Lifting weights is not an easy process, but it is the fastest way to make changes to your physique and gain serious strength and size.
This process, no matter how fast, still requires persistence and patience, but also preparation.
Having the necessary equipment is a step towards achieving your goals and, similarly to our article on the best weightlifting shoes, we’re going to take you through the best straps for your needs.
What Are Straps?
Lifting straps are often simply lengths of material that have been cut and constructed to fasten the hands to the barbell, dumbbell, machine, or other implement. They are primarily used for lifts where grip strength is a limiting factor, or to avoid damaging the hands.
Judging the best straps is going to depend on the sport they’re used for – so today we’re going to discuss the use of straps for powerlifting, weightlifting, and their use for the general public that just want to get a great workout. There are a few key factors for judging straps:
- Ease of use
- Loop or no loop
- Choice of material
- Construction quality
These are the real details you need to think about when buying, so we’re going to take you through some of the most effective, best-value straps on the market and who they’re best for.
When do you need straps?
There are some important warnings to consider before you use straps as well. First, remember that there are exercises where straps can provide a lot of assistance and others where they should be kept away.
Some exercises are totally inappropriate for the use of straps, and we’re going to share some thoughts on the time and exercise for using (or avoiding) straps.
Some of the most obvious exercise for straps are deadlifts. This is one of the most common exercises at any gym and a great way to start developing the posterior chain and moving heavy weights. High repetitions can really challenge the hands and the same is true of other variations like Romanian or stiff-legged deadlifts.
Straps are also great for high-repetition sets on both free weights and machines. If you’re going to perform 20+ repetitions on a single set (as you might for bodybuilding training), straps provide a great way to keep training when your grip might otherwise give out. If you’re training for big muscles, you don’t want to grip strength to get in the way.
Consider a workout with 4 sets of 20 on single-arm rows. Whether you’re using a dumbbell or machine, straps make a great choice as you don’t want to lose your grip but may not need to develop grip strength in this particular movement (as some might say of the deadlift). Straps keep you locked in tight and reduce the strain on the hands and forearms.
There are some exercises that shouldn’t be performed with straps. Some of these exercises are totally redundant and will just make you look dumb, while other present a very real danger to your health and wellbeing.
“That’s just dumb”
Exercises that don’t involve any pulling against gravity are clearly a poor choice for using straps. For example, overhead press or bench press are both dumb choices for straps. These exercises don’t require you to grip the bar, so straps would be a poor choice.
The same can be said of exercises that are intended to develop the grip, or those exercises that require an open hand. Nobody in the gym looks quite as ridiculous as the guy who is wearing straps to do bicep curls, so don’t be that guy!
Some exercises are less embarrassing and more harmful when performed with straps. Snatches and Cleans are great examples of exercises that are perfectly safe when performed properly with straps, but improper performance while using straps does increase their risk.
While weightlifters with a great deal of experience can train with these movements while using straps, for many of us it is just a poor choice.
Straps are a great choice for the snatch, but failure should be well-practiced and safe before attempting to load the bar heavily.
For cleans, we recommend avoiding the use of straps due to the increased likelihood of serious injury. USA record holder Zach Krych is a great example of how the use of straps is a real risk for injury.
Despite being an excellent weightlifter, Krych broke both of his forearms in multiple places due to cleaning with straps.
Straps for Weightlifting
In the sport of weightlifting, straps are a great way to reduce the stress placed on the hands.
The “hookgrip” used to hold the bar can become uncomfortable and challenging when performing many repetitions, or movements from the hang position (where the bar is lowered and held before the movement is performed).
In this sport, straps need to be stable enough to hold onto the bar when the athlete needs to, but smooth enough to be easily released if a lift is failed.
Because of the crazy weights that athletes lift overhead, it is easy to cause damage to the shoulders when missing a lift (especially backwards).
For this reason, weightlifting straps should be “open”: they should not tie around the wrist and some do not even require a sewn-end.
Weightlifting straps come as single, open straps or as a large loop that allows the athlete to place their hands through and tie the strap without being fixed too firmly in place.
Both pairs act in the same way, with the open straps being easier to release but a little more difficult to get into place. For the beginner, a loop is a great choice and balances safety with ease of use.
Straps for Powerlifting
Powerlifting and Strongman fit a totally different set of needs. While you can use weightlifting straps for deadlifts, they’re probably going to be too fiddly and difficult to be worth the money.
Powerlifting and Strongman don’t use straps for overhead movements like weightlifting would, and they use heavier weights, so you can really double-down on the security and strength of these straps.
Powerlifting and Strongman will use straps primarily for the deadlift, so the best type of strap is going to be one that is attached at the wrist to ensure that your grip on the bar or strap won’t fail.
Again, there are two common types of straps for this purpose. Firstly, the regular single-loop strap which fastens at the wrist and is simply wrapped around the bar.
However, if you really need stability and don’t mind a long set-up, there are double-looped “figure 8” straps which make dropping the bar nearly impossible.
These figure 8 straps have a much longer setup time and can be quite difficult to negotiate for the beginner. If you’re looking to perform bad-ass strongman movements, like axle bar or even car deadlifts, these straps are a great investment as they’re definitely not going to slip and tend to be built out of some of the most durable strapping around.
Straps for General Training
If you’re not looking to compete in a strength sport, or you’re a recreational gym-goer looking to be well-prepared, straps are still a great purchase. The best gym straps will depend on what you’re aiming to do with them, but for the general gym-goer there are some amazing choices that will cover most of your intended exercises in the gym or elsewhere.
Whether you’re tired of grip strength limiting your training, or you simply don’t want to tear your hands to pieces with heavy deadlifts, a high-quality single-loop strap is the way to go. You’ve probably seen dozens of low-quality pairs being used in the gym, but we recommend really investing well for this item. A good pair of lifting straps will last for years, whereas a cheap pair can include unnecessary padding or poor-quality construction that makes them a pain to replace every few months. Here are our tips for buying good straps.
- Avoid padding or soft gel
These have been added to certain products in an attempt to make the lifting process even easier and more comfortable than with regular straps. However, not only does this miss the point (a well-constructed strap should not hurt in the first place), but they tend to be low-quality, break easily, and made of worse materials than non-padded alternatives! If a company tries to sell their straps based on the padding, they should be focusing on other things!
- Always focus on the material
The material that a strap is made from will tell you many things about it: how long it will last, how much it will be able to hold, and how it will feel against your skin while you use it. The first two are the most important: build quality is everything for a lifting strap, and will determine how long and how well it works.
The IronMind ‘strong enough’ straps are our favourite for all of these categories. This material is slick and doesn’t pinch the skin but also provides amazing durability, flexibility, and an incredibly effective grip on the barbell, dumbbell, or machines.
- Construction Quality
Construction quality is about more than just the materials your straps are made from. The construction includes the use of labels and stitching and other bits and pieces. The construction quality is key to straps that will go the distance, as well as how much they can comfortably lift. Especially if you’re working with general gym raining, you’ll be working with a wide variety of movements and a strap that is well put-together is going to be more effective, as well as saving you time and money!
Watch for things like poor stitching or labels that have been tentatively-attached to the straps. These are usually unnecessary anyway, but a poorly put-together pair are likely to be even worse in their performance.
Lifting straps are a great way of reducing the stress on the hands and make up an essential part of equipment for the committed trainee.
Making the best use of straps is all about knowing which straps are right for each job, and which jobs are appropriate for straps in the first place.
Straps may not be necessary, but after a few weeks they’ll be a key part of your gym bag.