How Using Straps Can Improve Your Back and Save Your Elbows

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

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.


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.