Should You Use Straps When Deadlifting?

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Starring at the barbell on the floor I couldn’t help but think to myself, “holy shit that’s a lot of weight.” Also, “I hope I don’t shit myself.”

The year: 2004. The place: Albany, NY, at some random Golds Gym.

I was visiting my sister and her family after a recent breakup with my then girlfriend and I decided to do what most guys would do when stuck in a vortex of rage, anger, sadness, and endless Julia Roberts movies and go to the gym. That day was going to be the day I would deadlift 500 lbs for the first time.

Note: this isn’t 500 lbs (but my biceps look amazing)

Either that or destroy the back of my pants trying.

I know this will surprise a lot of people when I say this, but I didn’t perform my first (real) deadlift until 2002 when I was 25 and still wet behind the ears with regards to my fitness career.

Mind you I had been lifting weights since I was 13, so it’s not like up until that point I had never seen a barbell. The first time I tested my 1RM I hit 405, thank you very much.

It didn’t take long for me to become enamored with the deadlift. I loved that I was actually good at it, and I really loved how it made my body look and feel. It wasn’t long before I made it my mission to pull 500 lbs. It took me a little over a year to get there.

Funnily enough, how I went about doing it was all sorts of contrarian compared to how I would approach the same task today. Well, not 100% contrarian….but, you know, different.

1. I didn’t perform any traditional 90% work (working up to heavy singles). Instead I stayed in the 3-5 rep range, sometimes adding in some high(er) rep work for the hell of it. Whoever says you can’t improve your 1RM by working with sub-maximal weights is wrong1

2. I didn’t use any special periodization scheme named after a Russian. I used good ol’ fashioned linear progression.

3. I didn’t rotate my movements every 2-3 weeks or follow some magical formula that had me incorporate the Mayan calendar or performing some sort of dance to the deadlift gods every time there was a Lunar eclipse. I performed the conventional deadlift almost exclusively. Year round.

4. And maybe most blasphemous of all, I sometimes used straps!!!

I know….I didn’t want to be the one to break the news to you, but it’s true.

Which serves as a nice segue to a question I received yesterday via Facebook:

I have for some time had a discussion with renowned coaches in Denmark about whether it’s a good idea to use straps with the deadlift or not. More people think that one gets a wry boost with mixed grip and its not good for your back.

Furthermore, the argument is that you can pull a lot more with straps without a crooked pull.

Why do you think straps should not be used during deadlifts?

First things first: lets address the pink elephant in the room. I don’t feel utilizing a mixed grip is bad, much less bad for one’s back.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some inherent risks involved. But then again, every exercise has some variation of risk. I know a handful of people who have torn their biceps tendon – including Bret Contreras – while deadlifting using a mixed grip. The supinated (underhand) side is almost always the culprit.

A LOT of people deadlift with a mixed grip, and A LOT of people never tear their bicep tendon. Much the same that a lot of people drive their cars and never get into an accident.

Watch any deadlift competition or powerlifitng meet and 99% of the guys are pulling with a mixed grip. And the ones who aren’t are freaks of nature. They don’t count.

Pulling with a mixed grip does allow someone to handle more weight on the bar as grip becomes less of a limiting factor. I don’t see any issue with this.

Here’s my general approach:

1. ALL warm-up/build-up sets are performed with a pronated (overhand grip).

2. All working sets are performed with a pronated grip until it becomes the limiting factor.

3. Once that occurs, I’ll then revert to a mixed grip….alternating back and forth with every subsequent set.

4. When performing max effort work, I’ll always choose my dominant grip, but I feel alternating grips with all other sets helps to “offset” any potential imbalances or injuries from happening.

As Far As Straps

Despite what many may think, I don’t think it’s wrong or that you’re an awful human being or you’re breaking some kind of unspoken Broscience rule if you use straps when you deadlift.

When I first started deadlifting (occasionally) utilizing straps allowed me to use heavier loads which 1) was awesome and 2) that’s pretty much it.

Straps allowed me to incorporate more progressive overload. My deadlift numbers increased. And I got yolked. Come at me Bro!

But I also understood that using straps was a crutch, and that if I really wanted to earn respect as a trainer and coach I had to, at some point, work my way up to a strapless pull. No one brags about their 1RM deadlift with straps in strength and conditioning circles. That’s amateur hour stuff for internet warriors to bicker over.

If you’re a competitive lifter, you can’t use straps in competition (outside of CrossFit)…..so it makes sense to limit your use of straps in training.

If you’re not a competitive lifter, well then, who cares!?! It’s just a matter of personal choice.

Note: I don’t use straps at all anymore, and if I do it’s only for snatch-grip deadlifts.

That said, straps do tend to slow people down which could be argued as more of a hinderance to performance. One mistake I see some trainees make with their setup is that they’ll bend over, grab the bar, and take way too long before they start their actual pull.  Are we deadlifting or watching all 3-hours of Titanic here!?!?

The logic is this: if you spend too much time at the bottom you’ll miss out on the stretch shortening cycle. As we like to coach it as CSP: Grip, dip, rip!

You can’t really do that with straps as you have to take the time to wrap them around the bar.

That’s that. Hopefully I was able to shed some light on the topic. It’s nothing revolutionary, but something I feel will help out a lot of people. If you want to use straps, use them! If not, that’s cool too.

And for the record: I did hit that 500 lb deadlift back in 2004. Without destroying the back of my pants.

FYI

For those looking for a top-notch deadlifting resource I’d highly encourage you to check out David Dellanave’s Off the Floor: A Manual for Deadlift Domination.

He just re-released it this week at an amazing sale price with a bunch of new add-ons and content, including three different programs in addition to tutorial videos. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re interested in taking your deadlift to the next level.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  1. as Greg Robins would say, “you need to build a wider base with sub-maximal weights in order to reach higher peaks (in maximal strength).

Comments for This Entry

  • Seth

    Tony- if you're using straps, is it possible to strap up to the bar while your hips are high, dip into position, and still get the benefits of the stretch-shortening cycle?

    December 2, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dave Scott-McDowell

    i tend to not allow mixed grips / or straps. my thought process being that if i limit these grips my athlete will have to not use as much weight and limit their risks of doing the exercise wrong. I use it as a way to limit the athletes from doing more than they are ready for.

    December 2, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Different strokes for different folks. But who says that performing them with a mixed grip is wrong? Is Andy Bolton wrong because he deadlifts with a mixed grip? Am I wrong because I coach my clients and athletes to pull with a mixed grip?

      December 2, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Dave Scott-McDowell

        not at all was not inferring that.. that is what works with your clientele there are many factors at play namely the level of supervision that can be given to each rep. was not trying to be confrontational. I enjoy the information you put out, always thought provoking and entertaining, thank you

        December 2, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • kongo

    Tony, love your stuff. I have a question regarding mixed grip deads: How do you implement them properly when most people are right hip dominant (Eric Cressey and Greg once demonstrated a reaching hamstring stretch on a plate to counteract this)? Meaning, the "crooked bar" that this article mentions is obviously due to the difference in lengths between sides when using a mixed grip. So if you have a hip imbalance (which can cause back pain), would the set up to use a mixed grip be different to account for this? For example, slightly offsetting the grip distance from center to account for the difference? I don't know if this question makes sense. Thanks for the awesome information. I appreciate it.

    December 2, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sarah

    Hey, great article Tony. As a female I struggled a lot with grip as my deadlift got heavier, so I transitioned to mixed and alternated hands like you suggested. Problem was solved until I took up Olympic lifting and could barely hold any weight on a snatch. I recently bought a womens 15kg Olympic bar and am trying to teach myself hook grip, and it's been easier to adjust. Would it be wise to exclusively perform deadlifts on the Olympic bar with hook from now? Feels like I'm kind of cheating myself with the thinner bar.

    December 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Reply to this comment

  • chris

    Appreciate this is possibly a unique result, but I was doing deadlifts with straps, about a 6RM lift, and focusing on speed. I had got into the habit of using straps so did so all the time, even though for 6RM I didn't need them. I lifted and stuffed up and smashed the bar into my knee cap. Result was my knee jerked backwards, my hips went back as well and I was left in a bad position - and couldn't drop the damn bar because it was strapped to me. End result - herniated disc. I think straps do increase the risk of injury because you cannot dump a bad lift, or a too heavy lift or when your knee gives a sharp tweak or whatever it is that sometimes means you have to pull out. Obviously I never use them now, even for (say) pull ups, where I found the lack of movement at the hand/wrist level resulted in movement at the shoulder level in a fairly painful way. All in all, I'm not a fan (for what that is worth!)

    December 3, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jessy

    I don't use straps, but I do the same thing regarding the grip that you recommend - it just seemed natural to me to use the overhand grip as long as possible and then in the last set (AMRAP - I do 5/3/1) I use the mixed grip. Then I saw your video tutorial for deadlifts and was happy to see that I was right, haha. If I used it on more sets I'd switch the grip up, but since it's (so far) only for the last set, I always use the same set-up (right hand pronated, left hand supinated). I was wondering about your thoughts on chalk. As someone who's into training for strength but doesn't compete in powerlifting (yet?), should I use it or avoid it? When is the time to start using it? I hadn't thought about it before, but last week I felt the bar slipping away in the last reps of my last set (with mixed grip). For what is worth, I'm still a novice in this and don't lift that heavy yet (my 1RM is probably about 110 kg). Also, what about the belt (for deadlifts and squats)? I would prefer to lift all raw, especially since I don't compete, but I see that even those powerlifters who don't use other gear (knee wraps etc.) use at least a belt. Mind you, I'm not a powerlifter haha, I just ''look up'' to these women. :)

    December 7, 2014 at 6:25 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I love chalk. Takes away any moisture in the hands which helps grip. Makes a world of difference for sure.

      December 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Jessy

        So there is no such thing as using it ''too soon''? I read Rippetoe's book a long time ago and I remember him advising against using a lifting belt too soon (or maybe I'm confusing him with someone else), so I wondered if using chalk too soon would prevent/stall grip development. But I guess not, since it only helps to dry the hands, right?

        December 8, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Reply to this comment

        • TonyGentilcore

          I agree with Rippetoe on the belt thing. I only let people use them once they're approaching 85-90% of 1RM. But too, the belt DOES give people feedback on how to "push against" it to increase intrabdominal pressure to improve stability. So there IS a time and place. With chalk, I don't feel it's a grip issue at all. Even guys with death grips get sweaty palms.....;o) Chalk just helps in that regard.

          December 9, 2014 at 8:49 am | Reply to this comment

          • Jessy

            Hmm, I guess I understood it also in the meaning of not using the belt when your too soon, as in when your 1RM is not that much (and when you're still progressing well without it)? Thanks for your replies! I'll go look for a good chalk then. ;)

            December 9, 2014 at 9:06 am

          • TonyGentilcore

            I think there's some validity for beginners using the belt to help teach them to attain more tension and to learn how to use a belt correctly. But yes, some tend to gravitate towards it too soon and use it as a crutch. It's silly when you start seeing people using a belt during lat pulldowns and bicep curls.

            December 11, 2014 at 7:19 am

  • Chuck Lee

    Tony, I have always used overhand grip until I get to the point I can not grip the bar in my wo's. And my grip continues to get stronger. The poster that asked about using chalk...... I like Jim Wendler's advice on using chalk....... If your gym does not allow chalk, sneak some in!

    December 7, 2014 at 11:07 am | Reply to this comment

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  • Patrick Close

    I compete in powerlifting so I need my grip to be strong. I actually got to the point where I was stronger without straps because you lose your tightness when you bend down to tie them up. I use a mixed grip from my first warm up. The reason being I don't want to fatigue my grip before I get to my heavy sets. I switch my grip every rep/set so each arm does the same number of reps in each position. I have no imbalances. I always use chalk from my 3rd warm up set. Grip used to be my weak point so I would pull as many reps as possible with no straps and then when the bar was almost slipping out my hands I would put the straps on and bang out more reps if I could. When I knew I'd hit my last rep with no straps I'd just stand there and hold the bar for as long as I could. Unfortunately I broke my hand in a motorcycle accident and will be using straps for a while! Thanks for the article.

    May 24, 2016 at 4:11 am | Reply to this comment

  • Heath Watts

    Eddie Hall pulled an 1100 lb. deadlift with straps. He should be bragging.

    November 11, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Strongman123

    Working my way up to 700lbs and solely got straps to allieviate elbow pain. A mixed grip isn’t great for your underhanded side’s elbow. Every single open division strongman pulls with an olderhand grip and straps, as it’s allowed. Open division strongmen are typically the best pullers on the planet, so if they do it, there’s gotta be a reason for it. Maybe this article is just dated and it’s more popular now in 2019, but it’s definitely not abnormal.

    February 27, 2019 at 11:05 pm | Reply to this comment

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