When to Use Lifting Straps

Lifting straps, which wrap around the barbell and attach to the lifter’s wrist, thereby reducing the amount of grip strength required, are a controversial topic. At commercial gyms, you’ll see folks using straps for everything from deadlifts, to rows, to pull-ups, to even bicep curls.

Many personal trainers and strength coaches take the opposite approach, and recommend that lifters NEVER use lifting straps. “If you can’t hold it, you shouldn’t be lifting it” they say, and point to the myriad benefits of a strong grip. While this line of thinking is on the right track, it goes a little too far.

Indeed, lifting straps can be a very useful tool in the right context. While grip strength is incredible important, there are two cases I can think of where someone would be justified in using straps to help their lifting.

Summary: Lifting straps should only be used by very advanced lifters (2x bodyweight deadlift for men, 1.5x for women) looking to accumulate additional volume, or lifters experiencing some sort of hand or lower-arm injury.

To re-iterate: the overwhelming majority of lifters will not need, and should not use, lifting straps. Having a strong grip is incredibly useful, and learning to grip the bar tightly during pulling motions is a crucial element of good form and injury prevention. The following cases are the only two exceptions I support:

Case 1 : Advanced Lifters who are on high-volume pulling programs.

For athletes who are deadlifting at least double bodyweight, using straps may allow you to accumulate significantly more volume than you’d be able to otherwise. For example, here’s a workout from my powerlifting days:

Front Squat 265x3, 280x2, 300x1
Deadlift (barehanded) 465x10, 465x7
Deadlift off 3” blocks (straps) 465x6x2.

Were it not for the use of straps, I may not have gotten nearly as many sets and reps into this workout. While I may have taken my grip to its limit, I would have been unable to take my back, abs, legs, etc. to their full potential. I'll also add that this was the 5th workout in a grueling week of training. Very importantly, notice that the early sets did not use straps – it’s critical that the lifter not become reliant on straps at the expense of grip and forearm strength.  In general, if you’re in doubt, opt to go barehanded.

That said, if you’re an advanced lifter whose deadlift is a little bit stuck, using straps can be a great way to accumulate volume that you might not otherwise have been able to. If you’ve followed the dogmatic “never use straps” approach for a long time, it’s certainly worth changing pace.

 

 

Within this category, I would say that there are only a handful of exercises that even warrant the use of straps. Sorry, but if your grip can’t support pull-ups (even weighted ones), your hands are weak and you need to work on that.

 

  • Heavy deadlifts of any variety: sumo, conventional, block pulls, snatch grip deadlifts, suitcase deadlifts, etc.
  • Heavy barbell or dumbbell rows
  • Shrugs
  • Clean pulls, snatch pulls

Case 2 Athletes with a minor hand or forearm injury.

Occasionally, athletes will suffer hand or forearm injuries, and still want or need to perform strength work while these injuries heal. These injuries might include: a torn callus, minor scrapes or cuts, a finger that got twisted in jiu-jitsu, or a strained forearm muscle. Anything more serious than this, and the lifter probably will need more assistance than just straps.

In summary, lifting straps are a crutch that should rarely be used, except for the most advanced of weight lifters, or for the uncommon occasion of lower-arm injury. In these cases, the use of straps is permissible as it can allow the athlete to do more work. In all other cases, the importance of strong hands and grip cannot be overestimated.

  




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