How Tight Are Knee Sleeves Supposed To Fit?

weight lifter performing leg presses with tight knee sleeves

Those colorful pieces of elastic that you see your favorite athletes wearing on their knees have become as common in fitness as weightlifting belts and compression socks. Not to be confused with knee wraps, a knee sleeve is a smooth-fitting piece of elastic material that slips on and up your leg. A knee wrap, on the other hand, is a long piece of durable cloth that is wrapped around the knee.

Check out our article to learn more of the difference between knee wraps vs. knee sleeves.

Able to provide support and improve blood flow through compression, knee sleeves can be an important piece of fitness equipment to any type of workout. The most common question we get is how tight should knee sleeves fit? Should they be loose or cutting off your circulation?

Let’s review some pointers on how tight knee sleeves are supposed to fit so you can find your ideal size.

GET MEASURED

The first thing you should do is measure the circumference of your knee. You can do so by using a body measuring tape or a traditional toolbox tape.

Stand up straight with both feet firmly on the floor. Starting with the left leg, slightly bend the knee. Take the tape and measure from the center of the knee cap to a little less than four inches down the shin. From this point, measure the circumference of your leg. Repeat this on the right leg to confirm. Once you have your number, compare it to the sizing chart below:

  • Small: 11.8 - 13"
  • Medium: 13 - 14.2"
  • Large: 14.2 - 15.7"
  • X-Large: 15.7 - 17"
  • XX-Large: 17 - 18.3"

Are you falling somewhere in the middle with your size? Go with the smaller of the two because you’ll stretch the sleeve over time. While this size chart is one of the most accurate ways to get the size you need, there is one more important factor to consider.

KNEE SLEEVE TIGHTNESS DEPENDS ON THE SPORT

Next, identify what type of sport or physical activity will you need knee sleeves for. Tightness will vary based on whether you need to be agile or simply perform a one-and-two exercise.

Here are some of the most common sports to use knee sleeves and the general level of tightness:

Bodybuilding: Depends on the weight load. If you are following a lighter weight, higher repetition program, wear a comfortably tight knee sleeve. You can use the size from the chart above. However, if you are performing lower repetitions with a heavier weight load, especially during compound movements such as the squat, consider wearing a tighter knee sleeve.

Looking to improve your squat? Check out our article on how to master the back squat.

CrossFit: Requires a high degree of agility including sprinting, jumping, and turning. Do not size down, you want a knee sleeve that gives you room to move, not restrict you. You can follow the size chart above, and you may even consider going one size up.

Interested in getting started with CrossFit? Here’s our complete guide to finding a reputable CrossFit gym.

Powerlifting: Since you are using up to 100% of your one-repetition maximum, we would advise going a bit tighter. You can size down, but make sure you aren’t cutting off the circulation in your legs.

Running: You aren’t using any external form of resistance while you run. What’s more, the idea of a knee sleeve for running is to provide support and better blood flow. Therefore, you can stick to the sizing chart above. You may even consider going one size larger.

Strongman: Again, this depends on the exercise and the weight load. Since some Strongman exercises require walking, a comfortably tight knee sleeve would be best. For Strongman exercises that force you to stay in place and use heavy loads, wear a tighter knee sleeve.

Still not sure what qualifies as a Strongman exercise and what makes for a powerlifting exercise? Read our article on the difference between Strongman and powerlifting.

In general, we would recommend investing in two pairs of knee sleeves, one that is comfortably tight and one that is a size down for when you are going heavy in the weight room.

KNEE SLEEVES FOR PAIN

What if you aren’t involved in any of the sports mentioned above? What if you’re going through rehab and beginning with foundational exercises? Can you wear a knee sleeve for support?

A knee sleeve can be worn as a form of support but you don’t want to overdo it. Wear a size according to the sizing chart above and maybe even a size larger. But do not depend on the knee sleeve because your body will learn to use it as a crutch instead of getting stronger on its own.

We recommend only using a knee sleeve at the times of the day when the pain is the worst or when you are at rehab.

HOW TO PUT ON A KNEE SLEEVE

Even if you buy a comfortably tight knee sleeve, you’ll have trouble if you try tugging it straight up your leg. We recommend folding it inside out, then sliding it just below the knee. From here, flip it back out and over the knee. You can adjust as needed without the frustration.

ANY QUESTIONS ON HOW TIGHT KNEE SLEEVES ARE SUPPOSED TO FIT?

Are you still confused about the mechanics of figuring out an appropriate knee sleeve size? Did we skip the sport you participate in and you’re curious how tight the knee sleeve should be? Let us know on our Instagram and we’ll be happy to help.