When it comes to your heavy lifting in the weight room, there are bound to be some weak points as you pile on the plates, and not every rep is going to be successful. But that's not the worst thing in the world—failure is an important part of building muscle and getting stronger, after all. Sometimes you'll need to improve your form to nail a rep, and sometimes the weight will just be too much to handle. While your strength might flag because of the muscle groups bearing much of the burden, for exercises that depend on holding a bar, your grip strength is even more likely to be the first thing to go. That's when you'll probably start to think about investing in a pair of lifting straps.
Lifting straps are exactly what they sound like. Typically made of cotton, nylon, or leather, these strips of fabric wrap around your wrist and the bar to both help your hands grip it and to serve as a more stable point of attachment once your fingers start losing hold.
There are three main styles of lifting straps: a closed loop, a lasso, or a figure-eight. Which style will work best for you will largely depend on your personal preference.
Not every situation involving a barbell requires lifting straps, however. You don't want to be the guy cluelessly stalking the gym floor, fully-loaded up with a weight belt and lifting straps for rounds that don't call for their use. But you'll do more than just look silly to more experienced lifters—you'll hurt your strength gains, too. Let's check out the best wrist straps, and when you should use them.
Benefits of Using Lifting Straps
You're using lifting straps for a reason: You need to hold onto the bar to work with heavier weights than your current threshold of strength can handle unaided on its own. And the benefits of these bigger lifts go well beyond just the excitement that comes with a new PR.
“You're able to overload the major muscle groups—hips, back, and legs—by putting straps on,” says Scott Caulfield, C.S.C.S., head strength and conditioning coach at the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
With that overload, your muscles will adapt—and you'll build more muscle size and strength.
Who Should Use Lifting Straps
But no matter what, you shouldn’t be using straps if you’re just starting out on your weightlifting journey. “I would recommend that only intermediate and advanced people use straps,” Caulfield says, “because when you're first starting out, you should be trying to get as strong as possible without adding any assistance.”
Sean Waxman, C.S.C.S., owner of Waxman’s Gym in Los Angeles, agrees. “As a beginner, the volume and the intensity that you're training at shouldn't be so up to the point where you need extra support,” he says. “I think once an athlete moves into a little bit more of an advanced stage, when the volume and the intensity and the frequency of training increases, it's prudent to wear things like wrist straps.” (One piece of gear that’ll help your lifts at any level: proper weightlifting shoes.)
Importantly, straps serve a different purpose than lifting grips or gloves. Those tools put a layer of material between your palms and the bar to help you hold on and protect your skin from rips. Straps do that too—but they're also wrapped around the bar, adding extra support.
If you use lifting straps for every single rep, you'll also miss out on important grip strength gains. While your grip is often the weak point in your heavy lifts, it's an important factor for your overall health and fitness. Check out these exercises that can help strengthen your forearms, which are essential for your grip. Before grabbing straps, you can also switch up your hand position for exercises like deadlifts, shifting from pronated (overhand) grip to alternating grip, with one hand overhand and one under, or you could add chalk to cut down on any sweaty palms.
If you’re a dedicated lifter who’s ready to make major muscle gains, here’s what you need to know about the three types of weightlifting straps.
Closed Loop Lifting Straps
A closed loop lifting strap—which is, as it sounds, just a loop made of material—is the best for Olympic lifts, where you’ll need to be able to release the bar quickly to get it over head. This also makes it the least secure of the strap types. To attach a closed loop strap on the bar, you’ll need to wrap it around your wrist then feed the hanging end around the bar. We’re fans of leather straps for this category for a grippier feel, which are durable, not too bulky, and offer you the ability to hold onto any barbell while being able to release it easily, as in Olympic lifting.
Lasso Lifting Straps
A lasso strap has a wrist loop that attaches around your wrist and then a piece that wraps around the bar. It can be looped multiple times for a tighter grip on the barbell. This is the most common and versatile type of wrist strap, and good for both casual lifting and pushing past PRs. “The closed loop and the lasso are similar” in their utility, says Waxman, and it usually comes down to personal preference. Look for options that offer extended length for the part that wraps around the bar for a tighter grip, and extra padding around the wrists for safety and comfort.
Figure-Eight Lifting Straps
A figure-eight strap loops around your wrist, goes under the barbell, and then wraps around your wrist again. It can only be wrapped around the bar once, so they’re not very versatile, but are usually bulky and very secure. If you’re trying to max out a deadlift, they’re your best option. “It only should be used if there's somewhere where you’re not in a situation where you have to quickly release the bar, as in Olympic lifting,” Waxman says. “But in heavy lifts, it definitely takes more of the stress out of the hand. You’re looping the strap around the bar, and both ends are hooked onto your wrist.”