Whether you’ve just started hitting the gym or you’ve been a regular for a while, there’s no doubt that you’ve watched guy and gal weightlifters methodically wrapping their wrists before they start working out. You might be scratching your head, wondering why they’re wrapping their wrists and if you should, too. In short, yes, you definitely should.
Believe it or not, wrist straps aren’t just for show (though it might seem like they are, like lifting gloves for example cough cough), nor are they reserved for individuals who want to be extremely cautions. In actuality, wrist straps are a proven, affordable, and easy to use piece of exercise gear. That’s right, they’re actually exercise gear! These pieces of cloth have been found to offer numerous advantages for weightlifters, which include:
- Improved support for the wrists
- Better performance
- Reduced risk of injury
If you’re interested in wrist straps and you want to find out more information before you decide to invest in a pair and start using them, keep on reading.
What are wrist straps, anyway?
Also known as “wrist wraps” or “wrist pads”, wrist straps are pretty much what they sound and look like. They’re piece of material – either cloth or leather – that loop around your wrist and the bar of the weight that you’re planning on lifting. The purpose of these straps is to offer support and to protect your wrists (of course), as well as your grip, and even your forearms.
While wrist straps are often worn by casual gym-goers and bodybuilders, they’re particularly beneficial during those super-heavy lifting sessions, such as when you’re powerlifting or doing a Strongman, when overhead lifts and pressing movements are common. They can be used for other activities outside of heavy lifting, too.
Kinds of wrist straps
There a multiple kinds of wrist straps, and different types can be used for different purposes, depending on your particular workout goals and fitness program.
Traditional wrist straps (stability, multi-purpose)
Traditional wrist straps are made of durable pieces of material and feature a mechanism that secures them in-place around the wrist, often a hook-and-loop closure. There’s a thumb loop on the side of the straps, too. While the thumb loop is intended to improve security, you don’t have to use it; as a matter of fact, there are a lot of weightlifters who actually opt to not use them and just leave the thumb loops hanging on the sides or remove them from the strap completely.
- Pair of padded cotton lifting straps for weightlifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and strength training
Lifting strap combo (best for pulling exercises)
As the name suggests, lifting strap combo wrist straps combine the support that standard wrist wraps provide with the lifting support that straps offer. Unlike traditional wrist wraps, lifting straps aren’t intended to offer stability for the muscles and the connective tissues; instead, when your grip fails, the straps step in so that you can lift more weight to tire out the targeted muscle.
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EZ grip combo (best for high friction & powerlifting)
This style features standard wrist straps with an extended leather pad; hence why they’re often referred to as “wrist pads”. The straps support your wrists, while the leather pads allow you to grip tightly into the bar.
The leather pad is super-durable and is designed for intense workouts, like powerlifting. EZ grip combo straps are unlike lifting straps, as the leather pads don’t take over when you’re grip fails, but rather, they allow you to get a tight grip on the bar, enabling you to securely lift it. However, it’s important to note that if your grip does fail, the weight will drop.
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Lifting hook combo (locked-in, best for light-weight work/pull-ups/abdominal work)
Similar to EZ grip straps, the lifting hook combo features a lifting hook instead of a leather pad. The wrist straps are extremely durable and often, they’re reinforced with multiple layers of neoprene material. If you’re opting for lifting hook combos, make sure that the hooks are made of steel and that they have a plastic coating over them so as to avoid damaging the barbell. If the hooks are made of anything other than steel, nix them.
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What are the benefits of wrist straps?
Wrist straps provide several benefits, some of the most notable of which include:
- Support. First and foremost, wrist straps provide support for your wrists (duh!). If you think about how much you use your wrists while you’re lifting, it’s easy to see why wrist strain is one of the most common injuries that weightlifters experience. With wrist straps, your wrists have the added support that they need to prevent strain.
- Protection. While flexibility in the wrists is important for stretching, when you’re weightlifting, it can pose problems; for instance, flexibility in the wrists decrease stability, which can increase the risk of injury. Because wrist straps support the muscles and connective tissues that span from your hands to your elbows, wrist straps reduce the risk of injury.
- Previous injury protection. If you’ve suffered a wrist injury in the past, there’s no doubt you feel some pain and soreness when you’re lifting from time to time. With wrist straps, you’ll have the additional protection you need from those previous injuries so that you can enjoy your workouts without unwanted pain.
- Increased performance. Wrist stability increase performance, as it helps to narrow the focus of your effort and the direction of the movement of your wrist, thus improving your performance.
- Improved recovery. Because wrist straps stabilize your wrists and elbows, they eliminate overuse and strain, which will ultimately help to improve your recovery.
When should you use wrist straps?
Generally speaking, wrist straps are recommended during heavy-lifting workouts, particularly overhead lifts. Additionally, wrist straps are recommended during any activity where overuse is a risk; during a metabolic conditioning (metcon) workout. Other examples of when the use of wrist straps is a wise idea include:
- Powerlifting, which will help to improve the stability and strength of the wrists to improve squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.
- CrossFit, which heavily focuses on metcon workouts and bodyweight exercises that involve lots of repetitions.
- Strongman workouts, which often involves lifting weights, as well as other heavy objects, like trees, tires, and stones.
- High-rep weightlifting, where strain on your elbows and wrists is a risk.
Below renowned weightlifter/strongman/hobbyist bodybuilder Alan Thrall outlines wrist straps, their best applications, when to use lifting straps and when not to. He also breaks down video of some serious strong lifters and how/when they use lifting straps. It’s an enlightening video as per usual from Alan:
Skinny Yoked Summary aka TL;DR
So, you’ve read all about wrist straps and have a decent idea of what you need for your sport, your style of lifting, and/or your specific fitness goals, great!
But maybe you aren’t that far along in your journey, maybe you’re just starting out and are still on the fence about dropping dosh on some straps?
Well, in that case, you should probably just go lift. When you begin your muscle development won’t allow you to be lifting insane heavy weight to begin with anyways. In fact, it can take years to work up to the kind of weights in which lifting straps would even begin to be advantageous.
Focus in on perfecting your form, of being a well-rounded lifter (not skipping leg days, or neglecting your back, or over-focusing on arms etc..) and once you’ve reached the limits of your anatomies natural potential, i.e you start deadlifting weights so heavy your grip start weakening, THEN consider straps.
Jumping into straps too early and before they are necessary is a recipe for under-developed arm muscles (below the elbow), weak grip strength (a weak link in your chain) and honestly may be providing an false sense of security.
If you’ve been lifting for years though and you’re pulling heavy weights and you need something to help you bust out that session-ending couple of sets of heavy dumbbell shrugs but your arms are shot from barbell rowing all afternoon then yes, straps can make a world of difference and allow you to extend your workouts, particularly if you are splitting push/pull, as the pull days can quickly exhaust grip strength with the right amount of intensity.
So, if you’re new, make sure you REALLY need them before buying them to avoid premature over-dependency and if you are not new, then GET THEM, they make a world of difference in our opinion.
Last update on 2023-06-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API