As most of you should know, wrist straps, not to be confused with wrist wraps, are not allowed at powerlifting competitions. Does that mean you should NEVER use lifting straps in your training? Well, no, not exactly.
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Hand Injuries and Hand Pain
One of the primary reasons to use lifting straps is if you’ve recently suffered a hand injury. For anyone who has been in the sport long enough, you know that you’re going to occasionally tear your hands up even if you’re doing a good job taking care of them. When the alternative is to have your hand bleed everywhere or just skip lifting entirely, I’d recommend just using the damn straps.
Likewise, if you’ve done ten combined sets of deadlifts, rows, chin-ups, and your hands are starting to get raw, there is no shame in using lifting straps. Again, you don’t want to make a habit of constantly using straps, ESPECIALLY when doing your competition deadlift work, but there is no reason to try and be a “tough guy” in all situations. If you’ve already done most of your competition deadlift work with your competition grip, it is fine to switch to straps once your hands are going raw and your grip is affecting your ability to focus on technique.
The key rule here is that you don’t want to make it a habit and you want to do as much of your competition deadlifting as possible without the straps.
There are certain accessory lifts that, in my opinion, are much better done with straps. These lifts include touch-and-go deadlift variations, any type of Romanian deadlift, super heavy “cheat” rows either with dumbbells or barbells and snatch-grip deadlifts. Honestly, snatch-grip deadlifts are almost impossible to do without straps unless you’re going to use hook grip on every single rep.
As I’ve said above, if your hands are starting to go raw, it is not a big deal, or any significant detriment to your training, to use straps on accessory work. The most important thing is to make sure you do most of your competition deadlift work with your competition grip. Why? Specificity. You get good at what you regularly train. If you’re regularly training your competition grip, it won’t fail you at the competition.
The Big Exception: Hook-grip Deadlifts
Hook grip deadlifters complicate the entire situation when it comes to lifting straps. While some lifters eventually adapt so well to hook grip that they can eventually do even high rep sets with the grip, many people find that repeatedly doing high-rep, hook-grip sets can DESTROY their thumbs. The cost of constantly destroying your thumbs outweighs the potential benefits of getting more hook grip work done. After all, what good is it to get through one deadlift session doing every single rep hook grip if you’re not going to be able to do any hook grip reps in the next one?
For the hook gripper, it makes a lot of sense to switch to straps for all higher rep sets. Most people stop trying to hook grip anything above 2-3 reps due to the distraction of the pain and the beating their thumbs take. If you want extra practice with hook grip, you can always do the last rep of a high-rep set with hook grip. This works well because you can just release the straps and, with minimal time passing, you set your hook for the last rep and go. If you try to do the first rep hook and then strap up for the rest, there will be a big 30-60 second gap between rep one and two while you set your straps up.
So should hook grip lifters primarily use straps in their training? Yes and no. If you’re a hook grip deadlifter, I’d HIGHLY recommend making use of regular submaximal singles such as the ones found in the programs in ProgrammingToWin2. These regular submaximal singles will ensure you have sufficient practice with heavy weights and they will act as “proof” that you can hang onto heavy weights with hook grip. If you can’t hold onto these submaximal singles, you surely won’t be able to hold onto maximal singles either.
The Best Straps for Powerlifting
The absolute best straps for powerlifting are Iron Mind straps. They’re used by nearly every professional strongman out there and that sport has MUCH higher demands for straps than any kind of powerlifting training you will ever do. If you buy cheap, they will eventually break and you’ll just have to buy another pair. Might as well just buy the indestructible iron mind straps and never have to deal with purchasing straps ever again.
Recommendations for Strap use in Powerlifting
For mixed grip deadlifters, you’re going to want to limit your use of straps to hand injuries, hand pain that is distracting from your workout, and certain accessory lifts, like snatch-grip deadlifts, that are hard or impossible to perform without straps. You should NOT use straps to “overload” because straps change your technique too significantly. Use chains, reverse-bands, and other methods to overload your deadlift if that is what you want to do. Stick to overloads that let you used mixed grip.
For hook grip deadlifters, you’re going to make much heavier use of straps than your mixed-grip buddies. As you get more used to hook grip, you may not longer need straps for higher rep sets but mostly people switch over to straps when doing any more than two or three reps in a set. Remember though, you still have to train your competition grip. Make SURE you’re making extensive use of hook grip during your warm-ups and I’d highly recommend using a program that makes regular use of submaximal singles so that you can ensure your hook is solid with competition weights.
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