Knee Sleeves for Squats

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Jan 16,2024|14 min| 3061

What do they do and do you need them?

When it comes to your training program, whether you are working towards powerlifting or bodybuilding, chances are you have some barbell squats in there for your leg days. Barbell squats are one of the most popular leg exercises for size and strength, alongside some others such as the hack squat and the leg press. But, barbell squats can take a toll on your knees, as you are repeatedly squatting down with some heavy weight loaded onto your back. This is why wearing knee sleeves for squats can be beneficial to your overall progressions. You may think that knee sleeves are a waist, but they can provide some great protection to such an essential joint.

Let’s dive into what knee sleeves are, how to wear them, and if you need them for squats. 

Risk of Squats on the Knees

Just about any solid training routine, whether that be push pull legs or upper lower or some other style of training, will call for barbell squats, as they are such a great movement to overload the legs. Now, when you are doing squats it puts your knees at risk, hence the reason knee sleeves can be so beneficial. During a barbell squat, excess pressure goes through part of the knee which can lead to repetitive friction and gradual wear and tear, which can eventually lead to injury. Utilizing proper form during a squat is particularly important. Form is even more important if you are using weights when you squat, particularly a barbell, as holding that weight on your back throughout the movement will increase the forces through the knee, which is why knee sleeves while squatting are crucial.

What are Knee Sleeves? 

Knee sleeves are just that, sleeves for your knees. Fitting right in your gym bag alongside other crucial equipment like weightlifting belts and shoes, knee sleeves are designed to do is apply compression to the knee joint, which helps to provide knee support, enhance blood circulation, minimize discomfort, and can help to improve recovery time in between sets. Because of these benefits that knee sleeves bring, performing squats with knee sleeves may help reduce the risk of injury during the movement. 

You can also use knee sleeves on other movements such as the hack squat and leg press, or even lunges, basically any leg movement that requires a lot of pressure on the knees to be completed. And of course, knee sleeves can also be helpful when training in other sports, such as martial arts. But not every martial art works for people with bad knees, so do not rely solely on knee sleeves to get you through them.

Benefits of Knee Sleeves for Squats

Now onto the benefits of knee sleeves for squats, there are a few to cover. Let’s begin.

Heavier Squats

Now, let’s address this right off the bat, but knee sleeves will not instantly take your squat from 225 to 315. The compression helps to enable the lifter to incorporate progressive overload a bit easier, meaning you can add a few pounds on the bar or a few reps to your set, upping the volume or intensity. That being said, allowing for more of a working load on your legs can help to increase size and strength at a much better rate of progression.

Improve Perceived Stability

Wearing knee sleeves while squatting can increase the perceived knee stability of a lifter. This can be helpful when the lifter is building up confidence under the barbell throughout progressive overload periods. Unracking the weight and feeling a little unsteady is more than normal, especially with weight you have not touched yet. Knee sleeves while squatting provides a little bit of an extra safety blanket for you.

Boost Squatting Confidence

Knee sleeves while squatting might also improve your accurate awareness of your body in space. Being in that squat rack may be a bit overwhelming for some, but knee sleeves can help with overcoming that uncomfortable feeling. Knee sleeves can help assure you that you have a bit of extra help in getting that bar back up, especially when you are in the hole. Knee sleeves can also help you with your cues for squatting, helping you determine where the absolute bottom is and how hard you have to push to get up. The assistance in these areas is especially important for competitive powerlifters who have to hit perfect depth in competition, as well as hitting heavy weights and one rep maxes throughout their training.

Drawbacks of Knee Sleeves for Squatting

With every subject, there are benefits and drawbacks, even wearing knee sleeves while squatting. Let’s check it out.

Too Heavy, Too Fast

While wearing knee sleeves can help you to squat heavier weights more confidently, this can also be a downside as they can lead to a breakdown in form if they are giving you the false confidence to go too heavy, too fast. Confidence is key, but having overconfidence and thinking you can do more than you can on a lift as serious as squats can put you at greater risk for injury. This is one reason to stick to a program that incorporates progressive overload and deload weeks properly is crucial, so you have enough time to recover and adjust to the weights. Knee sleeves are not a magic pill.

Tighter Isn’t Necessarily Better

Super tight knee sleeves may make you feel better, but there is a good chance you might be going through all that strain for nothing. For lifters who force themselves into a knee sleeve that is definitely a size or two too small, research suggests that tighter may not mean better. It can actually inhibit blood flow.

Are Knee Sleeves Allowed in Competition?

While things like lifting straps are not allowed in competitive powerlifting or weightlifting meets, knee sleeves typically are given the green light to be used. You just need to be aware of the brands that you are using, as well as the federation you are competing in, because some federations have restrictions on certain brands, and you don't want to show up and have your equipment be disqualified. 

Being that they are allowed in competition, it can be a good idea to train in them and get used to the feel. That way when you start to peak and are going for that new record, you are ready to go.

When to Wear Knee Sleeves

Realistically do you need to wear knee sleeves on every set of your training? No, unless you for some reason have consistent pain in your knees and the compression of the sleeves helps to take it away. 

When you are doing your warm ups and lighter sets, if possible, it is good to squat without a weightlifting belt or sleeves (raw) to get your body used to naturally sustaining the weight and bracing. Instead, knee sleeves are great for your heavier or higher volume sets. They are a great piece of equipment to add to your gym bag.

Finding a Good Workout Program to Use You Knee Sleeves

Now to find good programs for some awesome leg workouts that will have you using your knee sleeves to maximum potential, check out the Boostcamp App. You can find tons of different free workout routines that will truly push you to the limit, and they are made by renowned evidence-based coaches. Boostcamp also lets you create your own custom routines and log your progress, which is great for tracking your progress and making linear progression.

To maximize your gains and simplify your fitness journey, consider using Boostcamp, the last lifting app you'll ever need. Boostcamp helps you track your progress, offers customizable training programs, and provides expert guidance to ensure you get the most out of your chosen workout program whether it's linear push pull legs or upper lower or whatever you choose. There are also plenty of different programs styles to choose from such as push pull legs or upper lower splits. Start making the most of your workouts and download Boostcamp today!

Wrap Up

Overall, squatting is an exercise that certainly puts a bit of a strain on your knees, and over time can lead to injuries. While supplementation is a great option for easing pain and keeping joints lubricated, things like knee sleeves are a great way to keep your knees protected during your sets. They are also mostly allowed in competition as well, so it is good to train in them.

Will you be giving knee sleeves a try? Let us know! And be sure follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!