You know what sucks? Knee Pain.
Knee injuries are incredibly common in strength sports, endurance, and even simple active lifestyles. The knees are a weird joint with a lot going on, but an injury here can mean serious time out and we all know that nothing is worse for your progress than an injury.
CrossFit places the knee injury as the 3rd most common in the sport after backs and shoulders (predictably), so we’re going to take you through the best knee sleeves for CrossFit: how you find them, how you should choose yours, and some of the popular options on the market.
Stick with us if you’d like to keep your knees safe, improve your performance, and get the best value for your money along the way!
- Why Use Knee Sleeves for CrossFit?
- Buying Guide: What Makes a Good Knee Sleeve for CrossFit?
- Popular Knee Sleeves for CrossFit
- Final Picks
Why Use Knee Sleeves for CrossFit?
The point of a knee sleeve – or any other compressive gear – is to keep the joint warm and counter-act compressive forces caused by weight, landing, or other forces during training.
When you load a joint, the weight isn’t just expressed downwards to the floor, but radiates outwards through soft tissues and connective tissues (like tendons and cartilage). By compressing the joint with a sleeve, you can reduce this outward force and stabilize the joint.
This is the general idea behind a knee sleeve and it’s crucial in CrossFit due to the number of different compressive exercises that are performed. This is even more of a concern as they’re often performed for huge amounts of repetitions and in a fatigued state – both of which increase the risk of injury.
With exercises from Olympic weightlifting to powerlifting to CrossFit-specific movements (like wall balls) applying compressive and shear forces to the knee, support is important. At the same time, it’s going to be important to provide that stability without compromising the movement of the knee – crucial for health and performance.
Buying Guide: What Makes a Good Knee Sleeve for CrossFit?
The variety of movements in CrossFit means that the sport requires a different type of knee sleeve compared to pure strength sports like weightlifting or powerlifting. The inclusion of exercises like running, rowing, and other cardio movements mean that you can’t use a heavy knee sleeve like the SBD, as this will inhibit movement.
This means that the CrossFit knee sleeve is going to need to be a thinner, more manageable material. It’s not just designed for squats but has to allow for full range of motion – performance in running and other movements is a key aspect of a good knee sleeve for CrossFit.
The design and fit also need to be looser and less ergonomic than heavy-duty knee sleeves. While SBD knee sleeves are superior for their high-compression and tightness in powerlifting and weightlifting, they would only obstruct the knee and force specific (often incorrect) movement during other types of exercise.
This is one of many reasons that CrossFit doesn’t use knee wraps – the heavy-duty, multi-ply supportive gear used in “gear-assisted” powerlifting. These provide too much elastic resistance and would be incredibly difficult to run, or even walk, in when tied correctly. Clearly, the CrossFit knee sleeve has to trade stability and compression for mobility and versatility.
- Durability is still a key factor. Knee sleeves should last you for years, not months. Construction quality for a product that is going to be used on a daily basis and intended to maintain your joint health. A poorly-built knee sleeve is going to be impractical and expensive when you consider replacement costs!
- Design and Fit are important – they need to be sufficiently loose but adaptive to perform the basic function of a knee sleeve, without compromising movement. This means a more comfortable fit for running, wall balls, and beyond.
- Material is going to be predictable (neoprene is the standard choice) but the quality and feel of the material can vary widely. A heavy-duty neoprene is a very different material to a flimsy, poorly-made version.
- Thickness is a factor with knee sleeves. This often comes down to personal preference and size, but a range that includes both 5mm and 7mm options will provide a serious benefit. A product with options is one that can bring value to many different athletes.
- Competition dimensions and approval for competitions – both official and otherwise – is going to be a factor. If you’re looking to compete in CrossFit, you want a knee sleeve that is allowed to support you in training and competition – or you’ll have to buy two pairs.
Popular Knee Sleeves for CrossFit
1. Rehband 7051 Original Blue Knee Sleeve
The Rehband 7051 was the first real knee sleeve to achieve the kind of popularity that we see with a variety of knee sleeves now. Was the original the best, however? It’s not clear, since other types of knee sleeves have overtaken the Rehband in other sports.
With a combination of support and free-movement, it’s not hard to understand why they have been popular ever since their release. The Rehband performs all the crucial functions that you’d buy a knee sleeve for – from good compression to effective warming and support of the knee joint.
The durability on a pair of Rehband sleeves is great when you get the right sizing and take care of them. They will slowly loosen over time – especially if you’re a larger human or at the top of your size on the sizing chart, but you can get past this with regular washing.
They won’t experience the same sort of quality or benefit for heavy lifting that you’d experience from an SBD sleeve or similar, but they can be worn for every aspect of CrossFit. This is the kind of compromise and jack-of-all-trades approach we want to see in a CrossFit knee sleeve!
The greatest problem that we seem to find with the Rehband is a disparity in quality between the 5mm and 7mm model. The 5mm is objectively more well-constructed and has greater durability, while the construction on the 7mm is commonly reported as being worse and the level of compression may well be too much for CrossFit.
Hilariously, the rest of the negative reports are the result of customers not realizing that sleeves are sold individually. Be sure to check if you’re buying a single sleeve or a pair!
2. Iron Bull Strength Knee Sleeves
With only one size available – the 7mm sleeve – Iron Bull has already run into problems. While these sleeves may be well-built and have a much lower price than the Rehband, the thicker, high-compression sleeve is going to be controversial for CrossFit.
The design is heavy-duty in a sport that requires versatility and flexibility. There are many reasons to like the Iron Bull sleeve for squatting and other lifting movements, but the bunching of the 7mm sleeve behind the knee can be a real problem for repeated movements through full range of motion.
This product also runs into occasional problems with build-quality, especially along the seams. With a neoprene standard that is very high, tears on the seams are common as they take the majority of the strain. This is compounded by the fact that, according to a variety of reviews, the sizing guide doesn’t correspond to the actual product!
This product has a lot of potential once these problems are fixed, it might be a great product. However, it will still not be appropriate for CrossFit – specialist sleeves simply won’t work very well for the variety of movements necessary.
3. Fitnessery Knee Sleeves
These are another 7mm sleeve that comes with a more maneuverable design, allowing you to move more freely than the Iron Bull. This also comes with a design that takes CrossFit into consideration, but still specializes towards movements like squats and Olympic lifts.
The sizing guide itself notes that a smaller size is going to be more appropriate for heavy lifting while a larger size is more appropriate for CrossFit mixed workouts. The “general use” sizing and design are exactly what’s going to make this a better design for CrossFit.
The reviews that are negative on this product are almost entirely the result of human error: customers who bought a size up from their actual measurements and don’t get support. Fortunately, that’s easily fixed by relying on the sizing guide!
Occasional reports of mismatched sleeves can be a problem, so be sure to check your sizes straight away if you order. Overall, a great product that seems to take the needs of CrossFit in-stride!
4. Nordic Lifting Knee Sleeve
The Nordic lifting knee sleeve is a standard product: they walk the line of being uneventful and unimpressive. They’re a clear copy of the Rehband design with very little to gain much attention – a trend we’re going to see a lot in this market.
This is an example of a standard knee sleeve – a 7mm design with poor construction and a relatively unimpressive approach to design and features. Many reviews note repeated tears on products, despite the 1-year warranty (something you should be able to take for granted on a product like this). A warranty is great, but 1 year is very slim and the return/replace process is a pain.
This is combined with many other reviews that report that these sleeves break on the first use or in the first month of use. The unnecessary seams in the product are vulnerable to breaking, while the sleeve itself provides a little more compression and restriction than we’d like to see from a CrossFit knee sleeve.
This is the kind of problem you’re likely to run into with private label products: a product that is manufactured cheaply and branded by a sales company like Nordic Fitness.
5. Mava Sports – 7mm Knee Sleeves
Mava’s knee sleeve is another example of a medium-quality Rehband clone with private labeling. This is obvious from all-too-familiar complaints about incredibly poor construction quality.
These 7mm sleeves are susceptible to the exact same seam-tearing problems seen with the Nordic lifting sleeve. These are common within the first 30 uses. Mava also struggles with commonly-defective products and a sketchy approach to quality control.
Combined with the increased, joint-inhibiting thickness and the poor sizing guide, these knee sleeves are another example of how private label products are simply inappropriate in some fields. You want to buy a knee sleeve from a company that manages its own manufacturing and design. Fitness is not an area to scrimp and save, especially when your joints are on the line, so steer clear of this product.
This product doesn’t even come with the Nordic Fitness year-long guarantee: a standard 30-day warranty is nowhere near enough for a product that should last years.
6. Rehband RX Knee Sleeve
With a 5mm and 7mm alternative, the Rehband RX is specifically designed to support the knee during CrossFit movements. This is a great change, with a focus on improved movement quality and freedom in all types of movements, even in the 7mm model.
These are longer and more maneuverable than other types of sleeve, with specific design changes to accommodate running, rowing and more. This is a great change – though it is worth noting that this product is not designed to compete with heavy-duty movements alone, as some reviewers seem to complain about.
As before, make sure to check through the description as these sleeves are sold singularly. This is another common source of negative review, but is a common practice with Rehband, so be sure to double-check and make sure you’ve ordered the correct quantity.
7. Bear KompleX Knee Sleeves
This is another example of a company providing choice between the 5mm and 7mm sleeves, but with the addition of a variety of designs as well as sizes. This is a good start.
Sadly, the reviews for the Bear KompleX sleeves are a familiar story and ruin their good start: poor durability, with common reports of totally unusable products after only 2-4 weeks. Combined with a customer-pays-returns policy and poor warranty, it’s a real risk to order these sleeves in the first place.
The use of a knee sleeve for the purpose it was designed for should not damage the product. It seems that the aesthetic design of the product got a lot more attention than producing an effective, durable product that works for the intended purpose for more than a few weeks. Avoid!
8. RockTape Knee Sleeve
The RockTape knee sleeves are a great design for CrossFit athletes, with a great balance of compression for lifting and movement-freedom during CrossFit movements like wall balls and other forms of cardio. This is a big deal, since most of the sleeves we’ve seen on this list are either awfully built or too thick, restricting movement.
The stitching on the RockTape knee sleeve is still not great – with common tears and damage, but at a lower rate than similar products like the Nordic fitness or Bear KompleX products. The rest of the complaints about this product actually center on poor customer service and poor sizing – or even having the wrong size delivered!
The design of the RockTape sleeve is great in theory, but the execution is clearly a problem. The build quality hamstrings a product that could have been a great choice for the CrossFit market – something we’re tired of seeing. The poor quality of the product and service let the product down in a serious way!
The problem with the knee sleeve market is how much it has grown in recent years and how this has affected manufacturing. While companies like Rehband and SBD provide a high-quality product, specifically designed as leaders in the market, many others have tried to cash-in on the growing CrossFit trends.
The use of private label products is a real problem, with poor manufacturing quality showing up time and time again across a variety of brands. This is out-sourcing the design and construction of the product itself to cheap labor and poor construction standards to keep costs low – the exact opposite of what we need from a knee sleeve!
Invest your money well – buy a product from Rehband (the 7051 specifically) or even the Fitnessery sleeve. These both lead the way with quality and design-efficiency – with far less reports of poor construction. These companies provide a stronger brand identity and you’ll only have to buy once every few years.
While poor-quality products may be cheap or covered with a year warranty, a great pair of sleeves will simply not break within a year. It’s cheaper in the long run to spend more now and not have to replace your knee sleeves repeatedly!