Product Review: STrong Sleeves vs SBDs

What is the best knee sleeve for powerlifting?

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.

Cost

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.

Comfort

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.

Quality

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.

Performance

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.

Winner

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!

SBD Sleeves from Anderson Powerlifting

STrong Sleeves from HowMuchYaBench.net

The Complete Guide to Equipment You Need to Maximize Your Powerlifting Training (and some additional equipment that’s helpful as well)

As powerlifting gains in popularity, many ask: what powerlifting equipment do I need in order to optimize my training to its fullest potential? What powerlifting gear should I buy, and when do I absolutely need it? With the growing number of products being targeted towards powerlifters, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. That is why I put together a list of all of the absolutely necessary equipment you need in order to maximize your powerlifting training (as well as some additional equipment that I’ve found helpful as well). Keep in mind, this is not a list of things needed for a powerlifting competition (AKA powerlifting meets)! That will be covered in another blog post later on.

So without further ado, let’s jump right in with the most important piece of equipment you’ll be needing for your powerlifting career…

Leather Powerlifting Belt

Above everything else, the number one thing you can add to your powerlifting arsenal is a good, quality, leather belt. Belts come in many varieties of thicknesses, cuts, colors, and tightening mechanisms, but essentially, you want a 10mm or 13mm thick leather belt, either single or double prong, with a standard, non-tapered cut. Some athletes prefer a lever belt, which utilizes a lever to tighten and release the belt from around your waist, but I’ve found that (1): levers are a pain in the ass to adjust, if your body is in the process of gaining or losing weight, (2): levers break, and (3): they are generally priced a little higher than pronged belts.

As far as thickness is concerned, you’ll get a lot more stiffness and resistance from a 13 mm belt, but many find 10 mm to be just as effective, and a lot more comfortable to use.

Some of the best belt manufacturers are listed below, and prices for a good belt will run you anywhere from $60 to $200+. Keep in mind, though, that a good belt will last a lifetime.

Inzer Belts

Pioneer Belts

Wahlander Belts

Titan Belts

Powerlifting Knee Sleeves

Some lifters believe they have no need for knee sleeves until they start lifting “heavier” weights. However, I’m more of the opinion that knee sleeves should first be used as an injury preventative before they’re used as a performance enhancer. Knee sleeves will provide your knees with warmth and compression, which aids the lifter in preventing knee injuries. Sleeves for powerlifitng are made of neoprene foam, and can range in thickness from 3-7mm thick, with 7mm providing the most support and warmth. Companies like Rehband have been around for years, supplying lifters with quality knee sleeves intended for this purpose.

More advanced lifters, however, are now turning to certain companies making knee sleeves that not only provide support, but also act as “spring-like” tools to help lifters squat more. Sleeves which are tight fitting and sturdy will store elastic energy as a lifter descends into the bottom of a squat; when the lifter reverses directions, these sleeves will slightly propel the lifter up, and make squatting out of the hole that much easier. SBD makes knee sleeves that are often utilized for this purpose, and recently, Slingshot by Mark Bell has released their version of this sleeve (the STrong sleeves). Which are better? Read my post “SBD vs STrong Sleeves: Which is the Best Knee Sleeve?” to find out my opinion on this matter.

Rehband Knee Sleeves

Slingshot Knee Sleeves

STrong Sleeves

SBD Sleeves

Powerlifting Shoes

Each of the three lifts can take advantage of different kinds of shoes available to lifters, and depending on how much you want to spend, you could have as many as three different pairs of shoes in your bag. Shoes with a thin sole will help your deadlifts, while shoes with a heel may help your squat. If you’re interested in a catch all shoewear, look for something with a flat, sturdy base that can grip the floor well.

Many powerlifters start off with and swear by Converse Chucks, since they can be used pretty well in all three lifts. However, you may find that Chucks don’t necessarily excel as shoewear for any one particular lift, and instead are just OK. If you’re looking to optimize the shoes for the lift, you may want to invest a little more money into your shoes.

Squat shoes, like Romaleos or Adipowers, have a flat base, but a raised heel. These can assist squatters that have poor ankle mobility, making it easier to hit the required competition depth. These are great for squatters that have a more narrow stance, or prefer to squat high bar. Squat shoes may also be used by the lifter in the bench press, as it allows for a bigger, tighter arch, since the lifter can pull their feet back further without their heels coming off the ground (per the rules of the USAPL and IPF).

Deadlifting shoes are shoes that typically have a thin sole, are very flat, and, for sumo pullers, are very grippy. Shoes such as the Crossfit Lite TR Training Shoes, or even specialty shoes like deadlift slippers, both meet this requirement.

Adidas Adipowers

Crossfit Lite TR Training Shoes

Converse Chucks

Chalk

The fastest way to improve your grip strength, hands down. Chalk will provide you a better grip, and keep your sweaty hands from dropping the bar in your deadlift. Chalk can also be used on your traps to keep your back from sliding up the bench in a bench press and to keep the bar in place during the squat. It’s cheap, and it’s always a good idea to have an extra block ready to use in your bag at all times. Just make sure that you purchase Magnesium Carbonate, and not Calcium Carbonate (chalkboard chalk). A pound of chalk will set you back about $20.

GSC Gym Chalk

Talc

When deadlifts start to get heavier, you may find yourself having a harder time dragging the bar up your thighs to lockout. The weight of the bar grinding up your sweaty legs makes for a hell of a finisher. As such, a lot of deadlifters use talc or baby powder on their legs to reduce the amount of friction between the bar and the skin, and therefore makes lockout silk smooth. Just be sure not to get any on your hands, as talc will make your grip useless.

Talc is cheap, just like chalk, so there’s really no reason not to have some in your bag at all times.

Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder

Wrist Wraps

Bench pressing puts a ton of strain on the wrists, as does low-bar squatting. Adding wrist wraps to your gear helps to relieve this strain, while also keeping your wrist in line with the forearms for optimal strength. Wrist wraps are also sometimes used with deadlifts to aid in grip strength. Both Titan and Inzer have top-notch wrist wraps, and Mark Bell’s Gangsta Wraps are gaining prominence in the powerlifting world as well. A good pair of wrist wraps will cost about $30.

Gangsta Wraps

Max RPM Wrist Wraps (My personal favorite)

Signature Gold Wrist Wraps

Straps

When the deadlift volume gets high, and the callouses get torn, it’s always a good idea to have a couple pairs of wrist wraps in your bag to help you finish that workout. They’re cheap, they’re small, and they’re Godsend for volume days.

Basic Lifting Straps

Bands

Bands have multiple purposes that can both assist your lifts and make your lifts more demanding. Through accommodating resistance, you can prepare your body for heavier lifts before you’re actually lifting that much weight. In squats, bench, and deadlifts, you can make the weight much lighter at the bottom portion of the lift, and fairly heavy at the top. Bands are also great for warming up for all three lifts, to prepare your muscles for that movement while preventing injury. I’ll spend about 10 minutes before each session utilizing bands for this purpose.

EliteFTS has a huge selection of bands to choose from, some thin and meant for lighter lifts, some thick and meant to provide super heavy resistance.

EliteFTS Bands


Did I forget anything? Comment below and let me know!