What Do Lifting Straps Do? Purpose Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
May 3, 2022

A large number of accessories and tools are available to weightlifters for the purposes of enhancing their training routine and reducing any risk of injury found therein, with one of the most common among these being that of the lifting strap.

Lifting straps are a type of weightlifting equipment most frequently used by powerlifters or higher level weightlifting athletes for the purposes of reducing their risk of injury and aiding in the total amount of weight that may be lifted.

The majority of lifting straps are made of a flexible yet sturdy material that wraps around the wrist of the athlete, providing support during exercisers where this is applicable - as well as also allowing the exerciser to wrap the strap around the handle of their exercise implement, thereby allowing more weight to be lifted with less effort.

What are Lifting Straps?

what are lifting straps

Lifting straps are a free weight resistance exercise accessory meant to improve the safety of most free weight exercises while also increasing the exerciser’s grip strength capacity by aiding in the lifting motion.

Lifting straps are generally made of canvas, leather, or similarly tough material that are meant to withstand the high level of resistance applied during particularly heavy exercises like the deadlift or barbell row.

This particular type of exercise equipment is most useful in the performance of barbell or dumbbell based compound movements wherein the grip strength of the exerciser is likely one of the main limiting factors in the exercise - an issue that is easily remedied through the use of lifting straps.

How are Lifting Straps Used?

Lifting straps are used by the exerciser wrapping the straps around their wrists in a firm yet not too tight fashion - still allowing for wrist extension and flexion while providing enough support to prevent injury or the lifting straps from slipping off the wrists.

Once secured around the wrists, the exerciser will usually wrap one end of the straps - or a specially made hook attached to the straps - around the handle of the lifting implement, securing their wrists and the lifting straps to the equipment and ensuring that the straps can aid mechanically in lifting it.

Are Lifting Straps the Same as Wrist Wraps/Supports?

wrist wraps

Lifting straps are distinct from wrist wraps by several characteristics, with the primary difference being that wrist straps do not aid in lifting the weight as lifting straps do - thereby solely acting as wrist supports, entirely meant to reduce the risk of injury for the exerciser.

This somewhat alters the mechanics of the wrist due to the particular material and method of which the wrist wraps are wrapped around the forearm, making them more useful for certain types of free weight exercises than the lifting straps.

What are the Benefits of Using Lifting Straps?

Lifting straps present a wide variety of benefits that directly aid the exerciser in achieving their training goals while ensuring that their workout routine is not interrupted by nagging wrist injuries or similar obstacles to their training.

Reduced Risk of Injury

The first and most important benefits of using lifting straps is the reduced risk of injury involved in its usage - as the majority of lifting strap brands are made of materials sturdy enough to ensure that the wrist does not enter a state of overextension or overflexion that may place the various tendons, muscles, or even small bones of the wrist and hands at risk.

This, combined with the fact that the lifting straps can greatly reduce the rate at which the forearm muscles achieve a state of fatigue, will result in a greatly lessened risk of injury in the general area of the wrists and forearms - though it will not protect the exerciser from injuries in other parts of the body.

Improved Wrist Mechanics and Positioning

Mostly applicable to exercisers of lesser training experience, the lifting straps may aid lifters in the correct positioning of their wrist and hands - something that is often an issue in certain exercises like the row or bench press, wherein the exerciser places themselves at risk of injury by positioning their wrists at an unsafe angle.

The lifting straps may aid in this particular issue by forcing the wrist, forearms and hand to remain within a certain range of motion throughout the exercise - thereby preventing the exerciser’s form from breaking down (as far as the wrists are concerned, at least), as well as retaining a more secure angle for the wrist’s connective tissues.

Subsequent Increased Training Stimulus

Though not a direct result of using lifting straps, the total amount of resistance in the majority of free weight exercises may be increased to supramaximal levels due to the aid the lifting straps give the exerciser in terms of grip strength.

This is most noticeable in heavy pull-type compound exercises such as rack pulls, barbell shrugs and the ever popular deadlift - all of which are severely limited by the grip strength of the exerciser, which is usually one of the first parts of the body to fatigue during particularly heavy sets of such exercises.

As such, the exerciser will find themselves capable of lifting a total amount of weight otherwise difficult or impossible with their natural grip strength alone, allowing them to increase the total training stimulus accrued by way of increasing the resistance of the exercise itself.

Reduced Forearm Muscle Group Fatigue

Considering the fact that the forearm muscles are the most utilized muscle group throughout most workout sessions, it is no surprise that they are among one of the first to fatigue during any particular training session.

This is easily remedied through the use of lifting straps, of which take a large amount of the exertion normally placed on said forearm muscles out of the equation.

This will result in the forearm muscles being utilized to a less intense extent throughout the workout, allowing them to recover better and thereby fatigue at a lesser rate - with the drawback that the total training stimulus placed on the forearms will also be reduced to some extent.

Such a reduction in training stimulus can, of course, be remedied by simply adding additional forearm isolation exercises to the end of the workout.

What are the Disadvantages of Using Lifting Straps?

Primarily, few disadvantages are presented by the use of lifting straps - save for the fact that it may reduce the total training stimulus placed on the forearms and related muscle groups, as it subsequently reduces the amount of resistance placed therein.

However, one possible advantage is the fact that the lifting strap is not entirely applicable to exercises that utilize unusual wrist or hand positioning, such as in the case of the suicide grip bench press or the cable crossover, both of which require the wrist to be placed outside of the range of motion that the lifting straps lock them into.

As such, using lifting straps is entirely a situational choice - and is only truly applicable in certain cases such as in traditional powerlifting training programs or by exercisers with a history of wrist weakness.

What Exercises can Benefit from Lifting Straps?

Primarily, lifting straps are most useful in exercises of the pulling type motion that make use of barbells, kettlebells or similar free weight implements that possess a handle on which the exerciser may wrap the lifting straps around.

These can take the form of kettlebell shrugs, deadlifts, rows, or even pull ups, so long as the exerciser is capable of securing the lifting straps to the handles properly.

Who Should Use Lifting Straps?

Though lifting straps may be used by practically any individual wishing for improved safety in their performance of free weight exercises, it is with certain types of athletes or exercisers performing certain training routines that the lifting straps can truly reach their full potential.

Lifting straps are most commonly used by powerlifters or strength based athletes performing heavy barbell compound exercises that surpass their total grip strength, with the deadlift being the most frequently paired exercise with lifting straps.

However, even in standard barbell training, lifting straps may be used to great effect - as exercises not normally used as competition lifts in powerlifting meets or similar athletic events may still utilize lifting straps to an extent.

Kettlebell rows, pull-ups, and even dumbbell front raises may all be greatly aided by the use of lifting straps, as the reduced forearm muscle fatigue and improved wrist safety benefits of the lifting strap can easily remedy some of the issues associated with these exercises.

Finally, there is also the rather niche case of individuals with a history of weakened wrists or injuries in said area; as lifting straps may provide support to the wrists and restrain them to a certain range of motion, these individuals may also make use of these weight training accessories.

Of course, it is vital for the aforementioned individuals to first consult a physician prior to returning to intense exercise, as even the support from lifting straps may be insufficient in preventing further injury.

Can Beginners Make Use of Lifting Straps?

Though lifting straps are no doubt quite useful for powerlifting athletes and exercisers of intermediate to advanced experience levels, it is unlikely a beginner weightlifter will need straps for the most part.

This is due to the fact that, at their current strength level, beginner weightlifters will not be able to lift sufficient enough amounts of weight for their grip strength to become a limiting factor - thereby removing the need for lifting straps.

One may make the case that, due to their lack of experience in proper wrist mechanics, the novice weightlifter will require the support of lifting straps.

However, this is not correct at all, as doing so will lead the beginner exerciser to overly rely on the lifting straps to position their wrists, causing them to forgo learning to position and brace their wrists in the proper manner - of which may place them at risk of future injury.

Final Thoughts

Though lifting straps are no doubt an extremely useful tool in any weightlifter’s gym bag, they present certain limitations that make them useless for certain exercises or situations - thereby making lifting straps a situational tool at best.

Despite this, they are no doubt an essential for any powerlifter or exerciser of advanced experience - as grip strength is among one of the largest limiting factors in concerns to maximal resistance loading of free weight exercises.

References

1. Valério, Denis & Berton, Ricardo & Barbieri, Joao & Calzavara, Jader & Moraes, Antonio & Barroso, Renato. (2019). The effects of lifting straps in maximum strength, number of repetitions and muscle activation during lat pull-down. Sports Biomechanics. 20. 1-8. 10.1080/14763141.2019.1610490.

2. Jukic I, García-Ramos A, Baláš J, Malecek J, Omcirk D, Tufano JJ. Ergogenic effects of lifting straps on movement velocity, grip strength, perceived exertion and grip security during the deadlift exercise. Physiol Behav. 2021 Feb 1;229:113283. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113283. Epub 2020 Dec 8. PMID: 33306977.

3. Fong, Shirley S.M. PT, PhDa,b,∗; Chung, Louisa M.Y. RNutr, DHSca; Gao, Yang MD, PhDc; Lee, Jeff Chak Wai BHEa; Chang, Tak Ching BHEa; Ma, Ada W.W. PhDa The influence of weightlifting belts and wrist straps on deadlift kinematics, time to complete a deadlift and rating of perceived exertion in male recreational weightlifters, Medicine: February 18, 2022 - Volume 101 - Issue 7 - p e28918 doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000028918

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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