Are you looking for a way to take your lifting game up a notch?
Maybe you're starting to move heavier weights and you want to make sure you're able to safely do so.
You may want to consider using lifting straps. Yes, that piece of wraparound fabric that you always see being used by guys who look like they’re powerlifters.
Despite the public image of who is using them, lifting straps can help every type of weightlifter, regardless of experience level.
Let's take a closer look at lifting straps. We'll discuss the different types of lifting straps, pros and cons of lifting straps, and how to use lifting straps (should you decide to add them to your workout).
What are Lifting Straps?
First things first: What exactly defines a lifting strap? Can you use any piece of material so long as it wraps around your wrist?
Lifting straps are specially designed long and narrow strips of cotton or nylon. You can also find leather lifting straps, which tend to come with a heftier price tag.
Given how lifting straps are used, you would not want to try to make your own at home using things like rope or towels. You could end up seriously hurting yourself (not to mention, giving yourself a serious case of rope burn).
Put simply: Lifting straps are used to help you lift heavier weight. The most common exercise that people use a lifting strap for is the deadlift.
Slight changes may vary depending on the type of strap you buy, but in general, you'll wrap the strap around your wrist and part of your hand. The other end of the lifting strap is connected to the barbell.
The idea behind this is that when your natural lifting strength gives out, you can continue to perform the necessary repetitions to burn out the target muscle.
Since most people use straps for deadlifts, they might not be able to fatigue the hamstrings with their own grip strength and that’s where a lifting strap can help.
As we’ll discuss more below, you have to be careful when using lifting straps to ensure you don’t become reliant on them so much that your own grip strength decreases.
Types of Lifting Straps
Lifting straps have come a long way since their creation in the early 1900s. With that said, they still maintain the same purpose since their inception: help people lift heavy things.
There are four main types of fitness lifting straps: closed-loop straps, open loop straps, lasso straps, and figure 8 straps.
The most common type of lifting strap is a closed-loop strap. In its most basic definition, the closed-loop strap is a piece of nylon, cotton, or leather that forms a loop and is stitched together. The space in the middle allows just enough space for your hand.
As you can imagine, this doesn’t offer a ton of security and there’s a good chance you’ll drop the barbell if the weight is heavy enough. But that’s the point.
Closed-loop straps are designed so that lifters can easily ditch the barbell when things get too heavy.
Naturally, the closed-loop straps are a favorite among lifters who focus on Olympic lifts like the clean-and-press and the snatch.
Open-loop straps are very similar to closed-loop straps, but the only difference between them is that the former is not stitched together. Same shape and size, but they open-loop straps are not connected at the end.
Again, this makes them ideal for anyone performing power-driven exercises that come with a chance of needing to ditch the barbell.
Typically, the decision between a closed-loop and an open-loop strap comes down to a matter of preference.
While the loop straps might be the most common type of strap, that doesn’t mean they are the ideal choice for beginners.
The lasso strap is the ideal choice for someone who is new to lifting straps. They are very easy to use with a small – if any at all – learning curve.
A lasso strap is similar to an open-loop strap in that the two ends are not connected. Instead, the lasso strap has an open hole at the end of one side of the strap. Once your hand is wrapped, the other end of the strap will go through the hole and wrap around the bar to ensure a stronger hold and grip security.
Given how secure the lasso trap is around the barbell, they are ideal for exercises that don’t require a fast getaway should you need to drop it. Shrugs, lat pulldowns, and bent over rows are great examples of exercises that work well with the lasso strap.
Figure 8 Straps
Finally, we have figure 8 straps. As the name suggests, these straps look like a double closed-loop strap.
These straps provide the most secure grip on a barbell, which means once you get going, you can’t get off the ride.
In other words, do not perform any type of power-based, quick-jerk movements like the snatch or the clean-and-press. Since you can’t get away from the bar – because you’re literally tied to it – you dramatically increase your risk of injury with Olympic lifts.
Naturally, figure 8 straps lend themselves to exercises like rows, presses, deadlifts, and Strongman exercises.
Pros and Cons of Using Lifting Straps
Lifting straps are an incredibly useful fitness tool, but like anything, there are some drawbacks to using them too much. Here are the pros and cons to using lifting straps.
The number one reason that people use lifting straps is to ensure they can maintain their grip on the weight they’re lifting if their grip starts to fail from fatigue or sweat.
While you should focus on building up your own natural grip strength. Lifting straps can help you to fatigue muscle groups that respond really well to being overloaded like the hamstrings and the lats.
Move Heavier Weights
Continuing with the point above, lifting straps can also help you to lift heavier weights than you would be able to without them.
What’s the number one reason that people aren’t able to hit their repetition target?
Grip strength failure.
And what’s the reason that people often can’t lift a heavier weight despite knowing they’re able to get in a few solid reps?
Again, it’s your grip strength.
While lifting straps are no substitute for working on your own grip strength, they do allow you to hit the largest muscle groups with an appropriate stimulus for growth and strength gains.
Supports Posture and Form
When your grip gives out and you want to keep repping out, you naturally change your biomechanics to compensate. The problem here is that you’ve taken yourself out of good form in order to get more reps. This is NOT good.
You should not sacrifice form to get a few more numbers in your workout log.
Thankfully, lifting straps allow you to continue after your grip has failed without worrying about sacrificing good form and execution.
Great for Hypertrophy
Muscle failure is a requirement for muscle growth. In other words, you need to push the target muscle to absolute failure in order to create the stimulus needed to trigger a hypertrophic (growth) effect.
Unfortunately, many lifters can’t reach that level of muscular failure. Not because the target muscle gives out, but it’s because their grip strength gives out.
Lifting straps allow you to stay in the game after the grip goes so that you can hit the ideal target rep range for growth.
Now, let's talk about some of the downsides of using lifting straps.
Overuse of Lifting Straps
The biggest downside to lifting straps is when people overuse them. We’re sure you’ve seen that guy in the gym who literally wraps up for every exercise, regardless of how difficult it is.
That’s a huge problem because lifting straps aren’t meant to be used like that.
They are there are a complementary tool. They should not replace your own grip strength.
If you use lifting straps for every exercise, you’ll start to notice a quick drop in strength in your grip, wrist, and forearms.
Some people find lifting straps to be uncomfortable to wear. And if you’re lifting some seriously heavy weight, there’s a good chance they’ll leave a temporary mark in your skin.
With that said, it’s nothing you have to worry about as far as getting hurt.
As long as you aren’t overusing lifting straps, the mark will quickly fade.
What’s more, most people report that they adjust to the feeling of lifting straps after a few weeks.
Who Should Use Lifting Straps?
Lifting straps can be beneficial for both beginner and experienced lifters.
However, if you're new to lifting, you may want to try working out without straps first to build up your own strength.
Once you’ve developed a respectable amount of grip strength, you can graduate to using straps.
In general, we recommend that beginners start with the lasso lifting straps since they are the easiest to learn how to use.
If you are a CrossFitter or focused on explosive power movements – exercises you need to be able to bail from if need be – then we recommend the closed-loop straps.
Finally, if you’re an experienced lifter and wanting to focus on exercises where you stay dedicated for the entire time, we recommend the figure 8 straps. Again, we highly recommend that you have experience both as a lifter and as someone who has used the other type of lifting straps.
How to Use Lifting Straps
To use lifting straps will depend on which type you’ve purchased.
Closed Loop: Put your hand through the loop. Then loop the hanging part under and over the barbell. Place the slack under your hand.
Open Loop: This is the same set-up as the closed loop, but you’ll have to create your own loop around the back of your hand, then secure it the same way as above.
Lasso Strap: Put your hand through the hole that is created once you put the end of the strap through the lasso at the top. Wrap the slack around the barbell multiple times and finish by placing it underneath your hand.
Figure 8 Strap: Place the strap on the underside of the barbell and fold it up so that your hand can go through both loops. Hold where the loop is on the barbell.
Which Material Should You Buy?
As we mentioned above, there are three materials used to make lifting straps: cotton, nylon, and leather.
Cotton is a cost-effective choice, but they wear the fastest, and if you’re pulling big plates, this will only speed up the process of degradation.
Leather is expensive and worth it in terms of durability. The only issue with the leather straps that you should be aware of is the bulkiness can impact your grip. What’s more, they don’t absorb sweat so you can end up with slippery lifting straps that mess up your grip.
For our money, we like nylon lifting straps. They are heavy duty straps at an affordable price point. They don’t breakdown like cotton, and they aren’t bulky like leather. It’s the perfect “Goldilocks Zone” material for lifting straps.
What Should You Look for When Buying Lifting Straps?
When buying your first pair of lifting straps, we recommend going with a brand name that is legitimately trusted by the fitness industry.
You can tell based on reviews, but also if the company trusts their product. Look to see if a lifetime warranty is included.
For our money, we swear by Iron Infidel lifting straps. Not only are these straps super durable nylon, but they are stylish and come with a lifetime guarantee. Definitely the perfect straps for beginner and veterans alike.