Why Do Football Players Use Straps When They Olympic Lift?

It’s common to see football coaches (often those lacking a strength coach) employ lifting straps for Olympic, or power based movements, but why? A recent video shared by the extremely strong Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison left us asking the above question.

Before going further into this piece, let’s note that Harrison is incredibly strong, and the weight he moves will indefinitely change how he can lift compared to others. He’s much stronger than the typical high school/college athletes you frequently see using straps for Olympic lifts.

For example, Harrison’s strong enough to throw around 315 pound in a clean, and has been lifting his whole life, so we don’t recommend replicating his form in the attached video, or using straps for cleans/Olympic movements (plus, it can be dangerous).

Going off the above logic, Harrison isn’t the best go-to example when asking the question, “Why is it common to see football coaches use straps?” But it did get us wondering. I reached out to my colleague and college strength coach John Larson, CSCS, USAW SPC, & M.S. Candidate, who’s worked with multiple college teams.

Larson dives into the topic by saying, “Myself and multiple strength coaches I’ve worked with don’t agree with using straps for Olympic movements for football players. When I worked under Scott Cochran at the University of Alabama, there were two rules: no straps and no adding weight that’s under 25 lbs.” 

A post shared by Johnny Larson (@johnny_larson89) on

Larson states, “I think a lot of the ideologies that entail football players using straps in Olympic lifts is centered around the premise of simply adding more weight to the bar, which we know isn’t always better, especially when form is lacking. It’s a lot like the agility ladder, which is beginning to get phased out due to the unrealistic game time nature it offers – like the ladder, the use of straps has been widely accepted for years, so it’s often not questioned.” 

[Have an interest in coaching college athletes? Check out John Larson’s 10 Lessons Learned as a College Strength Coach.]

He continues by saying, “As our knowledge grows within the strength & conditioning field, we’re seeing straps used less and less by football athletes. I think coaches are realizing that without utilization of triple extension, the stretch shortening cycle, and other variables Olympic movements offer, then it’s somewhat a waste of time adding weight to the bar for an athlete who lacks proper form.”

Larson concludes with, “I think there’s a time and place for straps with Olympic movements, and often that involves when elite lifters are trying to specifically lift heavier weight (for example, some Russian and Chinese Olympic programming has athletes cleaning from blocks with straps). In this scenario, the goal is to work with a heavier weight and improve speed of the pull (not from the floor), and keep in mind, these lifters already have great form, which most football players do not.” 

It’s a common trend to see football players use straps with Olympic movements. Is there a time and place? Sure, and every strength coach will have their own rationale for when to use them and what athletes are allowed to.

As our knowledge in the strength & conditioning field increases, we’re beginning to see a slow decline in some of the old sports ideologies and more focus on direct lifting to in-game carryover, as Larson points out.

Feature image screenshot from @jhharrison92 Instagram page. 

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