Chances are that you've seen someone wear straps in the gym before and perhaps you've even used them in the past. So should you be using them?
Lifting straps are sort of a strange accessory in the world of lifting. Some bodybuilder's use them, powerlifters use them sparingly and much of the time, strongmen wear them, even during world record attempts. Even so, there are some mixed messages about when and even if you should use them at all.
Why Use Lifting Straps?
Lifting straps really just allow you to hold on to significantly greater weight, even if your grip strength is up to par. For reference, my biggest deadlift was 550 lbs, without straps. During that lift, my grip strength was certainly put to the test. On another occasion however, I've held a 700+ lb. barbell, using straps; something I would not have been able to do otherwise.
In essence, lifting straps allow you to place significantly greater stress on large groups of muscle than if you were not using straps. In theory, lifting straps should allow you to progress faster as compared to not using weightlifting straps.
It's not uncommon to be able to deadlift an additional 5-10 reps, solely because you have straps on. Over time, that increase in training volume could be meaningful.
An Argument For Lifting Straps
As just mentioned, lifting straps can allow you to use significantly more weight than if you were not using the straps. Just about any lift that involves some form of pulling can benefit from using straps.
For example, the deadlift. The deadlift is a posterior chain dominant lift, meaning that basically all musculature on your back side is being recruited to some extent when performing a deadlift. The reason that straps may be beneficial is that your grip strength will be significantly less powerful than the combined output from all posterior chain musculature.
In the above argument, you have to decide if letting grip strength be a limiting factor in your training is important to you. If it isn't the use of straps would make sense.
Even more convincing is when completing single arm exercises, such as a dumbbell row. Surely, your lats, rear delts and biceps can row 130 lb. dumbbells, but can you actually hang on to it? In this situation, you have to decide which factor is more important: Grip strength, a balance of grip and target muscle strength / growth or just building the target muscle group.
Lastly, the use of lifting straps may allow for significant improvements in training volume. For instance, it's not uncommon to be able to deadlift an additional 5-10 reps, solely because you have straps on. Over time, that increase in training volume could be meaningful.
An Argument Against Using Lifting Straps
One argument against the use of lifting straps is that you may eventually create imbalances. For example, if you use straps always when you deadlift, you may be able to deadlift 600 lbs. But what happens when you can't use straps? Perhaps you can only hold on to 530 lbs. without straps.
In this case, what do you do? Do you always lift with straps? Do you drop weight and forgo your 600lb. deadlift for the sake of increasing grip strength? Do you need to do separate, grip specific training to catch up?
This is an issue that surprisingly happens with many powerlifters. During training blocks, lifters will use straps to get ahead of the competition and then on competition day, they can't hold on to 90% of their estimated max.
The issue with this really depends on why you're lifting. If you're lifting for competition, lifting straps can be beneficial, but you'll be required to often train without them to make sure grip strength is up to snuff. If you're just looking to get stronger or to body build, straps can be beneficial, but still present issues in terms of grip strength.
The Situation Should Determine Use Of Straps
You're A Beginner
If you are a beginner (just starting or have trained for less than 6 months) I advise against the use of lifting straps. The reason for this suggestion is 2 fold. First, as a beginner, your advances in strength will be fast enough. Almost anything you do will benefit you in terms of strength. If you're using an actual periodized training plan, your gains will probably be even greater.
Second, as a beginner, you need to focus on building a base of strength and coordination, including all musculature, including those involved with grip strength. As a beginner, you want to ensure that you strength growth includes your grip strength. Otherwise, you could end up being very strong, yet only able to hold on to a quarter of the weight you need to continue growing.
As an advanced athlete, you may need to look towards different methods to increase strength. The use of lifting straps may be that answer.
A good example for application would again be the deadlift. As an advanced trainee, you understand the extent of your strength for the most part. If you do, then you understand that lifting an additional 50+ lbs. because of lifting straps can be incredibly beneficial for improving strength.
However, it's important to know that this is situational. Surely your end goal should dictate how you train. However, I advise against always training with straps, since you can become reliant on them, creating imbalances between your muscle and grip strength. Their use should be situational for overload, with other sessions allowing you to train without straps to bring your grip strength up to snuff.
The Verdict On Lifting Straps
Lifting straps can be a very valuable tool for improving strength but they can produce imbalances between your grip strength and actual muscle strength, resulting in reliance on the lifting straps.
As a beginner, you shouldn't use straps since you'll have such rapid growth anyways. The use of straps could create large imbalances, which may stick with you. As an advanced trainee however, the use of straps situationally to improve strength and training volume may be beneficial. However, it's important to remember that imbalances can occur. In this situation, you should train often without the use of straps to ensure that your grip strength improves along with other musculature.
Do you use lifting straps? If so, when? Have they helped you like you'd hoped? Let me know in the comments below.
This article topic was provided by Kristin Damitz, a Doctor of Occupational Therapy Candidate.