift in the sumo stance over conventional do not prefer wearing knee sleeves while deadlifting.
This is because the feet are in a wider stance, and as such, the knees need to move more freely in an externally rotated position.
Some lifters feel like the added compression of the knee sleeve takes away from being able to get their knees in the proper starting position.
Again, this is another reason for getting a 5mm sleeve as it won’t provide as much compression as a 7mm sleeve.
Top 3 Knee Sleeves For Deadlifts
When looking for knee sleeves for deadlifts there are some key considerations you want to make:
- Width: you want to choose a 5mm knee sleeves not 7mm
- Length: you want a length between 20-30cm
- Contoured stitching: this will allow the knee to move a bit more freely
- Material: you want a neoprene sleeve, which is more durable than cotton
- Competition approved: only certain brands are approved for competitive powerlifters
The Rehband RX 5mm Knee Sleeve is my top pick for deadlifting.
For a long time, Rehband was the only knee sleeve manufacturer that made high-quality knee sleeves for lifting. There are now a few other brands that have come on the market in recent years to rival Rehband, but Rehband still makes the best sleeve for deadlifting.
The reason is because of the contour design of how the stitches thread through the back of the sleeve. With this contoured design, you will find it relatively easy to bend your knee. This will allow you to get into your start position for your deadlift naturally.
When the stitches are straight you’ll have a hard time bending your knee, which adds more support for lifts like heavy squats. But for deadlifts, you want to have a more free-moving sleeve that doesn’t restrict your knee pattern.
In addition, Rehband makes a high-quality sleeve, which won’t degrade under excessive wear or tear. It fits all of the specifications you need for deadlifting, including being 5mm, 20cm in length, and is approved for use in powerlifting competitions.
Remember when purchasing that the sleeves come in singles, so you need to buy two to make a pair!
The Rogue 5mm Knee Sleeve is another great option for deadlifting.
For about $5 cheaper than the Rehband Knee Sleeves you’re going to get a similar quality sleeve.
They still meet all the specifications that you’d want for deadlifting, including being 5mm, 20cm in length, and is approved for use in powerlifting competition. They also have the contoured stitching that you want on the back of the sleeve so the knee can move more freely.
However, the Rogue sleeve didn’t make my top pick because it’s just slightly less comfortable to wear than the Rehband sleeve.
There have been reports that the Rogue sleeve can cause some chaffing on the back of the knee. In addition, if you have bigger calves, you might find it harder to put the sleeves.
These sleeves are sold in pairs.
If you’re simply looking for a quick and dirty solution for getting some joint warmth and stability, then the Karm 5mm Knee Sleeve is a great budget option.
You get what you pay for as there are some drawbacks with these sleeves.
The Karm sleeve doesn’t have a tapered top and bottom, which means that it won’t sit snuggly on the knee. As a result, you’ll find that when you’re lifting the sleeve moves around quite a bit. Most notably, it will begin to slide down your leg, so you’ll be constantly pulling them back up.
You’ll also find that the material bunches up on the back of your leg as you’re bending and flexing your knee. While it’s not the worst thing in the world, it won’t feel the most natural when you’re lifting.
With those drawbacks aside, the sleeve fits the dimensions you want for deadlifting, being 5mm wide and 20cm in length.
Out of the three knee sleeves I’m recommending, Karm is the only one not approved for powerlifting competitions, so if you’re a competitive powerlifter this is not the choice for you.
You may be interested in reading my ultimate review and guide on the best knee sleeves for powerlifting
Frequently Asked Questions
Should You Wear Knee Sleeves For Deadlifts All The Time?
You should only wear knee sleeves during your compounded movements, like squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. For deadlifts specifically, I would put them on before you start your warm-up, as the sleeve might be hard to put on one your legs become sweaty. Once your deadlifts are over, you can take them off and train without sleeves for the remaining part of your workout.
Should You Use Knee Wraps For Deadlifts?
Knee wraps should not be used for deadlifts as the compression will be far too much. While some compression is good for joint warmth and stability, too much compression can cause the lift to feel unnatural.
Can You Wear Knee Sleeves In Competition For Deadlifts?
Yes, you can wear knee sleeves in competition for deadlifts if they fit the specifications that are allowed and are an ‘approved brand’. You can find out more about the knee sleeve specifications and approved brands HERE.
I would recommend wearing knee sleeves for deadlifts for most types of lifters. You will find that wearing knee sleeves, at the worst, will not hinder your performance. However, most people will find that the extra joint stability, warmth, and protection will increase confidence, recovery, and overall levels of strength. My go-to knee sleeve for deadlifting is the Rehband RX 5mm Knee Sleeve.
Birmingham TB, Kramer JF, Inglis JT, Mooney CA, Murray LJ, Fowler PJ, and Kirkley S. Effect of a neoprene sleeve on knee joint position sense during sitting open kinetic chain and supine closed kinetic chain tests. Am J Sports Med 26: 562–566, 1998
Lake, J., Carden, P., Shorter, K. 2012. Wearing Knee Wraps Effects Mechanical Output and Performance Characteristics of Back Squat Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(10), 2844-2849.
Church, J. B., Allen, T. N., & Allen, G. W. (2016). A Review of the Efficacy of Weight Training Aids. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 38(3), 11–17.
Miletello WM, Beam JR, and Cooper ZC. A biomechanical analysis of the squat between competitive collegiate, competitive high school, and novice powerlifters. J Strength Cond 23: 1611– 1617, 2009