Should you use weight lifting straps? When should you use them? What are the best weight lifting straps?
For some reason, the use of lifting straps is a topic of a fair bit of some controversy among lifters.
I’m not sure why people get so worked up over a couple of little pieces of material, to be honest.
Anyway, the bottom line is that the use of straps is an often-argued point and with this article, I hope to settle that argument for you.
I have put together the definitive guide on the best weight lifting straps, why you should or shouldn’t use them how to use them and which ones I recommend you buy.
The use of straps in Olympic weightlifting is a very common practice and is generally much less controversial than in powerlifting or general gym training. This article is aimed towards clearing some of the confusion for the latter two training approaches.
There are still some guidelines that should be followed for the Olympic lifter, though.
If you wish to find out how you should be using straps for the Oly lifts, you can read this article on the topic from IronMind: Straps – what, why, how and when to use them.
As mentioned, that one focuses only on Olympic weightlifting. For everything else, read on.
As you know, lifting requires you to grip different objects of different weights for varying lengths of time or reps.
Sometimes, your own grip on those object, mainly barbells or dumbbells, becomes weakened or loose. Usually, fatigue, sweat, lack of strength or the object being too big for your hands causes issues with your grip.
Enter the weight lifting strap.
Lifting straps are very tough and durable (at least they should be!) lengths of material. One end loops around your wrist, the rest of the strap is then wrapped tightly around a barbell or dumbbell handle.
Doing this means that much of the weight is actually being supported by the strap, which is wrapped around your wrist. Obviously, this decreases the need for you to actually be holding and gripping the bar as hard.
As a result, you should now be able to lift more weight for longer without worrying about dropping it. Your grip strength is no longer the limiting factor.
Sounds great, right?
Well, it can be in certain situations and not so great in others. I will come to that later.
To cover it broadly, you can use straps for any exercise that starts to really tax your grip strength.
For the most part, these exercises will be the ones where gravity is pulling the weight away from your body. So, think of a dumbbell row, where the weight is actively being pulled away from you by gravity.
An example of the opposite is on the bench press. Gravity is pulling the weight towards your body. Please don’t let me catch you using straps for benching, I may well laugh at you!
Some good examples of exercises where lifting straps can help you out are:
· Dumbbell or barbell rows
· Rack pulls
· Farmers walks
· Cable rows
· Pull ups or chin ups
· Cable lat-pulldowns
· Barbell or dumbbell shrugs
There are probably more that I can’t think of right now, but those should give you a good idea. I have seen people use straps for curls and dumbbell raises. They do fall in the category of gravity pulling the weight away from you, but you really shouldn’t need them for those exercises in my opinion.
They take most of the emphasis away from your grip strength, meaning that you don’t have to worry as much about dropping the bar.
Knowing that your grip is secure is one less thing to think about. So, you are able to focus more on the exercise you are performing and how you are performing it. Quite often, removing grip strength as a limiting factor can help to improve technique on most exercises.
Straps can allow you to use a slightly heavier weight or do more reps with the same weight. In many exercises, your grip will give out way before the much bigger and stronger muscles that are involved.
Using your bare hands, you may not get the very most out of the main muscle you are trying to work because your grip will give out first.
Weight lifting straps will let you do those extra reps without tiring your grip. You may even be able to use a bit of extra weight in some cases.
You can also continue to train through torn calluses or other minor hand injuries. Constantly lifting weights can leave your hands pretty beat up from time to time.
If you have already been lifting a while, you will probably be more than familiar with torn calluses. Minor injuries like this, while not serious, are very annoying and can hinder your usual training.
Instead of skipping lifts that irritate the injury, throwing on a pair of straps will usually allow you to work around it until it heals.
You can get too used to them. This is something that I definitely find myself.
When using straps for a period of time on certain exercise, most notably the deadlift, I find that going back to training without them feels a bit foreign.
Using straps exclusively for a period of time causes me to almost “forget” what it feels like to have the full weight of the bar in your hands. This can make lifts seem much heavier to you than they should do.
Your grip could get weaker over time. If you do rely too heavily on straps and pay no attention to training your grip strength, you will start to lose grip strength. It is the exact same principle as if you were to stop training any other muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
To make sure you keep on top of grip training, read my grip strength training guide.
Straps can alter your technique. The way you lift with straps is always going to be slightly different to how you lift without them. The main difference will, of course, be how you grip the bar.
Such a small change at the hands can impact how your body moves further up the chain. For example, gripping the bar differently on a pulldown can alter the angle of your elbows as you perform the exercise.
It might not be a huge deal for most exercises. However, if you use straps for an exercise that you perform in a competition, and straps aren’t allowed for the exercise on competition day then you could be in trouble.
I myself own some straps, Until very recently I had only ever owned one pair of iron mind straps. They are so tough and strong that they’ve lasted years.
If you want to get yourself some, here they are on Amazon. Be warned if you buy them, they are strong as hell but they are not comfortable so prepare to man up! For a more comfortable pair on the wrists, you can go for these ones from Rip Toned, which I now also use.
I use those straps regularly in my own training and have only ever seen them be of benefit to me.
Here are a few guidelines for how I use weight lifting straps and my suggestions for how you may want to use them in your programs.
Firstly, I believe you should use them sparingly on competition lifts. I'm talking about powerlifting here, strongman competitions allow straps.
Since most of my training is centered around powerlifting, I really try not to use them much for deadlifts due to the reasons I mentioned earlier.
If I do use them for deadlifts, I will use them for a variation like a stiff-leg deadlift or rack-pull. My reasoning for that is because those variations are in my program to target areas other than my grip strength.
That leads me on to this point, use them on exercises that you have included in your program for reasons outside of grip strength.
If you are doing an exercise for your back and not your grip, by all means, you can use straps.
If you are worried about your grip strength getting weak, train it in other ways. Have a read of this article to learn how to train your grip effectively.
A better spin on this approach would be to train the exercise without straps until your grip starts to give out and then throw your straps on for an extra set or two to get more work out of the primary muscle group.
I have bolded those last few lines as I think that is generally the best way to go about it. Don’t overthink the use of straps too much. They are an accessory, a tool to compliment your training and should be used as such.
I really wanted to make this a pretty in-depth and complete guide on the use of straps for lifting. So, I had to include a section on how to use them properly. They are pretty simple things but can cause some confusion if you have never used them before.
Instead of me trying to write out how to use them properly, I thought it would be 100 times easier for us both if I just linked a perfectly good video tutorial on using lifting straps. And, here it is…
Firstly, there are a few different styles of straps that you can get, I’ll give you a quick list of the most common ones with a bit of info about each so you can decide which would suit your training needs best.
These are usually made of a single piece of material that has a loop sewn in one end. You wrap the strap around your wrist and then pass the end through the loop to secure it.
The left-over piece of the strap should then be long enough for you to wrap it around the bar a few times. Wrapping the strap around the bar is how you secure it inside the strap.
These are often the cheapest style of strap and I really like them. They are simple, they don’t have much sewing on them or a bunch of different pieces so breaking them is quite hard, as long as you get the right brand.
Up until recently, I would always recommend these IronMind straps. After all, they are crazy strong, I used one pair of them for about 6 years and they are used in professional strongman competitions. They are great straps for seriously heavy lifts and strongman events.
However, I have since come across a very popular pair of lifting straps by a brand called Rip Toned. They are slightly thicker, softer and longer than the IronMind ones and feature a strip of neoprene padding.
The Rip Toned straps are certainly more comfortable to wear as the material doesn't dig into the wrists.
After using them for the past few months, I now recommend the Rip Toned straps below for the majority of gym-goers since they are much more comfortable and remove that added annoyance of the strap cutting into your wrists.
As the name suggests, these are made in a figure of eight design with too bigger loops sewn together. The idea is that you pass your wrist through the first loop, pass the other loop under the barbell and then put your hand through that loop.
These straps are less awkward to get into place around the bar. However, I do find that there is a little bit more movement between the strap and the bar since you don’t actually wrap it round tightly like you would with a standard strap.
This isn’t really a problem; the bar won’t come out of the strap but I just like it the feel super tight around both my wrist and the barbell.
You can grab yourself a pair of these on Amazon too by clicking below. There are a few different brands available, the ones below seem to be the best reviewed on Amazon.
Versa grips are actually the brand name for a new style of strap the company invented.
As always, I will be honest and state that I have personally not tried these straps out.
I wanted to include them because I know they are very popular. I remember a period when it seemed like everybody on Youtube was using them, paid advertising no doubt, but it did its job and made them a popular choice.
These straps are secured to your wrists via a separate wrist-strap. They feature a plastic kind of hook that is wrapped around the bar in a similar fashion to a normal lifting strap.
Personally, I used to be cautious of straps that seem to have a lot of elements attached since there's more stuff that could break. However, I have now seen these used by enough top lifters to have changed my view. Cailer Woolam, for example:
What I can also say is that a bunch of people seem to like it on Amazon, over 1000 reviews and great feedback. You may want check them out over there and hunt through the reviews before you decide.
I think weightlifting straps should probably be a tool in most lifter’s gym bags. Just don’t rely too heavily on them if you care about your grip strength.
Oh, and my top pick for straps is to keep is simple with these Rip Toned straps.