Weight Lifting Straps: When And How Should You Use Them?

One of the MANY never ending arguments taking place on various training forums revolves around the subject of weight lifting straps.

Should they be used on all exercises or just certain exercises? Should they be used every set or just during certain sets? Do they help or hurt? Should you even use them in the first place or avoid them completely?

The reason these seemingly benign questions lead to arguments is because people in the weight training world tend to have some very strong opinions about weight lifting straps and their usage.

Of them, I’ve found the two most common to be:

  1. NEVER use them. They prevent you from improving your grip strength and hold you back in terms of increasing strength (and size) in your wrists, forearms and hands. Anyone who ever uses lifting straps needs to quit being such a weak little girl and man the F up!
  2. Common sense. Use straps when you need to, don’t use them when you don’t.

Can you guess which of the two opinions tends to be the most popular among the typical trainee on a typical weight training forum? Yup… usually #1. Now let’s take a look at why it’s wrong.

But First… What Are Weight Lifting Straps?

weight lifting strapsJust in case there is anyone reading this who isn’t familiar with straps, they’re used to help you hold the weight in your hands. You loop one end around your wrists, and wrap the other end around the barbell or dumbbells (or whatever else), thus basically attaching the weight to your wrists/hands.

Doing so improves your grip on the weight you’re holding and helps prevent it from sliding out of your hands.

This happens all the time for any number of reasons, the most common of which are a lack of grip strength, sweating, having smaller hands, gripping something with no knurling on the handles, or just overall grip fatigue as you near the later part of a set.

Weight lifting straps help prevent that, and there’s no debating their effectiveness in this regard. Instead, the debate is over whether you should actually use them in the first place. Here’s what I mean…

Why “NEVER Use Straps” Is The Wrong Idea

(Let me preface this by mentioning that this article is aimed more at people training to build muscle or improve the way their body looks rather than people training specifically for performance or competition. Although, it can sometimes apply just the same in those cases, too.)

A lot of people like to claim that weight lifting straps should never be used under any circumstance. To me, this is just one of those “I’m so HaRDCoRe!!” things people say to sound cool despite how dumb it actually is.

Other similar examples include “everyone MUST do exercise XYZ” and “squats are ALWAYS better than leg presses” and “EVERYONE must always lower the bar all the way down to their chest when bench pressing.”

You know, just something someone said at some point to be definitive about a subject despite very few diet/fitness subjects actually being that absolute. And then a bunch of clueless people just started repeating it because it adds to the “I’m so cool and hardcore” persona they’re trying to portray (usually to impress their even more clueless friends or a bunch of 14 year olds on some bodybuilding forum).

But in reality, it’s just wrong. If your grip is giving out before the target muscle group(s) you’re training, that’s a problem. If the weight is sliding out of your hands too soon and hindering your ability to perform a given exercise with a weight you’re otherwise capable of using, that’s a problem.

Straps are the quickest and simplest solution to these problems. They can help during every “pulling” exercise (from deadlifts to rows to pull-ups) or really any exercise that involves holding a weight against gravity (like shrugs or dumbbell lunges).

So why the hell shouldn’t they be used in this capacity?

The Stupid “Grip Strength Training” Argument

This is the point when people like to argue that using straps doesn’t FIX the problem, it just COVERS UP the problem. Meaning, you’re not legitimately improving your ability to hold a weight, you’re just bringing in an outside element to help you hold the weight.

You know, like a crutch you’re relying on to make up for your inability to grip the weight in the way you need to for the duration you need to.

And this supposedly means that weight lifting straps are just preventing your grip strength from being improved. Instead, straps just allow you to cheat and lose out on training your wrists, forearms, hands, fingers and overall grip.

To which I say, who gives a shit?

  • I’m not doing rows to improve my grip strength.
  • I’m not doing weighted pull-ups to train my forearms.
  • I’m not doing shrugs because I want to improve my ability to hold a weight.
  • I’m not doing dumbbell Bulgarian split squats because of its wrist training effects.
  • And I sure as hell ain’t deadlifting to improve my hand and finger strength.

I’m doing these exercises to train my upper back, or lats, or lower back, or traps, or quads, or my entire posterior chain. That’s it. If I want to train my grip, it should be done separately on its own time. Not while simultaneously training something else that matters a whole lot more.

And certainly not at the expense of it.

So if using straps helps me in this regard, that’s all I care about. Anyone who lets their set end at rep #4 because their grip gave out when the target muscle group they were training was capable of 8 reps is a moron.

If you want to improve your grip strength… do some specialized grip training. If you want to prevent the weight from sliding out of your hands during deadlifts, rows, pull-ups, shrugs or whatever else… use weight lifting straps.

When Should Straps Be Used?

Now that you understand why straps can and often should be used, you may be wondering when exactly that is. Every set? Every exercise?

Well, I like the common sense approach: use them only when you need them.

If you DON’T have grip issues on a certain exercise, don’t use straps for that exercise. But if you DO, use them. And if you only have grip issues during certain sets of that exercise, then use them during those sets only, not the others.

So for example, if you’re only having problems during the heaviest set (or a few of the heaviest sets) of an exercise but the rest are fine, then only use them during those specific sets. The same goes for if you’re only having problems during the later sets of an exercise when hand/wrist fatigue from earlier sets is kicking in. Use straps on those sets only.

Basically, whatever set(s) of whatever exercise(s) where your grip is hindering your performance, that’s when straps should be used. All other times, don’t.

How To Use Weight Lifting Straps

And now for the final strap-related question everyone has the first time they use them (myself included): how the hell do you use these things?

Rather than try to explain it, the best way to understand would be to actually see them in action. A quick search on YouTube brings up plenty of acceptable examples. Here’s one of them…

It will be a little confusing the first couple of times you use them, but after a while you won’t even have to think about it anymore. Also worth mentioning is that this video demonstrates how to use straps with a double overhand grip on a barbell. They can be used just the same with dumbbells, or a pull-up bar, or by using an underhand, neutral or mixed grip.

(And by the way, I’m not endorsing anything the dude in this video is doing, saying or selling other than how to properly put on and use wrist straps.)

How NOT To Use Weight Lifting Straps

And just because I’ve seen it enough times to know it needs to be mentioned, the use of straps is only warranted during exercises where you’re working against gravity or where the resistance is pulling away from you.

That mostly means all types of deadlifts, rows, pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull-downs, shrugs and anything similar.

So if you’re lucky enough to see someone in your gym using straps while bench pressing (something I’ve seen plenty of times), feel free to point and laugh at them. Just like rolling your shoulders during shrugs or trying to recreate a pec-deck/chest fly machine while seated upright and using dumbbells… that’s just not how gravity works.

Which means, if you’re using straps during a pressing exercise, you’re not accomplishing anything other than making yourself look like an idiot.

And this again comes back to the point I made before. Unless your performance during an exercise is being hindered by the fact that the weight is sliding out of your hands (something that just can’t happen during a press on account of that darn gravity thing again), then you shouldn’t be using straps.

But if it is, then by all means… feel free to use them. I do.

UPDATE: Just updating this article to mention that I’m currently using Versa Gripps Pro instead of traditional straps. To learn why, check out my full review and comparison right here: Versa Gripps Pro Review: Are They Better Than Straps?

53 thoughts on “Weight Lifting Straps: When And How Should You Use Them?”

53 Comments

  1. Great points overall, especially since avoiding an aid for lifting heavy weights forces you to stay with lighter weights, which doesn’t do that much for getting that grip stronger anyway!

    I’ve tried straps before but find that they dig into my wrists quite a bit. I’m not sure if it’s just me or that’s just part of how they work. I do enjoy using chalk for deadlifts though it forces me to use mixed grip, which I’m not a huge fan of since it puts my arms in different positions and I’m not a competitive power lifter. I may give straps a try again if this block of chalk ever runs out though I do also like to break a small piece off for bench pressing since it keeps my grip from slipping wide due to sweat and lack of bar knurling.

    • They do sort of dig into your wrists a little when you’re going heavy enough, but it’s usually not too terrible, especially once you get used to it. Have you tried using padded straps? They have a thin layer of neoprene over the part that goes around your wrists… should make it a lot more comfortable if typical straps are giving you a problem.

      Chalk is useful too, but you need to train at a gym that doesn’t suck. For example, the gym I’m at most of the time literally has signs up saying “no chalk allowed.”

      • I don’t think anyone at the gym I go to has any idea what chalk is used for so I’m lucky in that area. 🙂

        I have 2 different types of straps that I just never used more than once after testing all 3 options. I will give them a shot again post-chalk but dang it felt like the skin was going to come off my hand from the wrist when I used them.

        • Ha, great gym.

          Hmmmm, could be one of those ‘it’s 10 times worse the first time you use it’ things that you just get used to, or maybe you had them on wrong and it caused extra pain? That’s possible too. No one knows what the hell they’re doing the first time they use them.

  2. I decided to use them after trying to dead lift…. it felt like my finger tips where going to explode, I had seen people use them before but i thought it was a show off thing. Me and my buddy got some and wow! it was like night and day. pretty much eliminated the grip. I felt everything on my back and legs instead of worrying about my grip. It just felt safe! I highly suggest them! Without them i don’t think i could deadlift my own weight! They are tools for your success at the gym…use them!

  3. Excellent article. To be honest, I was one of those idiots that chose to shy away from the grip straps mainly for me attempting to be “hardcore.” So I never really took the time to research why you would or wouldn’t need the straps (let alone that I have also never found any sound, logical articles from the web written about the subject.) But this definitely makes sense as I have just come home from a deadlifting workout. Every freaking time, for about 3-4 weeks straight, I have kept on losing my grip, WELL BEFORE my core, legs, lower back etc. is even taxed. Same thing too with my pullups and lunges for their respective body parts. So poignant point made that, (at least for me) who the hell really cares if you want super grip strength (unless you’re doing BJJ or judo or something). I’m doing my deadlifts to work the core NOT necessarily to increase my grip.

    With that said, you have any recommendations on any good (economical) straps?

    Thanks for the article man and keep up the good work! Your site is always packed with well written material.

    • Thanks dude, glad it helped.

      As for strap recommendations, they are all the same for the most part, and they are usually about the same price too (between $5-$10). Anything from brands like Atlus, Harbinger and Valeo should be just fine.

      And like I mentioned to DrSeRRoD above, the only other option to consider is a padded version, which all those same brands make and sell for about that same price. Could be a little more comfortable than the typical cotton version.

  4. I got myself a pair of straps after you suggested i use them on deadlifts so I could hold the bar with a double overhand grip instead of alternate grip. The reasoning was that I could avoid muscle imbalance that potentially comes with the alternate grip. This was way back at the beginning of your site. I haven’t looked back since. No one else at my gym uses straps but this hasn’t held me back except that I had to figure out myself what other exercises I can use straps on. I now also use them on Bulgarian split squats and dumbbell rows and they make a huge difference. In fact, they probably allow me to do 25-40% more reps on the heavy weights than if I wasn’t using them. So rather than worrying that the supposed hardcore guys might think I’m a wimp for needing grip assistance, I actually get a quiet kick out of knowing that I’m probably training my back or legs on those particular exercises more effectively than they otherwise would. I guess once you develop confidence in what you know is right (which in most cases is just common sense as you say), you soon realise that following what other guys do in the gym, even the big guys, is not a smart thing. Great article. I’m a big fan of straps.

    • Yup, I actually remember making that suggestion… glad it’s been working out well.

      And yeah, the “hardcore” guy who’s been deadlifting/rowing the same weight for 2 years because his grip keeps giving out is probably rethinking his decision to be anti-straps every time you add more weight to the bar.

      Dumbasses.

  5. I never leave home without my custom made, pink lifting straps. I don’t use them very often, just for lat pulldowns right now. I’ve been working my forearms for years and those and my grip are never gonna catch up to do the complete job, when needed. I love my pink lifting straps, matching pink ball cap and pink towel. So there…lol

  6. Great artical as always,i must admit that i did do my deadlifting without straps for quite a while and got my grip strength to a point where i could easily do my heavy worksets without loosing my grip,only problem was i developed nasty pain in my elbows over time,couldn’t even hold the pull up bar without nasty pain,started using straps again for all deads and rows,and my elbow pain is all but gone after only a few weeks,so i now use em for all worksets in deads and rows.

    • Wow. What a “dumbbell” I am. I have trashed both of my elbows from pullups. I had to lay off of pulldowns and some bicep work because of it. I never even thought about my lifting straps helping me with that injury. –Thanks.

  7. Great article! Really cuts the bs on lifting straps. I do use lifting straps myself and find that it helps put more focus on the muscles needed to be targeted like back. My question is how would you go about training your grip strength and incorporating them into your workout. Thanks!

      • Sorry for responding to an old post, but I need to improve my grip strength too, and I was wondering how best to incorporate it into your workout routines. I’ve got your books and am currently on the fat loss/muscle maintenance routine, but plan to move back to the standard workout in a month or two.

  8. Excellent article man. I’ve tried lifting straps before and use them at the end of my back workouts or rack pulls when grip is an issue, but I do have a problem I hope you can help me with. I have hands rather on the smaller side and have had trouble holding the straps while deadlifting heavy. Am I not wrapping the straps tight enough around the bar? I can DL 405 with chalk but I just can’t seem to get the straps working for me. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Do you mean holding the bar (with the straps wrapped around it), or holding the loop side of the straps that’s supposed to go around your wrist (in which case there’s your problem)?

      But if it’s the bar, my first guess would be that you’re wrapping it backwards. See the video above to make sure you’re doing it from the right side.

  9. Great article, I used to think straps were only for blokes who were trying to dead-lift 3 times there own body weight. I used to hate doing my dead-lifts because I could barely hold the bar for a full eight reps. I got some straps the other day after reading this article, and immediately improved on my previous best dead-lift with ease, and looking forward to my next ones already.
    Common sense always dictates, as you say. (ironic that common sense ain’t that common)

    aworkoutroutine is the best fitness site ever.

  10. I am a 45 year old male. I had a stroke @ the age 0f 29. I use straps because my left hand does not have the gripping strength as my right. I actually just bought a set of wrist straps that have a hook on them , because it is hard to wrap the strap on my left hand do to partial paralysis.
    So there are many reasons for using straps or other aiding equipment, like a spotter etc., when lifting weights….

    Mark A. Carlisle Sr

  11. I was wondering if you might do a similar guide for the use of belts? I simply call mine a weight lifting belt, but I hear people call them kidney belts or lower back brace. I use mine on and off depending on the feed back my body gives me, having put my back out badly several years ago it has never quite been the same. Did it again pretty bad a few months ago, after getting over confident, and failing to warm up properly for a work out. I try to wear my belt as little as often, and try to progress when I feel ready, rather than push myself to the limit for every workout with exercises like deadlifts and squats that put particular strain on the back. Have noticed that shoulder press can cause back issues too when I try to push myself and form gets a bit shaky.

    As mentioned I only wear the belt when I really feel like my back is not 100% but also wonder should I wear it more often? I tend to feel that by not wearing it I am progressing at a rate that my body (back) is comfortable with, or in reality am I holding myself back? One of my primary reasons for getting back into bodybuilding after many years break was to regain and improve my lower back strength.

    • I think, like straps, if you feel like you need the belt or you’ll do better with the belt or that by not using the belt it’s somehow holding you back… then by all means… use the belt.

      Basically, whatever helps for whatever reason… go for it.

  12. I used to have grip problems.

    Then I added rock climbing to my workout routine. It is by far the most insane hand, wrist, and forearm workout I have EVER done. I have found nothing that can come close to working them as much.
    When I lift weights now, my hands NEVER get tired before my muscles do. I would argue human beings, evolving from primates, are naturally inclined to have insane grip strength; we just never build it. I cannot physically have my hands get tired before my muscles while weight training with weights attached to bars.

  13. I use them when I bench press only cause I feel it keeps my wrist steady. Is there something else I should be using instead?

  14. I loved this article, have you ever made a review about wearing wraps (knee, elbow, wrist)… pros, cons and when and how use them?

  15. You Nailed It. I love this article (and have forwarded to a host of friends back east). I lift significantly more with straps than I could otherwise. I have super tiny hands and basically no grip strength. (Also, I am only a month and change into weight training.)

    The guys at the gym tend to give me the stink eye as I take longer. Why? Well, none of the padded strapped i’ve tried (yet!) easily tighten around my wrist. I’ve tried a MacGyver move where I trim a bit of the unnecessary padding off, but it’s still a pain to get the straps really tight around my wrist.

    That being said – I’m SO happy my trainer pointed out I could use lifting straps.

    Again, great article.

  16. Good article. Readers; it’s worth noting that even if your grip doesn’t actually fail during a given set or exercise, it can still be limiting your performance. You may find that your other muscles seem to shut down when your grip is becoming fatigued, and even though you end the set with your grip intact, an aid like straps will completely change what you can do.

    I spent many years thinking that because my grip never failed, grip aids weren’t going to do anything – but I was very wrong.

    A second point I’d like to make is that grip, your hands and forearms, can be very easily over-worked and if in your workouts you’re doing a lot of deadlifts and variations, pullups or pulldowns, rows, shrugs, maybe farmer’s walks, as well as other things that stress the forearms like curls and maybe direct forearm work, you may be massively over-working your grip (as I surely was). Since using straps on a good portion of those lifts my grip strength has actually improved dramatically since I’m not constantly hammering it, and now when I do need to use it there’s a lot more strength there.

  17. Thanks for such an informative article.

    I’ve been using straps for deadlifts, shrugs, pullups, etc for about 6 months and seeing only a minimal / psychological improvement in grip and performance.

    It dawned on me as strange this morning… then reading your article / watching the YouTube clip made me realise… that whole time, I’ve been wrapping them backwards… 😐

    We live and learn… Can’t wait for my next back day. 🙂

  18. I agree wholeheartedly with the author. If your goal is to build muscle then you need to overload the target muscle(s). If your grip is giving out before said muscle is overloaded you will simply not grow. Furthermore, the muscles involved with grip needs healing time, so if you are grip training to failure on leg day (dumbell lunges), deadlift day, back day (rows, pullups, shrugs), and biceps day (curls, etc) then you may be overtraining your hands and forearms.

    Ironically, limiting pure grip training to bicep day (add a few sets of grip exercises after) will probably result in more healing time and possibly a stronger grip.

    In conclusion, I believe straps help you overload and grow your target muscles and reduce overtraining of hand and forearm muscles.

  19. just got some straps today as my grip has been failing me for some time when deadlifting/shrugging, stumbled across this article looking for the correct way to use these so fingers crossed I should be able to lift more

  20. Thanks for this advice.
    As a new lifter and fast approaching 50 My hands are not as strong as they used to be. arthritis is already a small issue and going to be a bigger issue in the next few years. The use of straps will mean I can continue to lift and get stronger and hold off the dreaded old age for a bit longer.
    Always good to remember that not everyone is doing weights to get huge muscles. There are many different reasons for lifting.
    Karen

  21. Hey this article is really useful.
    I am into weight training and deadlifts is undoubtedly an essential part of it, so I had reached my threshold and deloaded twice trying every measures to improve my bare grip (rubbing chalk, alternate grip). Guys at my gym often say, “lift as much as your grip holds”.
    I liked it when you said, “And certainly not at the expense of it”, which makes me think I should definitely go for straps and see the gains.
    Thanks

  22. I have just purchased a set of Cobra Pro Hooks. I have rarely had issues with weight slipping out of my grip but now that I am over 50 I do find that my forearm muscles cramp very easily and this drastically affects how often i can workout. I am hoping they will alleviate the issue.

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