Both knee sleeves and knee wraps support the knee joint by providing compression and warmth while lifting. However, based on the type of lifting you’re doing and your goals, the choice on whether to lift with knee sleeves or knee wraps will depend greatly.
So what are the differences between knee sleeves vs knee wraps? Knee sleeves are made of neoprene and provide warmth and enhanced blood flow to the knees and surrounding muscles. Knee wraps are made of elastic material and worn as tight as possible to increase the load lifted. Knee sleeves are worn throughout your workout. Knee wraps are only used for heavy sets.
Most people will either have a pair of knee sleeves or knee wraps in their gym bag, but not both. In this article, I’ll continue to explain the key differences and discuss the pros, cons, and which piece of equipment is best for you.
7 Differences Between Knee Wraps and Knee Sleeves
There are 7 differences between knee sleeves and knee wraps, which explain the various reasons why people choose either one or the other.
Knee sleeves are designed to slide up the lower leg whereas knee wraps spiral around the knee in a circular fashion.
Knee sleeves typically come in either 20cm or 30cm lengths and look like a tube that slides up the leg and covers the knee.
- Shorter lifters (usually below 5’8) will wear 20cm sleeves
- Taller lifters (usually above 5’8) will wear 20cm sleeves
Related Article: How To Squat If You Have Long Legs (10 Tips)
Knee sleeves come in three different thicknesses (3mm, 5mm, and 7mm), providing various levels of support based on the nature of the activity.
- The 3mm knee sleeves are meant for walking, hiking, or other low impact activities.
- The 5mm knee sleeves are meant for beginner and intermediate lifters who perform squats, deadlifts, lunges, and other lower body exercises in the gym.
- The 7mm knee sleeves are used by competitive powerlifters, which are typically only worn during exercises like the squat.
Check out my Top 5 Reviewed Knee Sleeves
Knee wraps come in either 2m or 2.5m lengths and look like a long strip of material that spirals around the knee in a circular fashion.
- The 2.5m wrap allows for more spirals around the knee, which provides more support
- Only the 2m knee wrap is approved to wear in powerlifting competitions
- Most lifters use the 2m length. I don’t know anyone who finds the 2.5m length practical.
Knee sleeves are neoprene whereas knee wraps are made from elastic materials. The material is what dictates the amount of stretch, rigidity, and level of tightness.
Knee sleeves are made of neoprene material.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber. It’s the same material that is used to make wetsuits.
The main qualities that make neoprene a solid material for knee sleeves are:
- It’s heat-producing, meaning it keeps your joints and muscles warm by trapping the heat inside the material.
- It has good pliability, meaning the material bends and moves with your body.
- It’s abrasion/tear-resistant, meaning it’s durable enough to withstand constant use.
Knee wraps are made from elastic materials.
The elastic material stretches as you spiral the wrap around the knee.
The main qualities that make elastic material ideal for knee wraps are:
- The more you stretch the material around your knee, the more elastic potential energy you have in the wrap.
- The elastic material is rigid when stretched, making it harder to move freely, but creating maximum tightness and stability around the knee
- Wrapping your knee tighter is the same idea as ‘loading a spring’. The tighter the wrap, the more it will help you squat as you drive out of the bottom position.
Knee sleeves are tight but you can still bend the knee freely. Knee wraps are pulled so tight that the knee has a hard bending freely without load.
Knee sleeves should fit snugly around the knees so that they stay in place throughout the entire workout.
If it’s too loose, the material might bunch up at the back of your knee, or cause the sleeve to slide down the leg as you’re lifting.
Most competitive powerlifters have their knee sleeves as tight as possible in order to maximize warmth and stability.
Ultimately, they will never be as tight as knee wraps though. You’ll be restricted on how tight your knee sleeves are by the size of your calves. This is because you need to pull the knee sleeves on from the ankle.
If you have big calves, here is a quick hack on how to put on a tight pair of knee sleeves:
Even with the tightest knee sleeves, you should still be able to perform a bodyweight squat to full depth without much difficulty. In other words, knee sleeves shouldn’t restrict your knee joint to move freely.
Knee wraps should stretch and wrap around the knee as tight as possible, which may restrict the knee to move freely without a loaded weight.
The main reason why lifters use knee wraps is to lift more weight. In order to lift more weight, you need to have the most stability around the knee. This requires the wrap to be as tight and rigid as possible.
A knee wrap feels like a brace around the knee. The more spirals around the knee you can make with the wrap, the stiffer the wraps become and the more weight you can lift in movements like the squat.
Check out my article What Is The Best Knee Wrapping Technique?
4. Ease of Use
Knee sleeves are extremely easy to use whereas knee wraps have a learning curve on how to use them properly to avoid injury and maximize performance.
Knee sleeves are simply to put on.
As long as you’ve selected the right size (use the sizing charts provided by the manufacturers), then all you need to do is slide it up on your leg so that it covers your knee.
It’s pretty straightforward, but here are some key things to note:
- There is a front and back to knee sleeves. The logo on the knee sleeve always faces forward.
- Centre the knee sleeve on your knees so that there is an equal amount of material both above and below the knee.
- Knee sleeves are easier to slide on at the beginning of your workout (before warming up). If you put knee sleeves on once you’ve already started sweating it will be hard to pull them up to the knee.
Knee wraps are meant to be worn extremely tight, so if you don’t wrap them properly there is a heightened risk of injury.
Not only can the wrap ‘pop off’ while lifting, but ineffective wrapping technique can also put your knee joint out of alignment.
Furthermore, the goal of wearing tight knee sleeves is to increase the amount of weight you can lift. If you want to lift the most weight, you need to learn the best wrapping techniques.
There are several different wrapping techniques, but my favorite and the most secure is the one outlined by World-level powerlifter, Adam Ramzy:
There is no doubt that a tight knee wrap can be painful on your skin, especially if it’s your first time using them. It might even cause some bruising. However, while the pain can be quite startling at first, it’s something that powerlifters get used to over time.
Further, wrapping your knees in the way Adam outlines can be physically exhausting because you’re using your entire upper body to pull the wraps as tight as possible around your knees (notice how Adam gets out of breath as he’s wrapping his knees).
This is why a lot of powerlifters ask a training partner to wrap their knees. However, not everyone trains with other people who know how to wrap knees. So, it’s a skill that you must learn yourself.
5. When They Are Used
Knee sleeves are meant to be worn throughout your entire workout across a variety of exercises whereas knee wraps are only used for heavy sets of squats.
Once you put your knee sleeves on at the start of your workout, they usually remain on for the duration.
As I said earlier, you’ll want to put them on at the beginning of your workout before you start sweating.
Once they are on, they feel really comfortable to wear across a variety of exercises.
Even if you are doing a ‘total body workout’ that involves both upper and lower body exercises, many lifters will choose to wear them for all the movements.
Yes, knee sleeves aren’t providing support for upper body exercises, but they’re still keeping your knees warm for when you move into your lower body work.
Unlike knee wraps that feel somewhat uncomfortable when you wear them, knee sleeves are meant to feel comfortable and to be worn for long durations without any issues.
Check out my article on whether you should wear knee sleeves for deadlifts?
Knee wraps are meant to be put on and off as needed. You aren’t supposed to wear them throughout your entire workout.
You typically only put your knee wraps on when you are attempting a heavy lower body exercise. For example, either squats or leg press. Outside of these two exercises, you probably won’t wear your knee wraps.
The key is that you are only using your knee wraps for key exercises, and those exercises are programmed heavy.
You wrap your knees just before the set, and take them off immediately after the set is complete.
This is because the wrap is so tight that it would feel really uncomfortable leaving it on for multiple sets at a time.
Notwithstanding, you’d probably be cutting off some blood flow to your feet if you wear them too long.
6. Type of Lifting
Knee sleeves can be used by a variety of lifters whereas knee wraps should mostly be used as a tool for competitive powerlifters.
Knee sleeves are best suited for most people in the gym, from recreational gym-goers to people who are involved in specific sports, including Crossfit, powerlifting, bodybuilding, and Olympic weightlifting.
Many lifters enjoy the feeling of having warm joints and muscles while they lift, as well as slightly added compression to stabilize the knee.
This is why knee sleeves are such a great investment. They can be used across a variety of activities and exercises with no real downside.
Many powerlifters will choose to wear 7mm knee sleeves because they are lifting heavier weights, but for all other lifters, the 5mm knee sleeves will suffice.
Knee wraps should only be used by competitive powerlifters or people who have already tried knee sleeves and want to gain even more of an edge when it comes to their heavy squats.
If you are using knee wraps for powerlifting, then you would only wear them if you compete in a specific division.
In powerlifting, there are two different divisions in which you can compete: raw and equipped.
- In the raw division, you are allowed knee sleeves, but not knee wraps.
- In the equipped division, you are allowed to wear knee wraps.
Therefore, if you choose to compete in the equipped division for powerlifting, then you should buy a pair of knee wraps and get used to how to wrap your knees properly and how they feel while you squat.
If you are just someone who wants to squat heavy for the sake of lifting as much weight as possible, then you could consider wearing a pair of knee wraps to gain an extra advantage.
However, I would only consider knee wraps for non-competitive powerlifters if you already have a few years of strength training experience, you’ve already worn knee sleeves, and you have advanced-level squat technique.
Knee sleeves are more expensive than knee wraps.
Knee sleeves range in price from $40-$90.
The two main consideration when it comes to pricing is:
- Size: 30cm is usually more expensive than 20cm
- Thickness: 7mm is usually more expensive than 5mm or 3mm
Generally speaking, the more expensive your knee sleeve, the longer you can expect it to last without the material breaking down. A good pair of knee sleeves should last up to two years with regular, weekly usage. Cheaper knee sleeves might only last 6 months.
The best knee sleeve for price and quality is the Stoic Knee Sleeve (check for today’s price on Amazon).
Knee wraps range in price from $20-$50.
The two main consideration when it comes to pricing is:
- Stiffness: The stiffer the material, the more expensive.
- Length: The longer the wrap, the more expensive.
Also, some knee wraps have special features, such as rubber stripping, which prevents the wrap from sliding once it’s wrapped around your knee.
The best knee wrap for price and necessary features is the Inzer Iron Z Wrap (check for today’s price on Amazon).
Knee Sleeves vs Knee Wraps: Pros & Cons
Now that you understand the key differences between knee sleeves vs knee wraps, let’s quickly cover the pros and cons.
Knee Sleeve Pros
- Designed for all types of lifting activities (Crossfit, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting)
- Can be worn for multiple lower body exercises
- Adds warmth and increased blood flow to the knee
- Makes you feel more stable while lifting heavier loads
- Easy to put on and take off
- They feel comfortable to wear throughout the duration of your workout
- Multiple sizing options to suit your leg size and personal preferences
Knee Sleeve Cons
- More expensive than knee wraps
- Don’t allow you to lift more weight compared with knee wraps
- Hard to put on when legs are already sweaty
- You’ll likely need to replace them every two years if you use them every week
Knee Wraps Pros
- They will add 15-30% to your lifts
- A highly specialized training tool for squats and leg press
- A necessary piece of gear for competitive powerlifters who compete in the equipped division
Knee Wrap Cons
- Hard to master the wrapping technique if done by yourself
- Most people need a training partner to put them on
- They really aren’t meant for anyone other than powerlifters or people who want to lift more weight
- Can only be used for a select few exercises
- Uncomfortable to wear and can cause bruising
Final Thoughts: Which Should You Use?
If you’re still lost on who should use knee wraps or knee sleeves, here is my recommendation:
Who Should Wear Knee Sleeves?
If you find your knees a bit stiff or achy then knee sleeves will increase warmth and blood flow, making your knees feel more functional in the gym.
You will also find knee sleeves help stabilize the knee joint while lifting, and many lifters say that sleeves help them lift more weight. Not a ton more weight, but a bit more.
If you train consistently and do multiple lower body exercises per week, knee sleeves may enhance your recovery time and prevent future ailments from taking place.
I would recommend knee sleeves for any lifter, no matter what their goal is in the gym. If you have any strength training experience, knee sleeves should be one of your first gear investments.
Who Should Wear Knee Wraps?
Based on the fact that knee wraps have a learning curve and are only meant for lifters who want to lift more weight in the squat, I wouldn’t suggest most people buy a pair of knee wraps.
If you think you need knee wraps to stabilize your knee joint, then you should opt for knee sleeves, not knee wraps.
Knee sleeves are really only designed for competitive powerlifters who already have a ton of lifting experience under their belt, and have already used knee sleeves.