To strap, or not to strap? This, my friends, is the question. You hear a lot of talk that using straps is ‘cheating’ and ‘oh, I don’t have to use STRAPS to PB’. Well, everyone has their own training beliefs, but straps, wraps and belts can actually be beneficial to strength and size gains. Think of it this way. You see Olympic lifters using straps and they lift stupendous amounts of weight, and although they don’t use them ALL the time, they use them as a tool to improve themselves in training.
So, why use straps? Picture this. You’ve set yourself up to barbell row, 5 sets down, slowly increased the weight. Your feet are set, knees set, hands placed perfectly along the cool silver rod. You’re ready and raring to smash through for that PB. One rep. Two rep. ‘Oh no, I’m losing grip’, the bar continues to slip. ‘Noooooo, I have so much more to give’. That’s right, your grip failed you. So even when your grip has gone, your hands are sore or cut up, straps will help you to get that extra rep or two (may be three). If all it takes is a loop around your wrist to help you get there, why wouldn’t you? The most common exercises to use straps on are rows, shrugs, deadlifts and rack pulls. The only thing I would say to beware of is yanking the bar instead of actually controlling the movement. The yanking of the bar can lead you to joint or lower back injuries. And no-one wants time out from training or trying to walk up the stairs hunched over like a little 80 year old lady.
Next up, THE BELT. There’s only a need to use the belt for exercises that can be a little rough on the back, so we’re talking squats and deadlifts. Remember, belts are not a fashion accessory and they don’t make you look like a part of the Sparta squad. You don’t need a belt to do pull ups, bicep curls or skull crushers. At NO TIME EVER should you be wearing a belt for exercises that have you laying down or sitting as it restricts the body’s natural movements or more simply, just doesn’t make a blind bit of difference and quite frankly, you’re probably just being a little too lazy to engage your core muscles. You should be focusing on using belts for sets that are working at 85% of your 1RM.
The problem with belts is that not a lot of people use them correctly. They have a false belief that belts hold your core tight so that you don’t have to think about your muscles doing it. So I reiterate, belts (much like straps) are a tool to ‘enhance’ your training, they don’t do the training for you. How do you use them right, then? The belt needs to be wore tightly, but make sure you can breathe, let’s not have anyone passing out on their way down to the bar. Before eccentric movements, you should be focusing on taking a deep breath and pushing your stomach outwards as hard as you can to create that pressure that will support your spine. This technique can increase blood pressure, so train smart if you have any hernias or other injuries that can be affected by raised blood pressure as you won’t want to aggravate the little fella. So, the benefit of a belt? It helps to support your spine and execute a move with precision, forcing you to lift more with your legs than your back. If you didn’t know, this is the biomechanical movement that we’re looking for when shifting weight from the ground.
Lastly, knee straps! Most commonly used on squats as the aim is to give you a bit of a ‘spring’ at the bottom of the rep. So if you’re going to put extra load on your back and expecting the straps to help you bounce your way back up, make sure you’re putting them on right. They need to be tight enough to support you, but not so tight that you’re cutting off blood circulation.
Our top tips for straps, wraps and belts:
- Warm up WITHOUT your straps, wraps and belts. If you’re warming up, you shouldn’t need these ‘tools’ to move a lighter load, you should be using these for strength or when you’re moving towards your max weight
- If you’re using the straps, don’t tie them too low on your wrists – they’re wrist support, not forearm support
- You don’t need accessories but they can be very useful (I’ll call them that, because that’s all they are to some people) for gymnastic-y looking movements or bodyweight exercises
- There are a vast option of straps out there, so make sure you’re using the right ones. If you’re trying to max out your compound moves, use thicker/Velcro bound straps as they will provide more support. Whereas, if you’re using straps for exercises like clean and jerk or a snatch, use thinner/cotton wraps as they will provide some flexibility in your movements
As stated earlier, a lot of people are using these tools as an accessory and incorrectly, or they’re using them as a crutch and not an enhancement. Don’t use straps, wraps or belts to cover up mobility or flexibility issues. If you’re feeling discomfort when cleaning (yes, CrossFit, we’re not all CrossFit haters) or squatting of any kind, you should treat the problem, instead of masking it. If you’re using these tools to enhance compound movements, be aware of the muscles you are taking out of the equation. For example, the use of a belt with deadlifts or squats will reduce the use of your lower back, so be sure to focus on some lower back exercises so these gains don’t get left behind.
I’ve probably used the word ‘enhancement’ far too many times, but that’s what straps, wraps and belts are all about. Go out there and push yourself to your full potential, and when you need that extra little push, come back to these little bad boys a go and show the world what you’ve got!
Bonvechio, T. (2015). How, Why, And When To Use Wrist Straps. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/how-why-and-when-to-use-wrist-straps.html
Knowles, D. (2015). 3 Pieces of Basic Equipment For The Expert Lifter. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/david9.htm
Robertson, M. (2013). Do You Really Need A Lifting Belt? Retrieved from: https://www.t-nation.com/training/do-you-really-need-a-lifting-belt
Stoppani, J. (2016). 3 Key Benefits Of Wearing A Weightlifting Belt. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/3-key-benefits-of-wearing-a-weightlfting-belt.html
Sun, C. (2017). 5 Tips For Using Wrist Straps. Retrieved from: https://www.crossfitinvictus.com/blog/5-tips-for-using-wrist-wraps/
Thibaudeau, C. (2015). Tip: Know When To Use Lifting Straps. Retrieved from: https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-know-when-to-use-lifting-straps