Weightlifting Straps… Helpful or Harmful? Lets Find Out!
What’s The Deal With Weightlifting Wrist Straps?
Normally just called ‘straps’, weightlifting wrist straps are primarily used to assist holding the weight (whether this be a barbell, dumbbell or machine) in your hands.
The straps loops around your wrist, with the other end looping around the barbell or dumbbell, fastening your hand to the weight.
Straps do there job well, when used correctly your grip strength is increased tenfold, allowing you to continue to perform repetitions when the weight would normally be slipping out of your hands due to fatigue or sweat.
In short, straps are designed to allow you to hit the targeted muscle group longer as your grip strength is no longer the weakest link.
In the bodybuilding community whether straps should or shouldn’t be used is a loaded arguement, with one party calling the use of straps ‘cheating’ while others laugh as they claim the others are shooting themselves in the foot and coming up short on the strength and size gains for not using straps for every workout.
We’ll get to my opinion of straps after you know a bit more about them…
Benefits Of Using Weightlifting Wrist Straps
Here’s why wrist straps can be a great asset in the gym…
Your Grip Strength Is Eliminated As The Weakest Link
When it comes to lifting heavy, heavy weight whether on pulling exercises such as the deadlift and bent-over row the point of failure is very rarely due to the targeted muscle group. Our back can withstand a far greater load than our grip strength, and when it comes to weight north of 315lbs this is where most guys tend to struggle.
You’re Able To Lift More Weight
Using wrist straps will allow you to add a decent amount of additional weight to the bar immediately, as we’ve discussed before an increase in weight, reps or time under tension forms the basis of progress overload. If you’re not continuously overloading your muscles you won’t be progressing.
Workout Volume Can Be Increased
The hanging leg raise is one of my favourite exercises for building core strength, however after performing my back workout I can barely hang onto the bar for more than two or three sets of 10 repetitions. My core is feeling fresh and ready to go, however my forearms and grip strength has already taken a beating from my back workout.
Overall back workout volume can be increased and I can blast through up to 10 sets of hanging leg raises while using straps, this allows me to exhaust the targeted muscle groups (back and core) as opposed to having to call it a day when my grip starts to decline beyond a certain point.
Straps Can Be Utilized To Overcome Plateaus
If you’re failing to increase the weight or reps consistently for several weeks (particularly on pulling exercises) straps can assist in overcoming your plateau.
As I eluded to earlier, when using straps you’ll be able to shoulder more weight instantly – allowing you to overload your muscles and continue to progress past your previous sticking point.
Cons Of Using Weightlifting Wrist Straps
Here’s why wrist straps can also be your biggest liability in the gym…
Using Straps Can Increase Your Risk Of Injury
As mentioned above, straps are a fantastic aid for pulling exercises such as the deadlift and bent over row, these two exercises though, when performed incorrectly can have you out of the gym for a long time. As your repetitions increase or as you begin to lift weight you’re not accustom to thanks to your wrist straps your form can begin to deteriorate which places your lower back in a very vulnerable position.
I speak from experience when I say lower back issues are not something you want.
Using Straps Is A Bandaid Fix For Poor Grip Strength
Using straps for every workout, or even every other workout will have you putting up bigger numbers on your deadlift, rows, shrugs, pull-ups and more – but as your strength in the targeted muscle groups increases your grip strength falls even further behind.
I don’t advocate entire workouts using hand crushers and hanging from bars just to increase your grip strength, but as you begin to lift heavier weight, perform weighted pull-ups and increase the volume on your hanging abdominal exercises you’ll find your grip strength does steadily increase over time.
When I used straps religiously on my back workout days I was unable to deadlift over 225lbs without strapping myself to the bar as tightly as possible. Today I’m able to lift north of 400lbs without the assistance of straps.
My deadlift strength and my grip strength both improved by no longer relying on straps.
How To Use Straps Correctly (Attaching To The Bar)
Reading instructions on how to put on wrist straps correctly even when written in immense detail can still be confusing, rather than try and interpret my explanation I recommend watching and following a video such as the below:
Whether you’re attaching your straps to a barbell, dumbbell, pull-up bar or seated row machine the set-up is the exact same.
So, When Should You Use Lifting Straps (My Opinion)?
Your last set (or two) of pull-ups
Pull-ups, particularly when hanging several 45lb plates from your waist are a killer of grip strength.
On my last set or two in order to reach my desired rep range and continue to progressively overload my muscles I’ll often resort to pulling out my straps.
High volume core work such as hanging leg raises
Hanging core strength exercises such as the bent knee leg raise, straight leg raise, v-sit and window wipers are extremely difficult to perform after doing any pulling exercises, particularly as a higher rep range is utilized for bodyweight core exercises.
I recommend using wrist straps when hitting the core with hanging exercises once you’ve already trained another body part (If you’re able to seperate your weight training with your core workouts then there’s no need for the straps).
In order to build big traps we need to lift heavy.
Stacking 60lbs on the barbell and performing 100 reps isn’t the way to build traps, like all other body parts the traps respond best to low repetition, heavy weight style training provided you’re a natural gym-goer… when lifting this heavy the barbell or dumbbells tend to slip around in your hands due to the shrugging movement.
Wrap your straps around the bar and suddenly you’re able to target the traps with excessive weight without worrying about your grip, the weakest link.
Want To Increase Your Grip Strength? (The #1 Unconventional Method)
The biggest issue with wrist straps, as we discussed earlier is that they won’t help you build grip strength, period.
Grip strength is built hanging from the bar while hitting your pull-ups, while painstakingly lifting that bending barbell off the ground during your deadlifts… but there’s another way you can build your grip strength that provides a change of scenery.
Go rock climbing.
Rock climbing is the ultimate builder of grip strength, from learning how to grip in different positions to supporting your bodyweight on a mere few fingertips… if you go indoor or outdoor rock climbing semi regularly you’ll never be worried about your grip strength failing before the targeted muscle group again!