Lifting weights can be quite therapeutic if you do it the right way. It can not only provide you a fitter and stronger body but also lift your spirits. However, when it comes to the ‘right way’ to lift weights, you need to do so using proper protection and gear that helps you lift better and safer. Elbow sleeves happen to be one of the best lifting accessories that you’ve got to wear while lifting weights.
These compression sleeves are going to be the primary focus of our article. We shall go into detail and discuss what elbow sleeves are and how do they help you in lifting weights. Besides that, we shall also take a closer look at the science of compression and try and understand the exact mechanism behind how these sleeves function and how they improve your blood flow, helping you lift better.
Many times when people are lifting weights, or participating in a CrossFit session, or playing any professional sport, the elbow tends to be the most stressed joint along with the ankle. This is particularly true with sports such as baseball, tennis, badminton, and cricket where the movement of the elbow joint determines a major part of your technique. Even while lifting weights, a lot of the stress goes on your elbow joint. Hence, it needs to be protected really well.
Over the course of this article, we shall also provide you with an insight on the best elbow sleeves for weightlifting, as well as for some of the other aforementioned purposes. Let us begin by first understanding what these sleeves are:
What are Elbow Sleeves?
Elbow sleeves are basically a tube of stretchable cloth that you wear around your knee. It generally stretches from your lower forearm to your lower tricep, giving your elbows a compression while you are lifting weights. These sleeves ensure that the blood flow is better and that all the required oxygen is reaching your muscles, ensuring you work out better.
The amount of compression that each sleeve offers is also different. The compression, measured in mmHg, is different for different sleeves but the generally accepted limit for lifting weights is somewhere between 15 to 25 mmHg. This is considered the best elbow compression number. However, we’d still recommend you check with your coach and your physio before choosing it.
The thickness also varies from sleeve to sleeve. The thicker your sleeve is, the higher amount of compression it can provide. An elbow sleeve can be a plain block of color or feature a design. It can be short, that is ranging from your lower forearm to your upper tricep, or go all the way from your upper forearm to your lower tricep.
Apart from their importance in lifting weights, these sleeves (which have been in use for over half a century now) are also quite useful in treating problems related to elbow pain such as tennis elbow, dislocated elbow, elbow sprains, Osteoarthritis, among others. While these do not provide a solution to your problem but using the sleeves provides a good amount of compression which makes sure that the blood flows better in these areas and oxygenation of the muscles happens as it should.
Besides their medical use, these sleeves also play an important part in CrossFit training, as well as other physical activities where the elbow is stressed. People who are actively involved in sports also wear these sleeves for better movement of the elbow joint.
What Is An Elbow Sleeve Made Of?
Generally, these sleeves are made of neoprene material, which ensures that they are stretchable but not too loose or too tight. Neoprene is a type of synthetic rubber from which wetsuits are generally made from. Even bags and several other day to day objects carry a neoprene covering.
The material is water-resistant, as well as lightweight. This makes it really important because when you are lifting weights you don’t really want any additional weight on your arms. Another benefit of Neoprene is that it is generally quite soft and does not cause any rashes to your skin.
How Do Elbow Sleeves Function?
When you lift weights, you are essentially using the strength from your triceps and forearms. The two joints that are actively involved in this process are your elbows and your wrists. While your knees also play a major part, but that is only in some cases (more on the knees towards the end of this article). Elbow sleeves provide your forearm and your triceps with compression that leads to an improved blood flow.
When compression is applied to your upper arms and triceps using an elbow compression sleeve, it provides warmth which promotes blood flow to these areas. Better blood flow leads to better oxygenation which means your muscles take a long time to tire and you can lift for longer periods of time.
Summing up, a combination of compression, warmth, and improved blood flow leads to the result that these sleeves provide. Meanwhile, researchers are still researching the long-term benefits of these sleeves and their actual effectiveness.
The Role of Compression in Weightlifting
Studies performed by the University of Calgary have come to the conclusion that “compression of muscles may enhance performance”, which happens due to “improved oxygenation during short-term exercise”.
In addition to that, you also provide mechanical support to your elbows when you are using an elbow compression sleeve. That is because when you crunch the elbow joint inwards, you are basically compressing it and causing energy to be stored in the elastic material of the band, providing compression support. This energy is then released when you decompress your elbow, making it easier for it to go downwards.
Compression, along with heat retention, helps provide better oxygen to those specific muscles. This makes sure that you can lift weights in a more efficient manner, as well as for a longer time. If you are looking for the best elbow compression sleeves for weightlifting, we strongly suggest you check out Iron Bull’s sleeves, which are comfortable as well as effective.
Benefits of Using Elbow Compression Sleeves
Now that you know how exactly are these sleeves helpful when it comes to lifting weights, let us take a closer look at all the benefits that they have to offer. In these points, you’d notice that three things are repeated: compression, oxygenation, and blood flow. This is because all the benefits that these sleeves provide stem from these three primary factors. Here’s a closer look:
The first major benefit of using an elbow compression sleeve is that it helps you improve your athletic performance. Not just weightlifting, but for whatever purpose you are using these sleeves for, your performance is bound to see an improvement. This could be anything ranging from rock climbing to gymnastics to CrossFit training to sports. This is because these sleeves allow your muscles to stay oxygenated for longer periods and hence they do not face muscle fatigue, allowing you to exercise your muscles for a longer period of time.
Another benefit that you get from wearing elbow compression sleeves is that they improve your blood flow. Healthy circulation is what your muscles require in order to stay fit. The better the blood circulation, the better the oxygen levels. Besides, this is also quite important when it comes to recoveries as muscles that are oxygenated better and have a healthy blood flow tend to recover faster.
Elbow sleeves also help to warm up your elbow and in retaining the heat. This is another reason that adds to the improved blood flow, leading to improved oxygenation, and thus better performance. This also makes it a good winter-time accessory. Incrediwear makes a really warm winter-time elbow sleeve for anyone who wishes to wear one during the season.
Another really important thing and something that we pointed out right at the starting of this article was that wearing an elbow compression sleeve can help reduce the risk of injuries. The sleeves protect your muscle as well as the connective tissue, helping you work out in a safer manner.
Lastly, if you happen to be suffering from a muscle or a joint injury near your elbow, these elbow compression sleeves are an absolute Godsend! The sleeves not only help you keep your elbow in one place, but also provide assistance to the joint and reduce the pain. Also, as we pointed out above, the more the blood flow, the better the oxygenation, the faster the recovery!
How to Wear Elbow Sleeves?
Now that you know what are the benefits that these elbow compression sleeves offer, one must also know what is the right way to wear them. While these are relatively simple accessories, you’ll be surprised at how many people often end up wearing them in the wrong way and hurting themselves. While these sleeves can be very helpful if worn the right way, getting them the wrong way could actually be quite counterproductive.
Usually, you will get elbow sleeves where both, the entry as well as the exit points of the sleeve are of the same size. However, in some cases it is simpler to identify, the broader hole is usually the one from which your hand goes in and the smaller hole is the one from which it comes out. In case of the same size, you’ll have to rely on the design to know which side goes on top. Mava Sports makes some of the best elbow compression sleeves which come in a large number of size variants too, ranging from S to XXL.
Keep pulling the sleeve up until the upper end of the elbow sleeve reaches the center of your tricep. Post that pat it down to ensure that there are no creases. Try pulling it in circles to make sure it fits you smoothly. The bottom end of your sleeve should be in the center of your forearm and you need to adjust it a little so it fits comfortably.
Lastly, try flexing your muscles a little and try moving your elbow around so that you know that you are getting the best possible fit and that it does not restrict your movement while you work out.
Buyer’s Guide to the Best Elbow Sleeves for Weightlifting
By this point, we have provided you with a lot of details about what elbow sleeves are and why are they useful, as well as how to wear them. However, let us now turn our attention towards how to buy the best sleeve for all your lifting needs. There are certain factors that need to be kept in mind and here’s a quick checklist of everything that you need to keep in mind when you buy an elbow sleeve:
One of the first things that need to be considered when buying an elbow sleeve is the material. If the material is not stretchy enough, it might not be useful because what is the point of getting a sleeve that does not provide sufficient compression? Besides that, getting a material that causes you to sweat or gives you some sort of a skin rash is also not recommended. Hence, choose the material that your sleeves are made out of wisely.
2. Compression Level
A very important thing is the compression level. Generally, a compression level of about 15 to 25 mmHg is acceptable in most sporting events and is considered to be the best option for athletes. This level of compression is neither too tight nor too loose and allows your elbow to get the perfect range of motion. However, this depends from person to person and their individual needs and comfort levels. We advise you to check with your coach and physio once before you buy a compression sleeve. \
If you are looking forward to buying a high-compression elbow sleeve that offers you support to deal with an injury, you might want to check out this elbow sleeve from Shock Doctor, which comes with gel support to make things better for your recovery.
3. Muscle Size
The best elbow sleeve is one that is just the perfect fit for your tricep and forearm muscles. In order to get the right size measurement, make sure you are measuring your muscle at its broadest point. The best elbow compression sleeves are ones that provide a snug fit and good compression. This can only be achieved when you know the precise size of your muscles. When it comes to a Snug Fit, we strongly believe that Copper Fit makes some really good sleeves.
4. Sleeve Length
Different people prefer wearing elbow compression sleeves of different lengths. Some people prefer their sleeves to begin at the upper tricep and end at the lower forearm while others might prefer it to begin at the lower tricep and terminate at their upper forearm. This is a matter of individual preference and you might want to choose your sleeve based on what you find to be comfortable.
5. Slip Resistance
Slip resistance is one more aspect of elbow compression sleeves that often goes ignored. You cannot risk buying a sleeve that can slip off mid-exercise. Make sure that your sleeve stays firmly attached to your arm and in case you experience frequent slips, it’s time to change to a different brand.
6. Stitching Quality
Getting a double-stitched elbow compression sleeve is always preferred because when you are using these sleeves for weightlifting, your muscles will expand and contract quite a bit and there will be quite a lot of stress on the sleeve. Sometimes, this might lead to the sleeve tearing through. A double-stitched sleeve will make sure that it is strong enough and will last you for a while.
You also need to know exactly why you want to buy elbow compression sleeves. Are these sleeves for weightlifting? are they for sports? are they for a medical reason? Different sleeves have specific purposes behind their design and hence we strongly recommend you to understand that before you buy them. For instance, if you are looking for a sports-specific elbow compression sleeve, we strongly recommend you to look out for the Kunto Fitness Elbow Brace Compression Support Sleeve which is designed to meet all your sporting needs.
Different sleeves are made in different designs. Some of them come in plain blacks while others come with a single logo. Some might feature stripes while others might feature different designs. Choose the sleeve that meets your gym attire the best.
Last but not the least, getting hold of a good elbow compression sleeve is not really a costly affair. However, if you are someone who needs to change them frequently, you might want to set a budget before you start buying them.
Elbow Wraps vs Elbow Sleeves: What is the Difference?
Elbow sleeves and Elbow wraps are two different things but people often confuse them for the same. While they serve a similar purpose, which is providing compression and mechanical support to your elbow, there’s actually quite a difference between the two.
An elbow sleeve provides compression, but the compression levels are not adjustable. This is basically an elbow compression sleeve that has to be slid up and worn. That’s pretty much it. In the case of an elbow wrap, you can actually tie it around your elbow and tighten or loosen it a little to increase or decrease the level of compression.
The primary difference between an elbow wrap and an elbow sleeve is that an elbow wrap provides less compression but more mechanical support. The inverse is true for an elbow compression sleeve, as it provides a higher compression but lower mechanical support. An elbow wrap makes it easy for you to lift stuff by providing your arm with additional energy that is stored in it when it is compressed. An elbow sleeve makes it easy for you to lift weights by ensuring your muscles do not tire out easily.
Using Elbow Sleeves for Purposes Other Than Weightlifting
Elbow sleeves can be used for multiple purposes other than weightlifting too. These are broadly CrossFit training, sports, and medical purposes. Each of them makes use of an elbow compression sleeve in different manners. Let us observe each three of them closely:
Elbow Sleeves for Crossfit
CrossFit training is all about strength, balance, and power. It requires you to use your body’s strength to train your body. There are many basic exercises that follow a more natural rhythm in the case of CrossFit. This form of exercising is more about flexibility than anything else. Using elbow compression sleeves here is a great way to provide your elbow with some additional support. The more well-oxygenated your muscles are, the longer you will last without really getting tired or fatigued out.
Elbow Sleeves for Sports
While compression sleeves for weightlifting have been around for a very long time, it has been observed that people are finding quite the use case for these sleeves in sports too. These sports elbow sleeves are particularly useful when it comes to sports where the elbow joint and the forearms are stressed the most. This includes sports such as tennis, badminton, baseball, golf, and cricket among others.
By improving the blood circulation to your muscles, these sleeves make sure that you can perform longer without tiring out, which is very important when it comes to performing in a competitive sporting event. The aforementioned Kunto Fitness elbow brace is a really good option for those looking for a sports-specific compression sleeve. However, Nordic lifting elbow sleeves are another good option.
Elbow Sleeves for Medical Aid
There are a number of ailments pertaining to the elbow and the forearms and triceps area that can be prevented if one uses a good quality elbow sleeve. Problems such as tennis elbow, suffered by top athletes around the world such as Serena Williams and Sachin Tendulkar, can be prevented if one uses an elbow sleeve. It can also provide relief once the problem has sunk in.
Anyone looking forward to buying elbow sleeves for medical aid purposes must totally consider these compression sleeves from the Crucial Compression Store, which help you recover better and faster. A number of top athletes have suffered elbow injuries, including names such as Tiger Woods and John Cena, and using elbow sleeves is something that is bound to have helped them as well.
Besides sports-related medical aid, even those who are suffering from problems such as arthritis or muscle injury around the triceps could find comfort in using elbow sleeves.
How to Find an Elbow Sleeve of the Right Size?
When you are buying an elbow compression sleeve you must make sure it is neither too tight nor too loose for you. Getting something too tight would increase compression and thereby cause aches as well as problems related to blood circulation. Getting something too loose won’t really help, and would also be counterproductive as it would keep slipping away.
So in order to get an elbow sleeve that fits you right, try and measure your forearm at its widest point. Measuring it from any other point won’t provide you with a good fit. Get something that is thick and double-stitched as that will provide durability as well as warmth.
Talking of size, elbow sleeves come in various lengths too. We would recommend you get a longer one that starts at your upper forearm and terminates at your lower tricep. However, it is your call at the end so go with whatever you find comfortable.
A Look at Knee Compression Sleeves
While elbow compression sleeves are the main topic at hand, they also go well along with knee compression sleeves, particularly when you are into powerlifting or weightlifting. As much pressure goes into your elbows, a similar amount of pressure also goes into your knees, particularly when squatting.
Along with your elbow joints, you also need to take care of your knee joints and we strongly recommend you get a pair of knee wraps or knee compression sleeves to go along with your elbow sleeves or wraps. These knee wraps and sleeves again provide compression to your upper leg and knees, improving the blood circulation in the region.
Knee compression sleeves also help provide a mechanical support to your knee which is great when it comes to lifting the weights and rising after the squat. The energy that is stored in the knee compression sleeve while you go down is released when you move up, thereby lowering the stress on your knees.
Pros and Cons of Elbow Sleeves
Summing up, let us quickly take a look at some of the pros and cons of using elbow sleeves before we move towards the FAQs and the conclusion:
- An elbow compression sleeve improves the blood circulation in your muscles
- Elbow compression sleeves help you improve muscle oxygenation
- Those dealing with arthritis, osteoporosis, tennis elbow, and other muscle or joint-related injuries or ailments can get comfort
- Elbow sleeves help retain the heat
- Elbow sleeves reduce the risk of an injury during a workout
- Using these sleeves will ensure your muscles don’t tire out quickly
- An elbow compression sleeve can get quite hot, particularly in the summers
- These sleeves are hard to put on if you are sweaty
- Do not have an adjustable compression level like elbow wraps
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Elbow Sleeves
Here’s a collection of some of the most common and frequently asked questions that we get about elbow sleeves. We have collated them together and placed them here for your ease:
1. Can I wash my elbow compression sleeve?
Yes, you can and you must. Elbow compression sleeves can be washed in warm water and hung out to dry. Given that working out generates a lot of sweat, it is essential to wash your elbow compression sleeve every few days so that it does not stink.
2. What is better: an elbow wrap or an elbow sleeve?
Both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, elbow sleeves are better when it comes to basic lifting as well as when you are recovering from an injury, or need better muscle performance during an intense physical activity like sports or CrossFit. In the case of an elbow wrap, it is suitable only for lifting weights.
When it comes to an elbow compression sleeve for sports, we strongly recommend you to take a closer look at the Sparthos Elbow Compression Sleeves, which are a great option for tennis and golf. These sleeves also come in four different color variants, which is another plus.
3. How much do these sleeves generally cost?
A pair of elbow compression sleeves, thankfully, isn’t really an expensive purchase and usually costs between $10-$20, unless you are going for something that is really fancy. It is an affordable accessory that is going to improve your overall gymming and lifting experience quite significantly!
4. Where can I buy elbow sleeves?
Elbow compression sleeves are one of the most common gym accessories. They can be found at practically any shop which sells gymming equipment or supplies. These sleeves can also be found in general stores and medical stores.
Another great place to buy elbow compression sleeves is from online stores such as Amazon. Given the raging global pandemic, it is best suited to purchase elbow sleeves online.
5. Do I need to consult my coach before I wear elbow compression sleeves?
Yes, you must always consult a coach or a physiotherapist before you buy compression sleeves because they can give you the best custom advice based on your individual needs on whether or not you should be getting these sleeves for lifting weights.
Summing up, a pair of elbow compression sleeves is something that your elbows and forearms are going to thank you for a really long time, especially if you are into heavy lifting or are a powerlifter. The best elbow compression sleeves provide you with comfort, energy, and safety. These sleeves are a common sight across gyms and lifting centers all over the world and we strongly recommend you to go out there and get one for yourself. If you have any more questions about these sleeves, feel free to let us know in the comments or send us a mail and we shall get back to you as soon as we can. Till then…
…Happy Lifting! 🙂