Their Proper Use and Abuse
I like things that make my workouts easier. Whenever something new comes out, I'm among the first to give it a try.
When weight belts started popping up in gyms, I looked into the research to see if they would help prevent injuries. (They don't.) When "gravity boots" became popular, I consulted with doctors to learn if they really can cure lower back problems. (They can't.) So when I saw wrist straps start appearing in the gym, I wanted to see if there was any benefit to using them.
To my surprise, they can help, but only under very specific circumstances.
For those of you reading this that have no idea what a wrist strap is, it's rather simple. It's a strip of fabric such as cotton, leather, nylon, or suede that you wrap around your wrists and then around a bar. They're used to enhance your grip. Wrist straps allow you to hold onto and move weights beyond the point where your hands would normally give out.
What are they good for?
The primary muscles they're supposed to help build are back muscles when doing exercises like deadlifts, pulldowns and rows. They're not designed to help you with exercises for biceps, triceps or chest. Plus, there is a significant downside to using straps.
Your body will pay the price if you overuse them because they can prevent some muscles from reaching their full potential. If you rely on straps, your back muscles will grow, but you may lose grip and forearm strength. The more you rely on wrist straps, the more your forearms will suffer and the greater your risk of injury because of unbalanced muscle development.
To make sure you're giving every muscle the best chance to grow, use straps only when necessary. Here are some simple rules.
- Use straps only when targeting the muscles of the back. Don't wear them around the gym and use them every time you pick up a weight.
- When doing back exercises, perform as many sets as you're capable of. Once your grip and forearm muscles begin to tire, use the straps to give your muscles a final blast. If you can do five or more repetitions of an exercise, you probably don't need to use straps.
- Don't lift more weight just because you can. You might be able to hold onto more, but that doesn't mean your muscles are capable of moving more.
- Never sacrifice good form. Straps may help you move more weight, but you should still be careful about how you're lifting.
- If you're just having problems holding onto the bar, dry your hands, use weight lifting gloves or chalk to give yourself a better grip.
If your grip or forearms are weak, add more exercises to enhance those muscles, such as forearm curls, wrist curls and hammer curls. A really challenging exercise to improve your grip is to grab hold of a crossbar and hang there as long as possible. Once you let go, spend a minute or two recovering and repeat. Save this for the last exercise of the day and time yourself. Try and improve your time each week.
Powerlifters should skip straps entirely. They aren't allowed in competition, so it doesn't make sense to rely on them during training.
How to use wrist straps.
Start by putting your hand through the circle made by the strap. Snug the strap tightly around your wrist.
With your palms facing up, the strap should be lying between your thumb and index finger. If you're right-handed, place your left hand on the bar with the strap hanging towards the floor.
Wrap the strap under the bar and back over the top twice, twisting the bar towards you to tighten it at the end. Do the same thing for your opposite hand.
Wrist straps definitely have a place in the gym. But like any tool, you have to remember where and when to use them for the best results.
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