First off, why should you use lifting straps?
The point of lifting straps is to lessen the demands of the grip allows the lifter to focus more on other aspects of a lift.
The specifics depend on what your pursuit is. A competitive powerlifter will use straps for a different purpose than an average gym-goer who wants to pack on some muscle.
The tricky part is: when would you want to do this?
There’s not really a black and white answer to this question. Because it depends on what your training goals are overall, as well as what you’re trying to accomplish with a given session and with a particular exercise.
So let’s go through a few different scenarios to help you get an idea of how to start thinking about this stuff. This will help you figure out when you ought to use straps in your own training and, consequently, which straps will best suit your needs.
A powerlifter’s goal is simple -- get as strong as possible in the Big 3: squat, deadlift, and bench press. Given that grip strength isn’t a limiting factor in the squat and bench press, powerlifters use straps for deadlifts and accessory work.
For example, if you have a particularly grip heavy training session you may want to conserve your grip at times so you don’t stifle the amount of total training volume by prematurely exhausting your grip.
Or you may just want to go heavier on your deadlifts than you could otherwise to help your body get used to heavier loads.
I’ll give you another example. Say using a mixed grip for deadlifting has made your elbow a bit cranky. You could use straps to continue deadlifting heavy until your elbow recovers (provided a double overhand grip doesn’t exacerbate the issue). This way you can keep training hard without pissing off your elbow more.
Keep in mind though, you can’t use straps during a powerlifting meet. So make sure you do a fair amount of your deadlifting without straps. Besides, the more you can lift without straps the more you can lift without straps and vice versa.
For Olympic lifters, the principle is the same. If a lifter wants to build up a certain aspect of the lift without tiring out their grip they’ll use straps. This can be especially useful if a lift is solely being done to practice technique.
Olympic lifting isn’t about who’s strongest, it’s about who can lift the most weight. This is a subtle, but important point. Granted, the same could be said for powerlifting.
However, the Olympic lifts are significantly more technical, so this concept becomes more important with Olympic lifting. Between two lifters with identical levels of strength, the lifter with better technique will lift more weight. As such, Olympic lifters need loads of technique practice under their belt i.e., lots and lots of reps.
In this case, straps will allow you to put in a lot more heavy technique practice without banging up your hands.
Since the goal is to move as much weight as possible on the platform, the specifics of when an Olympic lifter uses straps is going to depend on what weak points they need to shore up. However, the principle is the same as we’ve discussed -- if you’re grip is limiting your ability to tackle your weak points as hard as you want, use straps. Unless your weak point is your grip of course, in which case you’ll want to do a good amount of strapless grip specific work.
Lastly, like powerlifting, straps might be used for accessory work.
For those looking to build muscle the answer is more definitive. With Olympic lifting and powerlifting the answer to, “When should I wear straps?” is very much “it depends”. However, when the goal is to simply to build muscle, using straps is pretty cut and dry.
Since you don’t care about grip strength so long as it doesn’t limit your capacity to build muscle, you don’t really have to worry about your grip strength lagging behind too much.
Use straps anytime you find grip limits your ability to optimally hit the target muscle. For example, when doing Dumbbell Rows, many have a hard time really feeling their latissimus dorsi contract because their biceps and forearms take over. This means the row isn’t nearly as effective at building upper back mass as it could be.
You can get a better mind-muscle connection with your lats when your grip is spared. This makes the exercise more effective.
Furthermore, your lats are bigger and stronger than your forearms. This means the grip will fatigue before you’ve optimally worked your lats. Can you build a massive upper back without straps? Sure. But you’re probably leaving some back gains on the table by doing so.
Another good use for straps is when doing Meadows rows.
Because you hold the fat end of the barbell, straps are necessary to reap all the benefits of this lift. A thicker bar is harder to hold on to. Without straps you’ll be greatly limiting the amount of weight you can use and, consequently, the amount of tension you can put on the upper back.
Another common example concerns the deadlift and the mixed grip. Using a mixed grip for deadlifting is tricky because it adds asymmetry to the deadlift. This increases the risk of things going wrong.
In professional powerlifting bicep tears are a valid concern of using a mixed grip. However, recreational lifters and bodybuilders probably don’t need to worry about thattoo much since they’re not going nearly as heavy or hard on the deadlift (or at least they shouldn’t be). Even so, a mixed grip can result in undesirable muscle/strength imbalances. And I’d be remiss to claim using a mixed grip is the safest option.
That said, eventually your double overhand grip strength will hinder how much you can deadlift. You’ll need to upgrade your grip to continue getting stronger. Other than mixed grip, you’re left with two options: use a hook grip or lifting straps for your heavy sets.
Hook grip avoids the pitfalls of mixed grip while yielding the same grip enhancing benefits. However, there’s a trade off. It’s painful. If you’re Ok with that, go for it. In my opinion though, if your sole focus is on building muscle, straps are the preferable option here unless you’re a masochist.
Straps shouldn’t be used as a crutch for a weak grip. So make sure you’re not letting your ego run the show here. You have to be intentional.
Ask yourself what the goal of a particular exercise is within the context of your broader training goals. Then ask if straps are going to contribute or detract from what you want to achieve with that exercise.
For example, don’t use straps for thick bar deadlifts. The only purpose of thick bar deadlifts is to fortify your grip. So wearing straps during this lift is counterproductive.
Bodybuilders don’t need to worry about overusing their straps too much. Olympic Lifters and powerlifters on the other hand need to be more strategic.
The last thing you want to use straps for is to inflate your ego during training only to have your numbers on the platform suffer because you haven’t put in enough time training without straps
To reiterate, don’t use straps as a substitute for a weak grip. Use them strategically to overload specific muscle groups or specific aspects of a particular lift. Using them indiscriminately or to satisfy your ego is ultimately going to hold you back.
You still need to build a strong grip to get the most benefit out of straps. The more you can lift without straps the more you can lift with straps. So again, have a very clear purpose about why you’re using straps in a given instance as it pertains to your goals. As long as you do that, straps are a great addition to your training tool kit
There are a few different models of lifting straps to choose from. Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages. This means they lend themselves better to certain purposes/lifts. So it’s important to know what you want to get out of lifting straps before choosing which style to opt with. There are 3 different styles of lifting straps: Close Loop, Lasso, and Figure 8.
These offer the least grip assistance. The advantage here is they allow you to easily ditch the bar as you would without straps. Consequently, this is the best option for the Olympic lifts.
The exception to this is the clean. Any kind of lifting strap (even close loop) will interfere too much with the front rack position so it’s advisable not to use straps for this lift.
These are the middle ground. They offer more stability and grip assistance than the Closed Loop, but not as much as the figure 8, which we’ll discuss in a moment. Consequently, you can ditch the bar while wearing Lasso straps, but it takes a bit more effort than the Closed Loop straps.
Given the middle of the road nature of Lasso straps, they’re quite versatile. They’re a pretty solid option for just about any lift you’d use straps on, with the exception of the Olympic lifts of course.
Out of the three, the figure 8 offers the most grip stability. Consequently, the design doesn’t allow you to ditch the bar. If you let go of the bar, the bar will still be anchored to your wrists.
These are great for really grip intensive exercises, but when you’re trying to de-emphasize the grip demands. Think super heavy deadlifts and shrugs.
Cotton is the most comfortable option.
Definitely not a bad option for all around lifting. The drawbacks are that it’s the least durable of the three materials most commonly seen in lifting straps. Doesn’t mean a quality pair won’t last you a while. It’s just that they’re not as sturdy as nylon or leather
Nylon is super strong. Because of this, nylon is a great option for short, heavy sets. For higher rep work though? Not so much. The smooth texture of the fabric means it’ll get sweaty pretty quickly. This makes the grip assistance of the straps less effective defeating the purpose of wearing them. Plus, this can lead to some chafing issues.
Leather has a quite a bit of variety in terms of toughness/softness, so they’re a bit tough to pin down into a short summary.
Leather is obviously going to be quite durable. The drawback, again, is the sweat thing. Leather simply isn’t as absorbent as cotton. This means they might not be as grippy as your workout progresses.
Leather is going to hold it’s shape well, but this also means they take a while to get broken in. Again though, this depends on how soft or tough the leather is.
All that said, many straps are made from a combination of various materials. So you might get straps that are as comfortable as cotton straps, but have a bit of nylon in there to strengthen them.
With strap design there’s a fairly clear cut way to determine which style is best depending on what you’re using them for. With materials it’s more about personal preference.
If you’re doing the Olympic Lifts, Closed Loop is definitely your best option because they allow for the quickest release of the bar while still offering some grip assistance.
For powerlifting it’s going to be the Figure 8 or the Lasso. Having both on hand could be useful here as well. Maybe you use the Figure 8 for deadlifts and then the Lasso for accessory work. I certainly think the versatility of the Lasso is helpful. So having both gives you more options depending on what you need to work on to strengthen the big 3.
And for bodybuilding or recreational lifting, Lasso is typically going to be your best option -- especially when it comes to rows. Depending on how strong you are, you might also want a pair of Figure 8’s for shrugs, bent rows, snatch grip deadlifts etc.
And again, the material is largely based on preference so don’t overthink it too much.
Lifting straps are a great tool for any serious or recreational lifter. But it’s important you know what you’re using them for to really get the most out of them. That way you can choose the best straps for your purposes and add them in to your training appropriately. Used properly they’ll maximize your training and, of course, your gains.
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