How Using Straps Can Improve Your Back and Save Your Elbows


Some people think they can’t use lifting straps because it’s not accepted by the “hardcore training” police.

That’s pussy shit that bodybuilders do. I’m not doing that.”

Maybe it is… or maybe that’s why their back looks better than yours.

If you want to do rows with a weight that’s probably twenty or thirty percent less than you can handle, be my guest.

Sure, turn a good back exercise into a grip challenge and never train your back with as much weight as it’s capable of handling. That makes sense.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that grip training is stressful to the CNS and is fairly difficult to recover from. It shouldn’t be trained directly too often or with too much volume.

A lot of strongman competitors are fully aware of this and use straps in training quite frequently. Heck, straps are even allowed in certain events. See the accompanying pic of Derek Poundstone below. Is his training “pussy shit?” Is Matt Kroc’s (pictured above)? What about Dorian Yates?

See the recurring pattern?

Big, strong dudes who train their balls off use straps.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Why You Should Limit Grip Work

Limiting maximal grip work to one day per week when you do stuff like thick rope rows and farmers walks is usually a good idea. You can train forearms more often if you need to but wrist curls are a whole different animal and far less stressful than crushing grip work.

Almost every exercise you do challenges your grip to some degree. Obviously every pulling movement and exercise where you are holding weights at your side (like a walking lunge) falls into that category but pressing does as well. When you press properly you’re always trying to crush the bar.

Excessive amounts of gripping are known to cause elbow problems. The thing about elbow problems is that once you get them they usually stick around for quite a while, like a genital wart. Your best bet is to try avoiding them in the first place… like that nasty chick who gave you genital warts.

One easy way to do that is to use lifting straps on all of your heavy back exercises. This will reduce the need to grip the bar with all your might, which will reduce the likelihood of future elbow pain.

If you already have elbow issues I’d use straps on every exercise where you have a bar or dumbbell in your hand other than presses. So split squats, dumbbell shrugs, pinwheel curls… things like that.

How Straps Help You Build a Bigger Back

Real men wear straps.

Aside from reduced elbow pain the other major benefits of using straps on all pulling exercises are that you’ll be able to target the muscles more effectively and also use more weight.

Obviously a one-arm row done with 120 pounds is more effective than one done with 85 or 90 pounds. And that is often the difference in weight when comparing no straps versus straps. Sometimes it can be even more than that if you’re doing sets of ten or above.

A lot of people have trouble activating their lats or really feeling any back exercise they do. And if you can’t feel a muscle, get a pump in it or get it sore it’s probably not going to grow too well.

By using straps and taking the grip out of it you reduce the amount of work done by the forearms and biceps and can really concentrate on properly engaging your lats and driving your elbows back.

That’s the way to do rows properly, by driving the elbows back and pulling the scapula together. It should almost be more of a horizontal shrugging movement. Think of it that way instead of it just being a pull.

You don’t really want to think about pulling with the biceps as much as you want to think about driving the elbows back. Imagine someone has their hand on the lower portion of your triceps and you need to drive them back behind you. Have a training partner do it as practice so you can lock in the feeling.

That’s the correct way to train your back, and by using straps and taking your grip out of the equation you can do that a lot more easily and effectively.  The end result is that your back actually gets bigger.

Just to recap I recommend straps on the following exercises:

  • Rows
  • Deadlift variations (unless you plan to compete)
  • Olympic lifting pull variations (snatches, high pulls, clean pulls, but never cleans)
  • Heavy pulldowns, especially with fat grip handles

What About Forearm Work?

Some people claim that you’ll never need forearm or grip work if you simply train without the use of straps. That’s true for guys with good genetics. But average shmucks like me will need to train their forearms directly to get them to grow. All the pullups and rows in the world will never give you impressive forearms if you were born with twigs.

And besides, we already covered the fact that you shouldn’t be using your forearms during pulling exercises anyway.

You don’t have to do wrist curls, though. Pinwheel curls, reverse curls, fat rope curls, hammer curls and one day per week of fat handled farmers walks should get the job done.

What About Fat Gripz?

I love Fat Gripz for relieving elbow stress. I recommend you use them on presses and curls. That allows your hands to open up more, which (like using straps on pulls) alleviates the tension on the elbows. They can also be used for farmers walks. I wouldn’t be the guy who uses them on pulling exercises though. That totally defeats the point.

UNLESS… you use Fat Gripz with straps. That’s a winning combination because the Fat Gripz force your hands open which alleviates the elbow stress and the straps take the grip out of it.

Give this a try and let me know how it goes. I can almost guarantee you better back growth and less elbow pain within a matter of a month.

If you’ve never felt your back before and finally do by following these tips I’d love to hear about. Definitely keep me posted either here or on my Facebook Page.

You can grab a pair of straps HERE.

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28 Responses to How Using Straps Can Improve Your Back and Save Your Elbows

  1. Jason Maxwell June 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Jay this post came in perfect timing.

    I’ve been upping my weight a lot in DB chest supported rows and was debating on using the straps.

    Straps it is!

    Thanks brother.

  2. RICO June 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    Jay, what are your thoughts on using straps for deadlifts?

    • Sean June 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      Not to speak for him, but he suggests it.

  3. steeven June 28, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    so, basically assuming the fact that i have a relatively normal bodyfat percentage (i can see my abs without flexing and i’m weighting 157 lbs for 5 feet 8), the fact that I can’t really do pull ups with full scapular retractation at the top (nor the bottom), and that i won’t be able o buy strap until the end of july(summer job salary…);
    would use strap could be a good idea to help target my back better, if not what would be your advice for my case ?

    Thanks.

    (Ps : sorry for my bad english)

    • Till June 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      Steeven, I hope to God Jason’s with me on this one: you DON’T NEED straps for unweighted pull ups; seriously, this is taking his point a bit too far. besides, if you’re able to hang from the bar for 20 seconds, your grip is not the issue. Pull ups are a very basic skill, any schoolkid can do them. Keep practising.

      • steeven June 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

        I was only able to feel my whole back (almost nothing in my arms just pure lats and upper back) contracted a few times, it felt so good that it scared me…
        i think there is a great difference between pulling your body up and a Real pull up.

        But maybe i’m wrong.

    • steeven June 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      (PPS) i mean i won’t be able to buy bands, sorry.

  4. Mike June 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Would you say using weight lifting gloves be as good as using straps? When I used to use gloves for pull ups and chin ups, I wasn’t as strong as I was without them. I definately will try using straps now to see how that goes.

  5. Andres June 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Jay and for chin-up variations the straps can be use??

  6. Robbie June 28, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    No using straps until you have decent strength after 2-3 years of PROPER training!

    Nice article Jay.

  7. Esteban June 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    i have a similar question regarding using straps for deadlift?

  8. Jarrod June 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    If you want a workout that trashes your back, try going boldering at a climbing gym. I garuntee you wont find anything like it for working your back especially on the overhangs. And my grip has become such that I can hang by one hand from a slippery pullup bar while holding a 25kg plate in the other without any problem and my one arm chin is coming on too.

  9. Ben Schnare June 28, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    Great article Jason, reading this and another piece you wrote has made me re-evaluate my stance on straps. Got a pair yesterday and I can’t wait to try them tomorrrow. Thanks for all the great articles you write, fantastic stuff!

  10. Bobby June 29, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    FatGripz on Pullups or no?

  11. Matt June 29, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    Hey Jason, good article, I always use straps for my deadlifts and DB rows. I go without straps for the warm up sets, but start to use them as I move up the weight.

    I’m really glad this came up as well because I am about to get some fatgripz which I’m looking forward to using.

    Would you use fatgripz for any triceps work, or pressing and curling only?

  12. Rob B. June 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    After reading the minimalist articles I quit using “accessories” when I train, including straps. I’m liking the raw style of training for now but I’m sure I’ll go back to using straps eventually, not gonna be closed minded.

  13. Geovanni Gonzalez June 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    An exercise that really works the lats but doesn’t require much grip strength is the ring pull up. When performing ring pull ups, you could feel the lats working.

  14. Joe G June 30, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Fat Gripz are definitely the way to go, it completely got rid of any elbow pain and actually strengthened my arm for baseball. Especially for baseball they helped improve my grip, which helped improve bat speed and power. Just the flick of my wrists sent the ball soaring. Loved it on any presses and especially curls. I did do them for pulls and thought it would help improve my grip, and it did, but I always had to do less weight on exercises like rows. Also with the Fat Gripz you are going to do less weight on things like shoulder presses or DB bench but the trade off is better grip on other exercises like pull ups, chin ups, inverted rows, etc.

  15. Danny McLarty June 30, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Great article, Jason! Hey, do you recommend the same thing for athletes that need to work on grip strength i.e. use straps on certain exercises to save the elbows/use more weight – and then only do “direct” grip work 1 day per week? OR, do you have your athletes going strapless pretty much all the time?

    Thanks,

    Danny

  16. William Richards June 30, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Great article J!! For a while I was big on lifting only under the strength of my own arms/grip (which has left me with some impressive strength) but reading this article definitely opens my eyes to lifting for longevity as well as even more strength.

    • Richard July 17, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      Yeah, that was my view too, if I was struggling to lift under my own strength then what would I want a strap for.

  17. Jack July 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Playing Devil’s Advocate, I’m pretty sure that you advised against straps at some point in the past, during one your minimalist posts.

    “Some people think they can’t use lifting straps because it’s not accepted by the “hardcore training” police…” or because you said so. Just saying.

  18. Will Knowland July 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    @Jack – I already said that. It’s a good thing that Jason openly changes his mind when I sees good reason to.

  19. Guðmundur July 3, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Jason I remember one time when you said:
    “Next on the list of supportive gear would be straps. Again, I think that when you use artificial aids to help you lift more weight than the body’s weakest link can handle you are setting yourself up for injury in the long term.”
    And:
    “For years I was a slave to my gear. I couldn’t train on vacation if I had forgotten my belt or straps or wraps. No more of that for me.”

    But i use straps for my heavier weights, and the later sets of pulling like rows and pulldowns so i can focus on my backmuscles, and allso i use it in deadlifts and stiff legged deads, makes it easyer on the CNS.

  20. Harry July 4, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    Hey J,
    I have tried the straps method as taught in the post and results have been great!
    Thanks for the awesome advice!

  21. Jean July 10, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Hi, recently I went through what is commonly called a “tennis elbow” injury, i.e. the kind of pain in the elbow mentioned in this article, caused by excessive grip efforts. I learned and found that doing a program that specifically targets the flexors of the hand (the muscles involved in moving the fingers from a fist into stretched out) completely resolved the issue. I now always include a few hand flexor exercises in each work-out, in order to flush the muscles. Note that the flexors have to be worked in a couple of angles for it to work well. Do them at least with palm down, palm up, and with palm pointing inward. Hope this helps!

  22. Aaron Bradley July 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Most of the guys I know who are closed minded and “too hardcore and intense” for straps and other “accessories” either currently have, or have had major injuries. Not trying to say with or without is the cause, just saying that anything that I can do to have long-term success without injury to any joints is great.

    So glad you’ve pointed out the effects of some of these back exercises on the elbows without the use of straps when trying to go heavy, not to mention the benefits that we can miss out on when our back growth is limited to forearm strength!

  23. Mark July 30, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Yeah Jason I totally agree. I started using straps for pullups and have since started using them for pretty much all my back exercises. Instead of my forearms giving way, its usually my back now which is exactly what I want to happen.