It’s the age-old question – to use straps, or not to use straps. That my friends, is the real question. It’s a hot topic in the lifting world and one issue that has very different opinions. There are two sides and it seems people are very passionate in their beliefs. Today I want to talk about whether you should include lifting straps in your weights routine and the reasons why.
The first thing we need to determine is if there is any benefit to using lifting straps during pulling exercises. I don’t think there is any question it will help you lift heavier weight or pull quicker or get an extra rep or two out when your grip is giving out during a lift. That, however, is a personal opinion, so just for the sake of argument let’s take a look at a study done by the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association in 2010.
In this study they chose 5 male professional Rugby players to conduct a test to determine if lifting straps had an effect on velocity, force and power during the clean pull lift. During this study the athletes performed two sets of two repetitions of clean pulls with a 140 kg (about 308 lbs) barbell under two conditions: with and without lifting straps, in a counterbalanced order. An optical encoder was attached to the barbell to read peak velocity of the barbell, and force and power applied to the barbell were obtained through an inverse dynamics approach. Four out of five subjects showed greater peak velocity (10.1-28.5%), force (2.9-34.4%), and power (6.5-46.5%) with the lifting straps, while one subject did not show a difference between the two conditions. They concluded from this that using lifting straps is beneficial for athletes who wish to enhance velocity, force and power during a clean pull.
So now that we’ve established that lifting straps can certainly help, let’s talk about some of the reasons you may or may not want to use them. The main benefit lifting straps have is that you are able to focus on the main muscle group you are working without worrying about your grip fatiguing before your back or whatever else you are trying to work fatigues. You are also potentially able to move more weight because of this. If your grip goes out but you still had something left in the tank in your targeted muscles, you may not be reaching your maximum potential. Given all the benefits we know about getting those last couple of tough reps in, it’s not something we want to miss out on. The other benefit straps bring is if you have tendon or ligament issues in your wrists or arms, straps can help alleviate some of the tension that can make things like tendonitis flare up.
The negative to using lifting straps is that you are sacrificing grip strength. It’s commonly said that you should avoid straps because you will lack grip strength. This is especially true for a power lifter as you are going to need the grip strength on your big lifts. You can’t use straps during a competition so it’s important to build up all muscles needed to pull as much weight as possible. Not only are you missing out on grip strength but your forearm size will likely suffer as well. As a result of these factors, many people consider using straps as doing nothing but cheating yourself.
While the debate rages on in the power lifting and bodybuilding worlds, it’s ultimately up to each individual if they want to include lifting straps in their routine. I personally use them frequently with my heavy lifts. The way I look at it is I’m not doing deadlifts, shrugs or rows to build my forearms. I’m doing them to build my back, traps, etc. I want to get the maximum amount of weight and reps I can while maintaining good form, and lifting straps help me to do this. When I want to work my forearms and grip I train them separately. I feel that my forearms get worked enough indirectly even with straps that there isn’t a huge need for doing a lot of forearm work. I do think it’s wise not to use straps often with lower weight / higher rep work, but for heavy weight / low rep work I definitely like them. Given I’m more of a bodybuilder and don’t care much about lifting big weights without support, straps just make sense to me. I also have some issues with tendonitis in my elbow, and straps really help with that.
All of this, of course, is personal preference. There is no right or wrong answer to whether an individual should use lifting straps or not, despite what some very opinionated people may tell you. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you and your goals, not anyone else.