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Lifting straps for deadlifts – Should you be using them?

Whether you have been weightlifting for many years or just starting a workout plan, you have probably heard of weightlifting straps or seen them being used in your local gym.

Weightlifting straps have been designed to carry out a very basic function, which is to support your grip on a bar, with the key word being ‘support’.

As with any piece of exercise equipment that can help you lift more weight there is some controversy over when they should be used, with 2 main schools of thought.

The first of these is from people that say you should never use weightlifting straps. These people will often believe that using lifting straps will be helping you to lift a weight that you wouldn’t have been able to naturally and that it’s more important to build your grip strength.

The second school of thought is a little more relaxed and believes that lifting straps do have their place in weight training, but not to use them excessively.

In the following article we will take a look at why you shouldn’t fall into one category or the other, but rather take the sensible points from each argument.

What are lifting straps?

Before we get too far into the article we’ll quickly cover what weightlifting straps actually are.

If you have watched any powerlifting competitions such as World’s Strongest Man you would have probably seen some of the strongest athletes in the world pulling various heavy weights off the floor.

Whether it’s static holds or performing heavy deadlifts with cars for many repetitions you will always see many of these athletes using weightlifting straps.

Single piece weight lifting straps

Even though they may have phenomenally strong grip, they will still use straps to help hold onto the weight for an extra few repetitions.

A typical weightlifting strap will be a single strip of leather, where one end passes through the other forming a loop. Your wrist then passes through this loop and you can pull the tag end of the strap until it is snug around your wrist.

The tag end then wraps around the bar 2 or 3 times to prevent the heavy weight from slipping out of your grip.

While there are many different weightlifting strap designs, they can really all fall into 3 main categories, each with their pros and cons.

Single piece lifting straps

The most basic form of weightlifting strap is the one we just mentioned, where there is a single strip of leather or similar material that forms a loop and can be tightened around your wrist.

While this type is certainly the most cost effective, there are a couple of important points that can’t be overlooked.

The main problem is where the tag end passes through the loop end. This creates a ‘pinch point’ which is where the place where the strap passes through the loop pinches against your skin and can start to really dig into your wrist.

Single piece weight lifting straps

This only gets worse the heavier the weight you use and can be made worse if you really tighten the strap down to your wrist before lifting the weight.

Pros:

  • Very cheap. A pair of straps can be picked up for just a few pounds / dollars

Cons:

  • Can be more painful to use with heavier weights
  • More difficult to adjust without over tightening
  • Take longer to put on than padded versions

Hooked lifting straps

One of the more advanced designs is a version that includes a built in ‘hook’ that is usually attached to a thick padded wrist support. This sits in the palm of your hand and hooks under the bar to prevent you from relying too much on your grip.

Pros:

  • Very quick and simple to adjust
  • Quick to attach to the bar – no need to wrap lots of times around the bar and keep the strap tight, just hook straight on
  • Excellent for lat pulldown movements where you want to take the majority of bicep work out of the movement and focus completely on the pulling power of your back muscles
Hook style weight lifting straps

Cons:

  • Takes a lot more effort out of using your own strength and grip
  • They can put a lot of pressure on your wrists and take too much of your own grip out of the exercise

Padded 2 piece lifting straps

These designs have been made more popular through the high quality and comfortable designs being produced by leading fitness equipment companies such as Schiek.

This type of weightlifting strap is made up of two sections, one that is well padded to wrap around your wrist and the other that drops down from the palm facing side and wraps around the bar.

If you have stayed away from lifting straps in the past due to them digging into your wrists and being uncomfortable, give these a try.

Thick wrist padding makes the Schiek lifting straps an attractive option

Pros:

  • Very comfortable neoprene padded wrist support – No ‘pinch point’ digging into your wrists
  • Durable material
  • Places all the pulling action in straight down from the wrist, with no twisting of the strap

Cons:

  • These are usually the most expensive option of the 3

Weight lifting straps VS. grip training

There’s no denying that weightlifting straps are extremely useful and it’s worthwhile having a pair in your gym bag, particularly when your day for training back muscles.

But knowing when to use weightlifting straps and how to spot if your basic grip needs more work is even more important if you want to keep lifting heavier weights.

Weightlifting straps should only be used when you need them. It sounds simple but it’s far too common to see people start using them within the first few sets their first exercise.

If your grip isn’t starting to fail you shouldn’t even be contemplating reaching for the straps. If the grip really is the only thing affecting how much you are lifting with good form then strap up and make sure you really train that target muscle group.

If your grip is failing in the first few sets of heavy deadlifts then perhaps your back is naturally strong or you have relied too heavily on lifting straps in the past.

Add 30 minutes into one of your workouts once per week where you will focus on building your grip strength, either with grippers or forearm curls and start building your grip up.

Conclusion

The truth is that if your grip is giving out before the target muscle group is exhausted then without straps you wouldn’t be able to effectively work that muscle group.

I’ve been using weightlifting straps myself for the past 5 years and can say that my training and deadlift strength has improved far quicker than when I wasn’t using them. Not only do they help you truly work your back muscles to failure but they also make lifts such as shrugs and deadlifts much safer.

If you are approaching lockout on the deadlift and the bar starts slipping, you will naturally hold onto it as much as you can to try and finish the lift. Without straps this will mean slipping down to your finger tips and causing you to curve your back as you try and get a better grip.

Weightlifting straps prevent this, meaning you can focus solely on the correct form and lifting the weight rather than preventing the bar from rolling or slipping from your grip.

If you are currently using an alternating grip on deadlifts due to a weak grip but are getting worried about muscle imbalance, weightlifting straps will make it much more viable to use a double overhand grip without worrying about the bar slipping.

If you’re interested in knowing which set I will be using for the foreseeable future then it’s the Schiek Padded lifting straps. I’ve never had them open up or slip on me and that’s during deadlifts up to 600lb. The neoprene padding is also extremely comfortable against your wrist even pulling these sorts of weights.

So if you haven’t used weightlifting straps before, why not pick up a pair and try them in your next workout? They cost a lot less than a tub of protein powder and will most likely bring far more gains to your training.

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