Weightlifting Straps Review, Part 1: What They Are and Why I Love Them
You need to lift more weight. And you need to lift more weight more often. Sorry, I'm just not going to sugar coat it for you. You can't make great progress in the gym by lifting loads that are under your capacity and only hitting the gym once a week.
Of course, you know all that.
I'm talking 'bout pure, unadulterated Performance Enhancement here, my people!
But unfortunately, because of all of those heavily drugged pro-athletes who can spend tens of thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of injecting themselves, when we hear the term, "performance enhancement" we AUTOMATICALLY think of steroids or, at the very least, cheating.
That's too bad, because my entire career is premised on enhancing your performance! That's what coaches do.
It's also what the right equipment does. Good equipment and proper clothing - like awesome weightlifting shoes - don't take away from you, they add something to you.
Cheating is what we call you being able to do less work, but still win, because you have access to an advantage your opponent does not.
Being smart is taking every advantage you can to increase performance, increase safety (if applicable - at least you should break even), and kick booty so long as your opponents all have the same access that you do.
(By the way, by "access" I also mean the advantage should be legal!)
In this review, I'll do two things:
- In the first part, I explain what straps are and why I think most (certainly not all) weightlifters would do well to wear them during their snatch workouts, their pulling, deadlifting, etc.
- In the second part, I review the three brands of straps the lifters in my gym happen to use and why I love them so much - and why we use them every day, sometimes twice a day. (I'm sure there are other brands out there, I just don't have experience with them, so I can't comment.)
What Are Weightlifting Straps?
The ones I'm going to review in part two are "slick" in design - made of unnatural fibers, and very similar to a car seatbelt - so when you need to release from them they will just slide right off the bar VERY easily. That's a huge concern when it comes to safety on the Olympic lifts.
PLEASE, I only have two rules with straps:
- Never, ever, ever wear straps for cleans. EVER. You are too locked onto the bar. When you need to release, you won't be able to, and you can do damage to yourself that is brutal! (I'll let you search out the video of Zack Krych yourself)
- Only wear "slick" straps for the Olympic lifts. No cotton, nothing that looks and feels like a black belt in the martial arts. Slick or nothing. If you can't release, you WILL get hurt. If you CAN release, you're golden.
These rules are like getting the right pedals for you bike. Either you can increase performance and safety or you can seriously put yourself at risk.
By the way, if you are only using straps for deadlifts and pulls, then you don't need them to be slick.
"Why Should I Care, Nick?"
You should care because for some weirdo-with-a-beardo reason you REALLY want to lift heavier weights. You love picking up heavy stuff. I totally support that obsession of yours, and we can just forget those naysayers who don't get it!
One of the ways I'm going to support you is by helping you to "enhance" your performance in all kinds of wicked ways. I've already talked about shoes (and spandex!), so I figure now it's time to tackle the straps question.
Performance Enhancers Are Not All Bad
A great example of a classic performance enhancer that is totally acceptable, and in fact preferable, is cleats. Imagine trying to play soccer or baseball or rugby or football - outside in crappy weather - without good cleats.
Sure, if you don't live here in Portland then you likely don't have to deal with as much rain as I do, but cleats REALLY help you play the game better, and they make it far less likely for you to slip, fall, and break a bone. (Think about what your Grandmother would say!)
Everyone can buy a pair and within reason; they are quite legal in most sports. (Many softball leagues don't allow you to wear metal cleats for safety reasons, for instance.)
Another example is bicycle design in the cycling sports. You can't win the Tour de France with a fixed gear BMX! Let's ignore the drugs and blood doping in distance cycling events for a second and get realistic. In order to do well, you need a good bike. Unfortunately, unlike cleats, bikes are expensive!!
Thankfully, straps are not. They are crazy cheap, and just like cleats they will do you a lot of good if you use them as intended.
There are two reasons the straps will improve your performance, and they are directly related to my interest in getting you to lift More Weight, More Often:
- Straps allow you to put a touch more weight on the bar for snatches than you would have without them. And this difference is multiplied by A LOT when we're talking about pulls and deadlifts. (I don't have time here, but I don't think you should use a "mixed grip" in training. Save that for your Powerlifting contest. Wear straps instead.)
- They give your hands (mainly your hook grip) a break. When you snatch and clean very often, your hands take a real beating. The bars have a heck of a lot of knurling on them, and that knurling is out to get you! If you can cut down the number of total reps you have to use a hook grip with, that's a good thing. By using straps on snatches, you cut that frequency in half.
In the next installment of this series I'll actually review the top three brands we use at my own gym. Again, I don't have anything against other brands, we just don't use them, and so I don't have an opinion on them. But, these three, I'm really into.
Also, I'm off to nationals this coming week with my lifter Brandon (pictured here to the right) who is making his first appearance in the 62kg class. We're both just going to have a great time with cool people (we'll worry about him medaling in the future once he's been in it longer - it's been less than two years). But, wish us luck anyway!