Should You Use Straps When Deadlifting?
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.
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.