Which knee sleeve is the best for powerlifting, SBD or STrong Sleeves? Which knee sleeve should you buy? For years, SBD has owned the knee sleeve market for powerlifting and strongman competitors, and for good reason. Their high quality and high performance has made them a staple for all heavy squatters. I myself have used SBD knee sleeves now for about 6 months, and it really is night and day difference from using other brands.
A good pair of knee sleeves will provide you stability in your squat, assist you in the bottom of the squat, and, most importantly, keep your knees warm and injury free through your workouts and your competition. SBD excels at all of this.
However, more recently, Mark Bell’s company Slingshot has released their latest version of the knee sleeves, and it appears they intend to compete directly with the juggernaut SBD. The sleeves they’ve released, dubbed STrong Sleeves, are of the same length, thickness, and stiffness, and as a bonus, come in a variety of bright colors that fly in the face of SBD’s ubiquitous black and red.
Earlier this year, I purchased a pair of the STrong Sleeves, and I did notice some differences between the two sleeves. Pitted against each other, I’ve compared some key aspects of the sleeves, and ultimately, I’ve decided which sleeve I like better.
The easiest thing to compare is the cost to purchase these sleeves. SBDs will run you about $90 per pair of sleeves, whereas STrong Sleeves will save you about $10 with their $80 price tag. However, it isn’t uncommon for Mark Bell to run specials for his site which will knock off anywhere from 10-20% of the price, bringing the price down closer to $70. This is pretty significant, given that these sleeves are supposed to be of the same caliber, and as such, STrong Sleeves wins the point here.
If you’re going to be wearing these sleeves for an entire workout, you’re going to want to make sure they’re comfortable. Both sleeves are made of neoprene 7mm in thickness, and, if the right size is bought, the sleeve is going to be tight and provide a whole lot of compression. Interestingly, the biggest difference between the sleeves is the seam, specifically its orientation. The SBDs have a seam which wraps around itself in a spiral, intended to “spread the stress caused by deep knee flexion.” STrong sleeves have their seam along the side, which is intended to “create less irritation.” And to this point, I agree. After about a half hour of squatting and sweating in my SBDs, it becomes itchy and almost unbearable to wear, and I begin to look yearn for the end of my squat session so I can take them off and relieve my knees from their itching sensation. From the first workout in my STrong Sleeves, I noticed immediately this wasn’t a problem. As the weight got heavier, I began to prepare myself for the parathesic feeling typically to come. And to my surprise, it didn’t. Another point to the STrong Sleeves.
While the SBDs have been through the ringer as a result of many squat sessions, my STrong Sleeves are still fairly new, so judging longevity is an issue right now. However, the sturdiness and feel of both sleeves, and the reinforced stitching both sleeves state they use, indicate that these sleeves are made with the highest quality standards in the industry, and as such, I cannot give a point to one or the other.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Ask any powerlifter why they bought knee sleeves, and they’ll be lying to you if they say it’s solely to protect their knees from injury. Let’s be real: we want the claimed “20-50lb” increase to our squat people claim these sleeves will give you. Note: it’s actually only Mark Bell’s STrong Sleeves that claims these sleeves will add pounds to your squat. And not just pounds, significant pounds, going so far as to say that their sleeves are “comparable in strength to a light knee wrap.” And this is where my bullshit alarm starts to go off.
In terms of actually adding pounds to the squat, without a doubt, these sleeves will help to that. 10 pounds? Sure. 20 pounds? Eh, that’s a big maybe. More than that? Forget about it. Anecdotally, I’ve actually found that the SBDs were the pair of sleeves that provided the best performance, especially with heavy weight. I’m able to move more weight for more reps whenever I’m equipped with my SBDs rather than with my STrong Sleeves. Same size, same tightness, significant difference. Maybe that seam design did play a role in the sleeve… Point goes to SBD.
Definitely… depends. If you’re interested in a sleeve that is high quality, comfortable, cost effective, and will assist you in adding some pounds to your squat, then STrong Sleeves easily wins this contest. However, if your main goal is simply to squat the most weight possible, regardless of other factors (and as a powerlifter, that is what you’re trying to do, right?), then SBDs are still the reigning champion of the knee sleeve market. And so, the right answer to the question asked above: Buy both!