How Tight Should Knee Sleeves Be?

It would be a contradiction of terms to think compression knee sleeves will not be tight—right? You know right off that compression is applying pressure! But, then, how tight should knee sleeves be?

Some people want to know “How tight is tight enough?” and others “How tight can I get knee sleeves?” As you will see in this post, the real answer lies in how you are using them or what’s the activity?

Are Knee Sleeves Supposed to Be Tight?

For the most part knee sleeves need to be tight enough to provide a general feeling of pressure, squeezing the muscles from a few inches above to a few inches below your knee. They should be tight enough that the compression is doing it’s work, but not cutting off the circulation.

When you buy your first knee sleeve, it usually works like this:

  1. You go to a great deal of trouble to find the sizing chart and correctly measure your leg just like the manufacturer recommends. (You don’t want them too tight, but you don’t want to be pulling them up your leg?)
  2. You order your knee sleeve, or sleeves
  3. The first time you put them on, you say “Well, shit! These knee sleeves are too tight!”
  4. You go ahead and wear them anyway.
  5. The sleeve stretches and loosens just enough to be comfortable and provide the perfect fit, after all.

That is, unless you’re wearing them for squats in the gym? Weight lifters often wind up with sleeves being tighter than suggested, to get the most advantage possible from the compression.

Knee sleeves for squats are usually worn much tighter than wearing knee sleeves for running, arthritis, any other sports activities or recovering from injuries. For these types of activities your knee sleeves should be tight enough to provide plenty of compression without being uncomfortable or cutting off blood to your feet.

How Tight Should Knee Sleeves Be?

Because of the variety of sizes, they come in—there’s always the question concerning how tight is too tight?  What I know from wearing my own knee sleeves, and being around other people wearing them,  is that it depends a lot on your own preferences.

Some people like knee sleeves so tight that they can feel them “pinching” on their leg and knee all the time. Personally, I feel like this is cutting off the blood supply to my feet, and I don’t want that at all.  What I like is for the sleeve to feel a little snug, comfortable and warm.

Another reason people wind up with overly tight knee sleeves is trying to keep them from sliding down their leg. You can usually solve this problem by:

  1. Choosing the best knee sleeves that are designed and engineered properly.
  2. Taking the time to read and understand the manufacturers’ recommendations for sizing, and following those directions to the tee

The Tightness of Knee Sleeves Depends on the Application

How tight should knee sleeves be depends on what sport or physical activity you will be involved in. The degree of tightness will depend on the agility, movement, and motion during the activity.

Some uses will require a constant repetitive movement of your knees, while others need a lot more support for only a few movements.

Some of the most typical uses of knee sleeves and how tight they should be are as follows:

  • Running and Walking: Whether you’re running a marathon or walking the local track for exercise, knee sleeves for running are great for protecting your knees from the excess and sometimes extreme stress.

    You don’t want the fit to be tight enough that they are binding, or restricting movement of your knees. Compression knee sleeves for running are meant to compress your legs enough to cause blood flow and warmth around your total knee area.

    Choose something that is true to your size, comfortable, does not slide down your leg, — but adds an unmistakable bit of compression to your knees. That should be all the tightness you need for running or walking.
  • Squats: The tightness for squatting is going to depend on whether or not you are working out in the gym, or in a dead heat competition.

    ⦿ If you are working out with squats a few times a week, you’ll want knee sleeves tight enough to be conscious of the added support to your knees.

    ⦿ Just as tight as you can get them during competition will likely aide you with a surge of elastic energy to help you lift more weight.

    That means you’ll want to use one size knee sleeve in the gym, and down size one size for competitions to get the right tightness for doing squats.
  • Powerlifting: Just like using sleeves for squats, two different degrees of how tight they should be comes into play with Powerlifting.

    ⦿ When you’re training, you want them to add compression, support, and warmth to your knees, surrounding tendons and muscles. You probably want all the support you can get, but not as tight as knee sleeves for competitions. (Wearing knee sleeves during your gym training will help prevent soreness and injury.)

    ⦿ When you’re thinking of powerlifting in competition, you are going to need them as tight as you can get them on. You may even need to enlist the help of someone to help you pull them over your knee and onto your quads.

    This is going to help you increase the weight to maximum levels. Many powerlifters find that downsizing as much as 2 sizes for competitions works best.
  • Bodybuilding: Whereas powerlifting is about extreme weight and few repetitions, bodybuilding is usually several different exercises with more reps. On leg days you will want a more rigid and tighter sleeve. On the days you work your upper body, you may not even need a knee sleeve? If so, choose one that’s comfortable and fits snuggly.
  • CrossFit: CrossFit is powerful and fast, involving gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing, and more. Because of the intensity and variations, you’ll want good knee sleeves that allows a lot of freedom of movement, while providing the support.

    Be sure the size, fit, and tightness you choose allows you to run, jump, squat, without bunching up, or sliding down.
  • Strongman: Strongman is all about pure raw strength, and the most common competition task all put enormous pressure on the knees. Depending on the workouts or exercise at hand you could need a comfortably tight fit to something more rigid and tight to protect your knees.
  • Sports: If you’re running the basketball court or soccer fields you’ll want your sleeves to fit just a little tighter than running for exercise.

    Playing and competing in sports events will require a knee sleeve with more support and compression than a casual walk around the block due to the extra stress on your joints.

    On the other hand, if you’re on the mats wrestling, you’ll need a stiffer and more supportive fit because you’re not moving around and running on your knees.
  • Recovery From Injury and Arthritis: You definitely don’t want a heavy duty knee sleeve that’s made of thick neoprene that’s super tight and stiff to wear all day!

    If you’re dealing with an injury, arthritic knees, or soreness and wearing a sleeve most of your waking hours—shoot for soft, supportive, and tight enough to provide support and a comfortable warm feeling.

    These knee sleeves have been designed to achieve the perfect degree of tightness, compression, and agility to keep you pain free and on your feet.

Choosing the Right Size for the Right Tightness

All compression sleeves come with a size guide or chart, and the importance of correctly using it can not be overstated. They will generally come in S, M, L, XL and will be determined by taking a couple of measurements on your leg.

How to Measure for Knee Sleeves?

How tight knee sleeves should be doesn’t matter at all, if the measurement and size isn’t accurate.

There’s no need to worry about the size prior to taking measurements of your leg at the correct place or places.

Because each manufacturer seems to measure from different places, I can’t tell you where to start? However, I can tell you that you should find adequate directions on the purchase page. Usually by scrolling down the page until you find them.

The measurements will always start from your knee cap as a reference point. Most weight lifting sleeves measure the circumference of your let at your knee cap, most others start with measuring up from your knee cap.

tape measure to measure for knee sleeves
Soft measuring tape for a couple of bucks

Without a soft measuring device to go around your leg, your measurement will not be accurate enough for a good fit.

The best way to take accurate measurements for knee sleeves is with a cloth seamstress tape. I have tried to measure my thigh and calf with a tape measure, but it’s difficult to impossible to get an accurate measurement.

If you don’t have something soft and flexible, STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING! Do not waste your money and write bad reviews because you ordered the wrong size. Go buy a seamstress tape from Walmart for a buck and get it right.

In the end, how tight you wind up wearing them is going to depend mostly on what you are comfortable with? 

Tightness Based on Size

knee sleeves come in a wide range of sizes but the choice of size and tightness is based on a few fundamental considerations. Choosing the right size and tightness may not be easy to begin with, but you will thank yourself for continuing on until you’ve found just the right size.

As the perfect fit and tightness of knee sleeves is our main concern, let’s get to some details.  In the end, your first choice may not be your perfect size or even the material you like the best?

The wrong kind of sleeves may actually cause damage and health issues in the long run, but not immediately. However, I can tell you that you could cause some damage pretty quickly if you notice your ankle or foot swelling from over tight sleeves.

Depending on the brand, you should find up to eleven sizes available—starting from 3X Small and going up to 5X Large. The average range of sizes available is five (small, medium, large, extra-large and extra extra-large) and they have two possible fits: tight and standard.

That means ten alternatives to choose from. Of course, the problem is that these brands do not have one standard protocol for measuring size.  In some cases, it is measured combining three circumferences taken respectively at the calf, ten centimeters above the knee joint and at your thigh.

And then, in some other cases, it is measured as just one reading that is taken exactly at the extended right knee joint.

How to Know What Size Knee Sleeve to Get

  • No matter which mode of measurement you follow for size—remember this:  For tightness, the rule of thumb is to find out the smallest possible size which is comfortably tight without its restricting circulation of blood in the area.  It’s important to remember that if you are restricting blood, you could be inducing various complications like varicose veins and DST.
  • Unless you are into competitive powerlifting, snug is what you’re looking for, but only to the extent that there is no pain, loss of blood circulation, and discomfort.
  • Most all knee sleeves will have some expansion with use. That means that when you first put them on, they will be tighter than after a few minutes of use. They will also have some degree of expansion over time. Therefore the tightness won’t usually remain the same as the first time you use them.

Final Word on Knee Sleeve Tightness

The fact is that no one can really tell you how tight should knee sleeves should be, other than if they are falling off your leg —  chances are they are too large?

If they are causing weird things to happen with your ankle and foot — take the things off immediately!

You know better than anyone else about tightness and your own comfort and pain levels, so get started and you’ll be proud you did.  Even if you have a sleeve or two to give away before you’re satisfied, I’m telling you, they are worth it when comes to your knees.

Knee sleeves are an important tool for all sorts of knee protection, knee healing, and knee support from a variety of issues. But when it comes to how tight they should be—you are going to have to make your own way in the end.

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