Straps are common in commercial gym settings. Usually made of nylon, cotton, or leather, they allow the lifter to attach a heavy barbell or dumbbell to their hand. The use of straps effectively minimizes the importance of grip strength, allowing somebody to lift more weight. The ‘weak link’ for many people is their grip strength, so most people see impressive number gains when they strap up. Is that the answer to getting stronger?
Arguments can be made concerning the various goals that people have, but for the most part I don’t think straps should be used. One segment of my training philosophies is that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. If you train to your weakest link, you effectively eliminate that weak link, and another one emerges. As you systematically eliminate weak links, you see continuous improvements in your strength. If you exercise with only aesthetic goals in mind, then you’d be more likely to justify the use of straps to complete heavy lifting, but I still think that everybody should be strap-less.
Grip strength is often the limiting factor in pulling exercises; why would intentionally bypass this weak link? Weak links exist for a reason; your body is not prepared for handling loads greater than your current max. By using a piece of equiptment that ignores this link sets you up for an injury. Instead of bypassing your grip strength, or lack thereof, I think that you should attack it head on.
It’s easy to emphasize grip work in your training, it all comes down to exercise selection. Here’s a short list of exercises that require a strong grip. Use them in your programs, and crush any hand you shake. Just don’t do it to your grandmother.
- Deadlifts. (Duh, they’re the answer to life.)
- Heavy Rows, both barbell and dumbbell
- Farmers Walks
- Hammer Curls
You can diversify your exercise selection by also incorporating the use of fat grips. While fat barbells and dumbbells can be pretty costly, there are a number of clip-on grips that instantly increase the width of any bar you’re using. Fat Gripz are probably the best of these, and they’re certainly on my Christmas list. I currently use a 2″ handle for all of my cable station rows and I feel a huge difference between that and a traditional handle.
Grip strength is often a limiting factor in pulling exercises, either upper body (like rows and chin-ups) or lower body (any deadlift variation) Many people use straps to ignore this weak link, but that’s not the solution; you’re left with a weak grip. In order to bring up grip strength, training that emphasizes this strength should be used. Simply performing more pulling exercises will help, and adding thick implements to your training will help to really bring up this weak link.