Are you in the gym every week but can’t seem to break through those plateaus on key exercises? Maybe you’re burning out quickly on pull-ups, or that deadlift personal record still seems far off. You may need a bit of extra gear to take things to the next level!
There are a ton of tools that gym-goers use to boost their strength and prevent injury, but lifting straps are among the most popular and beneficial.
Lifting straps may seem a bit complicated at first glance, but once you figure them out you can enjoy some major gains on some of the biggest exercises in the gym.
Let’s explore the various ways to use lifting straps, offer a quick tutorial, and get into some of the benefits you should know about.
What Are Lifting Straps?
Of all the various gadgets and contraptions we see in the gym, lifting straps are the most fundamental. Straps are long, rectangular segments of strong material, typically cloth, leather, or a synthetic blend like nylon or polyester.
Lifting straps are used for a few different purposes, but the main benefit is a huge boost in grip strength on major movements in the weight room, especially those involving very heavy weights. When you see someone strapping their wrists to the barbell at your local gym, you can expect at least a few plates on either side of that barbell!
The truth is that our grip strength is the weakest link in the chain of our musculature, and even the beefiest athletes struggle to hold onto heavy bars during long workouts. Straps allow us to put maximum strain on the muscles without the fingers, palms, and wrists giving out first.
If you’ve ever watched competitive powerlifting, you’ll notice that the participants use plenty of chalk, belts, and lifting straps to give them the edge. It often comes down to just a few pounds to determine a winner in these competitions, and every advantage counts for something.
Olympic weightlifters are also familiar with lifting straps since they’re commonly used in competition movements — clean and jerk, and the snatch. Will you be performing these complex techniques anytime soon? Probably not, but if your lifelong goal is to make the Olympic weightlifting team, you’re going to need some straps.
Aside from grip strength, you can also use lifting straps to reduce injury and prevent mishaps in the gym. If you are pulling hundreds of pounds on a deadlift or heavy shrug, you don’t want that bar slipping from your grip and potentially hurting yourself or others. This is especially important for Olympic overhead lifts.
There are a few types of lifting straps on the market, each with pros and cons. Let’s take a look at the most common styles to help you decide which to buy:
- Loop Straps are your standard lifting straps that can be adjusted and have plenty of flexibility on the wrist for extra comfort. However, you’ll have a bit of excess material to deal with, which can get in your way and may interfere with overhead lifts.
- Speed Straps are great for quick use, as the name suggests. These are simple closed loops that wrap fast around the bar and allow you to bail out safely with ease if need be. They unfortunately just aren’t as comfortable or customizable as other variants.
- Hook Straps come equipped with easy-to-use hooks that let you quickly lock into a heavy set, and they are great for beginners looking to tighten up their grip strength. The only drawback is that they aren’t as versatile as classic wraps.
If you’re serious about lifting and you’re in it for the long haul, it’s worth picking up a few sets of straps made from different materials and with unique features. You never know what the occasion might call for, and it’s always fun to switch things up and keep them fresh.
However, if you’re just beginning your fitness journey and your goal is simply to lose weight and tone up, it’s unlikely that lifting straps will be a necessary component in your gym bag. Even the best athletes and fitness gurus on the planet had to start somewhere, so why not begin with something more approachable like martial arts or a group dance workout routine?
If you fall in love with the gym and want to take your performance to the next level in the weightroom, you can graduate to using lifting straps eventually.
How to Use Lifting Straps
If you pick up a set of lifting straps online or at a sporting goods store, you may be thrown off by how they look and feel. It’s not totally clear how to put them on, how to use them, or how to safely take them off at the end of a workout.
Since we’re dealing with heavy weights here, it’s important to make no assumptions and fully understand how to use lifting straps before getting to work in the gym. The last thing you want is to end up injured and sidelined from your routine for weeks or months.
The first thing you’ll want to do is secure the straps to your hands. There should be letters on each one to indicate which hand they should be wrapped around. Make sure both straps are on tight, and use the thumb loop if it’s available.
Each strap should be positioned directly onto the wrist, inching slightly up around the base of the palms. They shouldn’t be able to slide up or down from this position, and they should feel snug without being overly restrictive.
Your next move is to step up to the bar and start wrapping your non-dominant hand in the exact spot you want it to be. Since your fine motor skills tend to be sharper with your dominant hand, you can usually figure out a way to secure the second strap with little trouble.
Some folks find it easier to line up their hands side by side, lightly strap them to the bar, then slide them into place before fully tightening them up. It’s a matter of personal preference, and you should try a few techniques to see what works best for each situation.
If you like to work out with friends or a partner, you can always ask them to help you accelerate the process. That’s the sign of a true gym buddy!
It will take time to master the art of the wrap, but in a few workouts you should have it down pat. Before long, you’ll be pumping out heavy deadlifts, shrugs, presses, and cleans with no problem. Straps allow you to go harder than usual, so just remember not to take things over the top and strain any muscles in the process.
Is It Better To Go Freestyle?
There’s one question that always comes into play when discussing lifting straps: isn’t it better to go without them and build your grip strength? You can ask 100 trainers, athletes, and physical therapists this exact question and get 100 distinct answers in return.
As with any aspect of health and fitness, you’ll need to use your best judgment and embrace some trial and error to see what works best for you. Sometimes, you’ll want to go all-natural and train your body with no assistance, but other times you just want to move as much weight as possible and push the boundaries to the upper limits.
Some of the world’s top health and fitness experts suggest that you only use lifting straps for a portion of your workouts, allowing your grip strength to develop naturally for the majority of your lifts. When it’s time to go for that one-rep personal best or really overload the muscles, you can strap up and push yourself to the max.
You can also warm up with lighter weights and leave the straps behind for the first half of your session, then add them to the mix for the last few reps. This gives you the best of both worlds.
For high-level athletes, pro bodybuilders, and even your everyday gym-goers, lifting straps are tools of the trade just like sneakers and tank tops. They may not be necessary for every movement in the gym, but they can make a big difference when it matters most.
Now that you have a better idea of how to use lifting straps and what to expect in terms of benefits, you should give them a try and see for yourself how much they help. At the end of the day, we’re all on a unique fitness journey, and will do whatever it takes to reach our goals.