ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ELBOW SLEEVES Blood flow isn’t the most glamorous part of fitness but it’s one of the most important.
It’s through proper blood flow that your body can meet your muscle tissue’s demand for oxygen. One of the best ways to boost blood flow during exercise is with an elbow sleeve, also called a compression sleeve.
Made from neoprene, the elbow sleeve is a piece of exercise equipment that applies pressure directly to the surrounding muscle and connective tissue of the elbow. The result is increased blood flow and improved workout performance.
Let’s review the benefits of elbow sleeves, the difference between elbow sleeves vs. elbow wraps, and what to look for when buying your first pair.
Table of contents
- What Are Elbow Sleeves?
- Type Of Elbow Sleeves
- Elbow Sleeves Vs. Elbow Wraps
- Benefits Of elbow Sleeves
- When To Use Elbow Sleeves
- How To Put-On Elbow Sleeves
- What To Look For When Buying Elbow Sleeves
- Where Can I Buy Elbow Sleeves
- FAQ – Frequently Asked Question About Elbow Sleeves
- Safer Lifting, Faster Recovery With Elbow Sleeves
1. WHAT ARE ELBOW SLEEVES?
Elbow sleeves are a tight cuff that you pull into place on your arm. They are made from a neoprene material – the same material used in wetsuits – and once they are on, they cover your upper forearm to your lower triceps.
You can think of them like a padded arm sleeve that is tight and snug but not to the point of cutting off circulation. The benefits of elbow sleeves that we’ll discuss below come from this compression on the muscle tissue and joint.
2. TYPES OF ELBOW SLEEVES
There is only one type of elbow sleeve, which is made from neoprene. However, there is also an elbow wrap that is very similar to the elbow sleeve.
The biggest difference between them is that elbow sleeves focus on compressing the tissue while elbow wraps support the joint. We’ll discuss the other difference between elbow sleeves vs. elbow wraps below.
Designed for maximum support, compression, and stability, elbow sleeves or compression sleeves are ideal to support your performance in CrossFit, bodybuilding, and powerlifting.
Elbow sleeves apply direct compression to your muscle tissue and connective tissue. This helps to support athletic performance while reducing post-workout soreness.
Unlike elbow sleeves, elbow wraps are a long piece of elastic nylon. Holding one end in place, you carefully wrap your elbow. Depending on the type of elbow wrap you purchase, you can either tie and tuck the other end or simply lay it across with its Velcro strap.
While elbow wraps do provide a level of compression, they are designed to offer functional support during heavy lifting exercises such as the bench press.
3. ELBOW SLEEVES VS. ELBOW WRAPS
Depending on which type of workouts you are partial to, you might be better suited for an elbow wrap. Here’s more on the major differences between elbow wraps and elbow sleeves, along with which might be better for you.
Since they are made from neoprene, elbow sleeves are the more flexible option. You’re able to perform all of the exercises you normally would with a full range of motion.
Elbow wraps, on the other hand, restrict movement to a degree in order to support the connective tissue during heavy load workouts. For example, during a max weight bench press, the elbow wrap restricts movement to avoid overextension at the wrist and elbow.
Level of Support
Think of support like a building’s scaffolding. It’s the structural support that keeps the building standing. Elbow wraps offer actual support during exercises. As we just mentioned, the restricted movement in the elbow ensures there’s no opportunity for overextension. This is why elbow wraps are ideal for powerlifters and anyone performing heavy load workouts.
Elbow sleeves offer compression more than the described support that elbow wraps provide. The elbow support sleeve applies direct pressure on the tissue, which promotes blood flow and improves workout performance.
It’s not impossible to go for a new personal record using elbow sleeves, but when you’re lifting 100% of your one-repetition maximum, you’ll more than likely want to opt for elbow wraps.
Elbow sleeves couldn’t be easier to put on. You simply pull them up your arm, ensuring the elbow is completely covered, then jump into your workout.
Elbow wraps have a learning curve. You have to practice properly wrapping the elastic nylon strap so that it is supports your elbow without being too restrictive. Mastering that “not-too-loose” and “not-too-tight” balance takes time, patience, and practice.
Knee wraps are a great example of this. When you overwrap your knees, you can’t perform a squat. When the wrap is too loose, you can get stuck at the bottom of the isometric portion. You want your movement to be restricted to prevent overextension but not so much that your form is shot and you can’t perform the exercise.
You’ve probably already noticed a trend with sleeves vs. wraps: One is going to be a lot better than the other for certain types of workouts.
In general, for workouts that require full range of motion and quick maneuvering without the need of determining your one-repetition maximum, elbow sleeves are the recommended option. CrossFit, bodybuilding, and weight loss workouts are great examples of when an elbow sleeve would be helpful.
On the flip side, if your focus is to go big or go home, an elbow wrap will be what you should gravitate towards. Elbow wraps are ideal for powerlifting, Strongman, or any type of workout where you’re lifting near your one-repetition maximum and trying to set new personal records on a regular basis.
4. BENEFITS OF ELBOW SLEEVES
Compression garments have been a hot topic in numerous fitness studies. Here are a few of the proven benefits of elbow sleeves and why you should start using a pair during your workouts.
Promotes Blood Flow
Studies show that compression garments like elbow sleeves help to increase blood flow and healthy circulation.
This can help to address the high demand for oxygen during intense workouts. Better blood flow also helps with nutrient uptake post-workout. This ensures that muscle-building nutrients get to where they need to go for optimal recovery. 
Warms Up Your Elbow
Warming up your body in preparation for the workout to follow improves your overall performance and decreases your risk for injury.
Compression sleeves have been shown to safely increase the temperature of the tissue it’s surrounding. In the case of elbow sleeves, the muscle and connective tissue will be sufficiently warmed up and ready to go. 
Improves Athletic Performance
Compression sleeves have long been known to enhance proprioception or awareness of the movement of the body. But to take it one step further, recent studies have shown that this increase in proprioception transfers to an improvement in sports skill performance.
One study focused on golfers and baseball players. Researchers found that subjects who wore compression sleeves improved both their accuracy and overall athletic performance. 
Reduces Risk of Injury
Elbow sleeves can effectively decrease your risk for injury in a few key ways:
First, by putting on a pair of elbow sleeves before your workout, you enhance healthy circulation and proper blood flow.
Second, elbow sleeves help you prepare for the workout to follow by warming up the covered muscular and connective tissue.
Finally, elbow sleeves allow for healthy range of motion while offering the ideal amount of support during bodybuilding, CrossFit, and weightlifting workouts.
The benefits of elbow sleeves continue after you step out of the gym. Studies show that compression sleeves have a significantly positive effect on muscle and connective tissue post-workout, promoting recovery.
In fact, one study emphasized the necessity of compression garments for intense workouts that focus on eccentric movements such as squats and deadlifts. These exercises are front and center in CrossFit and powerlifting workouts. 
READY TO REAP THE BENEFITS?
5. WHEN TO USE ELBOW SLEEVES
Still not sure whether a pair of elbow sleeves can help you during your workouts? Here are a few examples of when elbow sleeves will really come in handy.
CrossFit and Cross Training
If there was ever the perfect workout for elbow sleeves, it’s CrossFit or other cross training-style workouts.
CrossFit focuses on full body exercises and Olympic lifting at a fast yet safe tempo. You need full range of motion along with a healthy level of compression and support. Neoprene elbow sleeves deliver.
Delivering the ideal amount of elbow compression, these sleeves boost blood flow without restricting movement. They will also keep your connective tissue warmed up and ready to go no matter what the WOD is.
Admittedly, elbow wraps are going to be better suited for powerlifting workouts that focus on new personal records or constantly using close to your one-repetition maximum.
One way you could use elbow sleeves during a PR-focused workout would be to put them on during the warm-up and cool-down. Studies show that elbow sleeves are extremely effective at warming up the muscle and connective tissue along with taking it through a proper cool-down state.
With that said, if you’re only performing powerlifting-style workouts without the constant need to continuously increase the weight you’re using, elbow sleeves can be helpful.
Elbow sleeves can support your triceps and forearms along with the connective tissue in your elbow during the classic powerlifting exercises, bench press and deadlift.
CrossFit exercises put you at an increased risk of tendonitis or tennis elbow from the rapid pace of the workouts combined with Olympic movements. Traditional bodybuilding workouts, on the other hand, have a different problem: overuse injuries.
Following a periodization bodybuilding program, you can easily cycle through sets that involve 20 to 30 repetitions.
For this reason, a pair of elbow sleeves can help you to prepare for the workload that follows and protect you from repetitive strain injuries.
6. HOW-TO PUT-ON ELBOW SLEEVES
Putting on an elbow sleeve is simple; it’s the elbow wraps that can be complicated.
- Put your arm through the cuff.
- Pull the sleeve up your arm until the top is in the middle of your tricep.
- Smooth out the sleeve.
- Take note to make sure your elbow is completely covered and the bottom of the sleeve is on your forearm.
- Flex your arm a few times to help the sleeve adjust to your body.
Note on Elbow Sleeve Tightness
Some people recommend buying a size smaller than your actual size. The logic behind this is that it helps the elbow sleeve stay tighter for a longer period of time.
We believe that if it’s a high-quality elbow sleeve, you don’t need to go down a size. The compression should last for a long time regardless of how many times you wear it per week. We also offer a detailed sizing guide for our sleeves, which should help take the confusion out of buying the right size for you.
7. WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING ELBOW SLEEVES
Not all elbow sleeves are the created the same. Below, we’ll cover some of the details to look for when buying a pair of compression sleeves.
The gold standard of elbow sleeve material is neoprene. This is what provides the needed compression. It also helps to safely increase the temperature of the muscle and connective tissue that is covers. If it’s made from anything else, don’t bother with it.
You need to find a pair of elbow sleeves that continue providing compression despite the intensity of your workout. Typically, the thicker neoprene elbow sleeves tend to have greater elasticity, bouncing back after being stretched out for several hours each week.
Continuing with the point above, you want a piece of fitness equipment that’s going to go the long haul. When it comes to elbow sleeves, you want a durable pair – one made with thick neoprene. But you can also extend the life of the sleeves with proper care and washing. We’ll discuss more below on how to properly wash your elbow sleeves.
We’ve talked about this throughout the article, but it bears repeating: Elbow sleeves are amazing, but they aren’t ideal for every type of workout. Here’s a list of common workouts and the type of elbow sleeve that would work best:
- Powerlifting: Elbow Wrap
- CrossFit: Elbow Sleeve
- Bodybuilding: Elbow Sleeve
- Strongman: Elbow Wrap
- Weight Loss-Focused: Elbow Sleeve
- One-Rep Max Training: Elbow Wraps
- Weekend Sports (e.g., flag football): Elbow Sleeves
8. WHERE CAN I BUY ELBOW SLEEVES?
Iron Bull Strength offers one of the industry’s leading elbow sleeves. And if you’re a powerlifter or Strongman, we also have elite-quality elbow wraps.
Iron Bull Strength features a 5mm neoprene flex-material elbow sleeve that is designed to provide stability, support, and compression during your toughest workouts.
Whether you’re going to crush that WOD or your goal is maximum hypertrophy, you’ll be able to confidently go after your goals with warm muscles and connective tissue.
Best of all, there’s no second guessing your size. We provide a detailed sizing guide and a contoured fit for perfect joint compression and warmth. With their optimal breathability and comfort, you’ll love these elbow sleeves.
At 40”, the Iron Bull elbow wraps provide you with the ideal amount of length to control the tension and tightness of your wrap. We also provide you with locked and loaded security with our hook and loop Velcro system. You get peace of mind every time you wrap up – No need to worry about the knot coming undone as you’re holding several hundred pounds above your head.
Our elbow wraps protect your elbows and help you lift more weight. Easily adjustable, you get the perfect amount of compression you need every single time – not to mention next-level support.
Let’s talk quality: It doesn’t get much better than our wraps. Every pair is made with the strongest neoprene material along with a no-joke Velcro security system. Elastic, durable, and stylish – What else do you need?
9. FAQ – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ELBOW SLEEVES
1. What size of elbow sleeve should I buy?
As we mentioned above, some brands or fitness experts will tell you to go down a size. We don’t think you should have to do that. In fact, going down a size to prevent stretching out the material might end up quickening the rate of deterioration.
You can check out our custom sizing guide to help you figure out what size elbow sleeve is ideal for you.
2. Can an elbow sleeve help with tendonitis?
Absolutely. If you follow the RICE formula for recovery, the “C” stands for compression. An elbow sleeve is an excellent way to reduce tension and inflammation on the tissue surrounding the elbow.
Just be sure to use an elbow sleeve in combination with rest, ice, and elevation. Also, visit your doctor or physical therapist for an appropriate stretching and strengthening program for the muscles in the forearm, elbow, triceps, and biceps.
3. How often should I wash my elbow sleeves?
This is going to depend on what type of workout you’re getting yourself into. If you’re constantly covered in sweat and chalk dust, you’re going to need to wash them more frequently.
Do NOT toss them in with your other laundry when they are still soaked in sweat and chalk. To naturally kill the bacteria from your gym and sterilize your sleeves, we recommend soaking them in a diluted white vinegar solution.
And while you can put them in with your normal clothes on a light wash setting, we would prefer if you handwashed the sleeves and let them air dry. This will greatly extend the life of the compression sleeves.
4. Will my elbow sleeves eventually stretch out and become too loose?
Without proper care, it is possible that the sleeves will lose their elastic snap. But it’s super easy to avoid this. Here are a few ways to properly care for your sleeves so they stay snappy and durable:
- Don’t wash them in a machine – Especially on a rough spin cycle that is designed for large objects like comforters
- Don’t dry them in a machine – Especially on high heat as this will quickly breakdown the neoprene
- Don’t continuously pre-stretch the sleeves before putting them on
- Only wear them when you need them
5. Can I wear my elbow sleeves for the entire workout?
Continuing with the last point from above, you should only wear the elbow sleeves when you need them. Depending on your workout, this may very well be for the entire workout from the warm-up to the cool-down.
However, you should not be wearing your elbow sleeves around the house unless it’s recommended by a doctor. For example, if you have tendonitis, your doctor may recommend wearing the sleeves for an hour a day while elevating the arm.
10. SAFER LIFTING, FASTER RECOVERY WITH ELBOW SLEEVES
We want you to crush those PR goals. We also want you to stay injury-free. Elbow sleeves are an invaluable piece of fitness gear that gets your body ready for the workout to follow and improve performance during that workout. Best of all, they keep you safe so you can return to the gym to kick ass again.
Elbow sleeves pay for themselves time and time again. Any serious lifter should have a pair in his or her gym bag.
- Lim CS, Davies AH. Graduated compression stockings. CMAJ. 2014;186(10):E391-E398. doi:10.1503/cmaj.131281.
- Kraemer, WJ, Bush, JA et al. 1998, ‘Influence of compression garment on repetitive power output production before and after different types of muscle fatigue’, Sports Medicine, Training and Rehabilitation, 8, pp. 163–84.
- Hooper DR, Dulkis LL, Secola PJ, et al. Roles of an Upper-Body Compression Garment on Athletic Performances. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(9):2655-2660. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000909.
- Hettchen M, Glöckler K, von Stengel S, et al. Effects of Compression Tights on Recovery Parameters after Exercise Induced Muscle Damage: A Randomized Controlled Crossover Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:5698460. Published 2019 Jan 8. doi:10.1155/2019/5698460.