Lifting Gear > Knee Wraps vs. Knee Sleeves: Ultimate Guide (+ How to Wrap)

Knee Wraps vs. Knee Sleeves: Ultimate Guide (+ How to Wrap)

Photo of author
Updated on

If you’ve been to your local gym lately, you may well have seen lifters strapping up their knees as they prepare to take on the ever-challenging squat rack.

Whether it’s providing extra support or enabling heavier lifts, knee sleeves and knee wraps are growing in popularity. And yet, you’ll seldom come across a lifter who has both in their gym bag.

So how do you know which is right for you? 

Whether you require the neoprene support of knee sleeves or the elastic stretch of knee wraps, our in-depth guide is here to outline the key differences between these two lifting assistants. We’ll also take a look at the pros and cons of each, and when to use them.

What Are Knee Sleeves?

Knee sleeves are tube-shaped articles made from a synthetic rubber called neoprene. It’s the same material you find in your wetsuit. 

The purpose of knee sleeves is to prevent injury, so the qualities that neoprene provides are crucial. By providing compression, knee sleeves warm the connective tissue, increase blood flow, and reduce swelling and post-workout pain in the knees.

Rogue knee sleeves are popular in lifting

It’s important to note that knee sleeves do not protect from existing or recurring injuries, but merely prevent future injuries. 

What Are Knee Wraps?

Similar to the material you’d find in wrist wraps, knee wraps are made from a durable elastic material. 

They are designed to maximize how much a lifter can lift, making them a big favorite amongst competitive powerlifters and casual lifters alike. In a squat, the knee wraps will tighten as you go lower allowing for a massive surge of elastic energy to be stored.

This energy builds and then is released in an explosion of kinetic energy as you drive upwards.

Knee Wraps vs. Knee Sleeves: 10 Key Differences

1. Material

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves are made of rubber-like material called neoprene. There are several qualities of neoprene that make it ideal for knee sleeves:

Heat generating: By trapping heat in the material, it can keep your joints and muscles warm as you squat.

Pliability: Neoprene is very bendy. It will shape and mold to whatever shape you need it to. This means that as you squat, the material bends and moves with you.

Resilient: Neoprene is tear-resistant so no matter how many squats you perform in them, they won’t rip or wear out.

Knee wraps

These are made from an elastic material that stretches as you twist it around the knee. 

Several key qualities that make elastic perfect for knee wraps are:

Potential energy: Imagine stretching an elastic band, the knee wrap behaves in the same way. The more you stretch the wrap around your knee, the more energy is released on the drive upwards. 

Remember the tighter you wrap it, the more explosion you will have on the upwards drive. This comes at the expense of free movement.

Rigidity: When stretched the elastic material is rigid thus providing maximum tightness and steadiness around the knee.

2. Ease of Use

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves are dead simple to use and easy to put on. There’s no fiddling about or worrying if they’re tight enough. Simply slide them on and get on with your workout.

The only challenge is finding the right size and making sure you have them on the right way (you’d be surprised how easy it is to put them on backward).

There are still a couple of common mistakes with putting knee sleeves on:

Front to back: I mentioned this briefly above. Your sleeves are the right way round if the logo is facing the front.

Centered: Make sure your knee sleeves are dead center on the knee. There should be an equal amount of material above and below the knee cap.

Application: Don’t try to put them on during your workout. Neoprene doesn’t like sweaty legs, making it hard to pull them up to the knees.

Knee wraps

Wraps are significantly harder to use. If you wear them wrong or wrap them ineffectively you can cause serious injury, so be sure to double-check with a professional on how to use them properly.

The tighter your knee wraps, the more you can lift. This means it’s important to learn the best wrapping techniques to maximize the elastic energy, thus increasing the weight you can lift.

Common mistakes when applying knee wraps include:

Loose wraps: Not having them tight enough can limit what you can lift. If you do go for a heavier lift you can put your knee joint out of alignment as your knees have no support.

Not secure: Poor wrapping technique can cause the wrap to come off whilst lifting, distracting you mid rep or potentially causing injury.

Not used to them: Because they are wrapped so tight, many lifters can be put off using knee wraps as they can cause a lot of pain on the first few uses. Whilst it is initially unnerving, it’s something lifters do get used to. So don’t give up on them too quickly!

For those who are unsure of how to wrap your knees properly, check out world-level powerlifter Adam Ramzy’s tutorial below.

3. Versatility

Knee sleeves

The support that knee sleeves provide for your knees means they can be a benefit throughout your leg workout. 

You’ll want to put them on at the start anyway before you start sweating. They’re comfortable and supportive so suit a variety of exercises.

I know some lifters like to use them to keep their legs warm if they’re doing a total body workout too. This means that when they get round to the lower body part of their session, the knees are nice and warm.

Knee wraps

On the other hand, you don’t want to be wearing knee wraps for any length of time. They’re uncomfortable and limit the movement in your knees.

Wraps are designed purely for heavy lifting on sagittal movements such as squats or leg press. Without the heavy load, you’d struggle to flex your knees if you kept the wraps on.

4. Design

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves come in a wide variety of thicknesses and sizes. You can usually get them in either 20cm or 30cm length, and a variety of thicknesses ranging from 3mm to 7mm.

For low-impact activities such as walking, thinner knee sleeves will work just fine. If you’re looking to do more high-impact activities such as squats or deadlifts, thicker sleeves will provide the necessary support.

Competitive powerlifters should consider maximum thickness for maximum support.

Knee wraps

Unlike the nice tubular shape of knee sleeves, knee wraps are a long strip of elastic coming in either 2m or 2.5m lengths. You spiral this around the knees until secure. 

The 2.5m wrap provides extra support for heavy lifts as it allows for more wrapping. However, if you’re using knee wraps it’s likely to be for competition (see no.5). It’s worth noting then that only 2m wraps are allowed for powerlifting competition.

5. Usage 

Knee sleeves

The versatility of knee sleeves means they are suitable for a variety of lifters and gym-goers. A lot of people appreciate the extra stability they provide whilst some just enjoy the warmth they provide to the joints and muscles.

They are particularly popular in CrossFit circles due to the assistance they provide in post-session recovery. 

Target audience: Any gym-goer who uses compound movements or high-impact exercises (plyometrics) and has no prior knee issues.

Common misuse: You should not use knee sleeves to cover up or prevent a recurring knee injury. If you have prior knee problems consider physiotherapy and/or the use of a knee brace. Sleeves are designed to prevent new injury and provide support, not heal existing injuries.

Knee wraps

Wraps intend to provide an edge when it comes to heavy lifting. For this reason, they are only likely to be used by competitive powerlifters or experienced lifters looking for that extra weight on their lift.

For non-competitive lifters, they are only recommended if you’ve already laid the groundwork for your squats and presses. An advanced level of squat is recommended.

Target audience: Competitive or experienced powerlifters looking to maximize the weight they can lift.

Common misuse: Like with knee sleeves, wraps are not suitable for covering up existing injuries. They provide support for the knee but it is still doing an awful lot of work. If you have existing problems consider a knee brace.

6. Performance Benefits

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves are all about stability and support for your knees on lower body exercises (or even full-body such as running). They offer little in terms of performance and muscle growth and are unlikely to help you lift more weight.

Common mistakes lifters make is thinking the knee sleeves can improve their technique on a heavy squat. This is not what they are designed for and focus on technique is still essential when wearing knee sleeves.

Having said this, some lifters suggest the lateral stability they provide may increase muscle activation and thus performance on some lower body exercises. I’ve looked into this and the performance benefits are still disputed across academic literature with conflicting research, so watch this space (Machek et al., 2020; Sinclair et al., 2020).

Knee wraps

The performance benefits are clear in that knee wraps allow for more weight to be lifted. The energy surge provided by the elastic on the upward drive can support the knee with incredibly heavy loads.

However, using knee wraps can decrease muscle activation limiting muscle growth in the lower body (Sinclair et al., 2020). They take over the work that the quadriceps usually do. The quads work to extend the knee, thus are highly engaged during the upward drive of a squat without knee wraps.

Therefore, I think they are best used either in competition or to achieve a one-rep personal best. 

7. Tightness

Knee sleeves

Whilst they are tight, knee sleeves allow a fair degree of flex and movement in the knee joints. This makes them much more comfortable too.

They should fit snugly around the knee as if they are too loose, they can bunch up or slip down the leg mid-lift. Competitive powerlifters tend to have their sleeves as tight as possible, achieving maximum warmth and stability.

Even so, they will never match the tightness of knee wraps. The knee joint should always be able to move freely with knee sleeves on.

Knee wraps

Tight as possible is the aim with knee wraps. This means that knee movement is restricted unless a heavy load is applied, hence why they are only really suitable for certain exercises.

To maximize the weight lifted, you need as much stability and support for the knee as possible. Therefore the tighter the wrap, the more rigid and stable the knee – hence the more weight you can put on it.

8. Cost

Knee sleeves

Whilst neither will make a huge hole in your wallet, knee sleeves are slightly more expensive ranging between $40-$90. The size and thickness are the biggest contributors to the price.

As you’d expect, the higher quality sleeves are usually more expensive too. They last longer than cheaper sleeves. You can expect a high-quality knee sleeve to last up to 2 years when used regularly.

Knee wraps

Ranging between $20-$50, more expensive knee wraps can provide extra stiffness and extra length. 

When buying knee wraps I’d lean towards the more expensive 2m wraps. You’ll see very few lifters with a 2.5m wrap as it cant be used in competition. If you’re going to spend money on wraps, it’s worth spending the extra $10-$15 on a stiffer material.

Some wraps have added features such as rubber stripping which can prevent sliding. A good option if you’re not confident in your wrapping technique.

Ultimately cost shouldn’t be the deciding factor behind you getting knee wraps or knee sleeves. Whichever one will provide the most benefit and suit your needs is the one to get.

9. Durability

Knee sleeves

As we mentioned above, you should expect a decent set of knee sleeves to last about 2 years. After this, they may begin to wear or lose effectiveness, then it’s worth getting a new pair.

Because they’re made from an absorbent material, they do tend to get a bit smelly after a while so it’s important to wash them regularly and not keep them in your gym bag too long post-workout.

Knee wraps

How long wraps last vary depending on use and quality. A decent set of wraps should last about 50 sets before they start to lose their effectiveness.

They generally don’t wear or develop holes as sleeves do, but over time they will lose elasticity and won’t feel as supportive. At this point, you should consider getting new wraps to maximize your lifts.

10. Injury Prevention

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves help prevent injury by aiding recovery. They improve blood flow and decrease inflammation which helps provide an accelerated recovery time post-workout.

This can support muscle repair and improve performance on future lifts.

Knee wraps

Knee wraps reduce the risk of injury by reducing the strain on the knee when lifting heavy weights. The load is partly absorbed by the elastic as you lower into the squat rather than the knee and quads. The release of energy helps the upward drive, all the while protecting your knee.

Knee Sleeves vs Knee Wraps: Pros and Cons

Knee sleeves have a great list of benefits and drawbacks. I summarize the list below.

  • Support post-workout recovery
  • Protect knee joints from injury
  • Stylish
  • Comfortable to wear throughout the workout
  • Support increased stability on heavy loads
  • Easy to put on
  • Misinterpreted as a substitute for massage, stretching, and rest
  • More expensive than wraps
  • Don’t allow for heavier lifts


Here is a list of knee wraps pros and cons as well.

  • Can add up to 30% weight to your lifts
  • Reduce stress on the quads  
  • Support the knee reducing injury risk
  • Don’t support muscle growth  
  • Complicated technique to put on 
  • Not very versatile  
  • Can be uncomfortable

Who Should Use Knee Sleeves?

Knee sleeves are ideal for individuals who want that extra support on their lifts. The added warmth and blood flow to the knee joints they provide is a big draw for some people as well. 

Knee sleeves are suitable for and used by all levels of athletes. From elite powerlifters to early CrossFitters, they can help maximize recovery, helping you get ready for the next workout.

Who Should Use Knee Wraps?

Knee wraps are only really suitable for competitive lifters who want that extra edge for their lift. Experienced lifters who have mastered advanced squat techniques may consider knee wraps when they want to beat their single-rep record on the squat or leg press.

They reduce knee injury risk on loaded sagittal movements, taking over from the quads as the primary knee support. Remember they aren’t a cheat to increased muscle growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are knee sleeves good for CrossFit?

Yes, they are commonly used in CrossFit circles due to their versatility and assistance in recovery from heavy lifting sessions. Quick recovery can be especially important in CrossFit as you repeatedly interchange between heavy lifting and high-impact cardio. They support the extensive training program CrossFitters undertake as well.

Do knee wraps protect your knees?

They will offer support for your knees. They give a degree of joint protection by increasing the stability of your knees, but they cannot protect from pre-existing injuries or ailments to the knee. For protection consider a knee brace

Final Thoughts

By now you should have a clear idea of which knee strap is best suited to your fitness goals. For increased support and stability on a variety of lower body exercises including squats, a knee sleeve is for you. 

If your goal is to maximize the weight you lift, possibly for competition then the joint support a knee wrap provides is ideal. 

Photo of author

Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've been lifting for more than 10 years and hope to eventually become a Certified Personal Trainer. My goal is to compete in weightlifting and train to be the strongest version of myself.

Leave a Comment