When to Use Straps in Powerlifting and Strongman

All strength sports have their own little quirks; powerlifting has sumo deadlifts, CrossFit has kipping, and strongman, well, strongman kind of has a few that irk others. But it isn’t the hitching or the continental cleans that seem to rile people up the most; that honor seems to be reserved for the strapped deadlift.

This isn’t just speculation either, as I say this from experience. While running the social media for Official Strongman, I’d face a torrent of comments each and every day insisting that Eddie’s 500 pull and all the others be struck from the history books because they thought those athletes were ‘cheating.’ All because of a few inches of canvas wrapped round a bar. Fortunately we, as real enthusiasts of strength, can all agree that this isn’t some grand conspiracy and instead just accept the lifts for what they are – strongman records.

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Despite accepting the lifts of others, even seasoned  powerlifters can overlook straps in their own training, dismissing them as an easy way out. Which is such a shame as straps can add serious weight to your pulls, even when you take them off. Here’s how.

Save your grip for what counts.

When it comes to building a grip strong enough to hold on to anything you can pull off the ground, there are two distinct schools of thought. The first is simple – if you’re training deads with a high enough volume then your grip will grow build on its own and you don’t need to do any specialized hand work. For some this approach works wonders, especially for those lucky enough to naturally have a great grip, work a manual job or just have giant hands.

However, if you’ve ever lost a lift because your grip wasn’t good enough, then it’s time to start listening to the other side and adding in some supplemental grip work.

Finish off your sessions with some farmers walks, weighted hangs and fat bar rows and you’ll have mighty mitts in no time. The problem is that if you start hammering your hands and forearms with farmers walks, weighted hangs and fat bar training, when it comes time to deadlift again your grip will be smoked. This results in you being limited to even less weight on the bar, especially in the short term. That is, of course, unless you strap up for your main deadlift session, while you allow your grip to recover. As with bringing up any weakness this is something best done in the off season, so that as competitions get closer you can start to build back in your strap free deadlift with newly improved grip strength. This is especially important if, like most people, you lift with a mixed grip.  

Injury Prevention

In some of the more hardcore strength circles I’ve heard that having a torn bicep is seen as a badge of honor, a sacrifice to the strength gods, a show of dedication. And while this might be a great story to tell others once you’ve injured yourself, I’m pretty confident that it’s still a club you’re only proud to be in after the fact.

However, we all still all want to deadlift heavy, and with this comes an increased risk of tearing a bicep, especially if you pull with an over under grip. But if you bring straps into the equation for your heavier off season lifts, you can reduce this risk. This is best done by only bringing out the straps for your heaviest work sets and pulling RAW for your warm up and back off sets. This way you get the best of both worlds, reduced risk of a training injury, while still going heavy. This allows you to slowly develop the tendon strength you need while reducing the risk of losing a bicep during a training session.

The other mostly unspoken benefit is that I’m yet to see someone who didn’t benefit from mixing their grip and hand placements up every now and then. Variety is the spice of life after all. As with the previous point do this in the off season and as your powerlifting meet gets closer slowly phase out straps from your heavier sets and reacclimate yourself to lifting how you will on the day.   

Increased Load

No matter how good your grip is, there will be a point where you have to make a choice. Do you stay RAW and lift less or do you throw on a couple of plates, strap your hands to that bar and go rogue. Whether we’re talking a high rep set, a rack pull, a trap bar deadlift or a combination of all three, if straps help you hit that set harder and that’s the goal for the day put protocol aside and strap up. The exact same is true for accessory lifts where grip is going to be a limiting factor, namely rows, shrugs and pull downs.   

Using straps in training isn’t about becoming dependent on a crutch, instead it’s about using every tool at your disposal to get stronger. Just as you might use caffeine or your favorite song to help you push a little harder in a tough workout, straps can be allow you to do things your normally couldn’t. Don’t dismiss it or anything else just because it’s not the most commonly done thing in your sport.  

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.