If you're into bodybuilding and weight training at all, you've likely heard people say that either this or that is 'killing your gains'.
And while most of the time the claims that these people make are completely bogus and massive exaggerations, we've got a common mistake that people make which LITERALLY is killing your gains.
That is, not knowing or understanding when to use lifting straps for proper training results.
This is because lifting straps are a tool that most serious lifters are going to want to have in their gym bag.
And while we all know that they do give us some benefits, most people do not understand when exactly they should be used.
First of All: Why Do We Even Use Lifting Straps?
Lifting straps come with a wide range of benefits that we could all use from time to time.
The primary reason that people use lifting straps is because they want to increase their gripping capacity and prevent their forearms from being the limiting factor during an exercise.
Whenever we do an exercise, we want our target muscles to be the limiting factor of our sets and our reps.
We want to fail because the muscles we're trying to work are completely finished up, and not because of something else.
Often times, the muscles that we're trying to target are going to be much larger and stronger than our forearm muscles (responsible for our grip strength), and we're going to find that our ability to create a challenge for our larger target muscles is going to diminish, or disappear completely.
Using lifting straps is just going to help prevent this and take some of the stress away from the smaller muscles of the forearms, and lets the larger muscles do more of the work (which is what we intended to do in the first place).
You'll see many powerlifters and bodybuilders using lifting straps to get more out of their training.
When NOT to Use Lifting Straps
Before we get into when you should be using lifting straps, we'll start off by outlining when you SHOULDN'T be using then in the gym.
Any Exercise That Doesn't Require Your Grip
Obviously, if you're doing an exercise that doesn't require you to actually grip hard onto the bar or handle (such as a barbell back squat), then it doesn't make sense for you to be using lifting straps.
The tightness of your grip on a barbell squat isn't going to affect how well you perform. Your hands are purely there to stabilize the bar.
Other examples of exercises like this could include:
If you've got no need to even be gripping on the bar, then you don't need to be wearing lifting straps.
Not only would you get funny looks from the people around you, but it would also be a waste of time putting and taking them on and off.
Your Upper Body 'Pushing' Exercises
You also shouldn't be using lifting straps on your upper body pressing movements, such as the barbell bench press or the dip.
Your grip is involved in these exercises and it's important that you have strong forearms, but it's highly unlikely that you would ever fail a set of upper body pressing movements due to your grip being the limiting factor.
Gripping the bar or the handle on these exercises is mainly to stabilize the bar, and you'd likely find that you don't actually have to grip onto the bar at all if you picked a light weight.
For example, most of you reading this will be able to bench press the empty bar without actually having to wrap your fingers around it.
The only reason we grip onto the barbell during the bench press is to stabilize it and prevent it from dropping down onto us.
You should never find your grip being the limiting factor during an upper body pressing movement.
Plus, you also do want your forearms to be developed and not lacking behind.
Only use lifting straps when you absolutely have to.
You want that extra forearm activation and you want to have them in check.
So to recap, don't use lifting straps on upper body pressing movements such as the:
barbell bench press
So When SHOULD You Use Lifting Straps?
Like we mentioned earlier, lifting straps are a great tool that can be used to reduce the activation of the forearms and allow us to hit our target muscles better.
And if you've got any sort of training experience at all, you should know that your forearms and grip strength are going to be tested and most active during your pulling movements.
Whether you're doing some sort of rowing movement, pull ups or a deadlift variation, your forearms are going to be very active and working hard constantly to keep a grip on the bar or handle.
And this is where you would consider using lifting straps.
Remember, we want our target muscles to be the limiting factor of our sets.
NOT our forearms.
However if you were to try and do a set of pull ups without any equipment or gear on, there's a high possibility that you would find your grip giving our before your back actually got a good enough challenge (if any at all).
This is what we mean by it 'killing your gains'.
If you're not able to keep on working because your forearms aren't able to keep up, you are literally killing your back gains, or your total-body gains if you're deadlifting.
Really, you should be looking to use them for the majority of your pulling movements, even including some less significant ones such as lat pulldowns or Romanian deadlifts.
However again, you do need to be careful here.
If you're doing isolation exercises such as bicep curls or rear delt flyes, you really don't need to be wearing lifting straps.
The target muscles you're working are naturally small (and weak) muscle groups anyways, and it's better off to just give your forearms that extra bit of activation to help keep them in check.
It's highly, highly unlikely that you would ever fail a set of curls or rear delt flyes due to your grip giving out.
Is It Cheating If I Use Lifting Straps?
No, it is not 'cheating' if you use lifting straps.
Sure, you are increasing your ability to produce force and lift more weight.
However, they're just a tool that's going to allow you to utilize your larger muscles better and get more out of your training.
And besides, there are no rules when it comes to weight training in the gym.
Unless you're at a powerlifting meet where straps are banned, nobody is going to know (nor care) that you're using lifting straps.
We all want to make gains, and wearing lifting straps is going to be one of the quickest and easiest ways to ensure that we don't leave gains on the table.
What About My Forearm Development?
One of the main arguments that goes against wearing lifting straps in the gym is that they reduce the activation of your forearms and prevent you from developing them as much.
However, this argument doesn't make all that much sense because we're not actually targeting our forearms during our pulling movements.
For example, during a barbell row the target muscles are the muscles of the back and the biceps.
The forearm activation is just a bonus.
We don't perform the barbell row specifically to develop the forearms.
Or take the deadlift as another example.
Nobody would go through such a heavy and taxing exercise just to work the forearms.
It's just a bonus that they happen to be very active during this exercise and that they'll also get a great workout in.
So really, you should be wearing lifting straps on any heavy pulling movement where you find that your grip is giving out.
And if you're worried about your forearms falling behind, there is a very quick and simple fix for this.
You can simply perform a couple sets of exercises that directly work the forearms such as dead hangs, farmer's carries or wrist curls to keep them in check.
Lifting straps are a great tool and piece of equipment that many lifters would benefit greatly from using.
You should look to use them on the majority of your heavier pulling movements (such as pull ups or deadlifts), and avoid using them on exercises where your grip strength is not tested as much.
It's not 'cheating' to use them, and they definitely won't cause your forearms to lack either if you're smart about your training and how you go about selecting your exercises.
The next time you head into a back day or pull day in the gym, don't forget to pack your lifting straps!
Do you like to use lifting straps?