One of the many dogmas that the functional training community has installed in our brains is that lifting straps are pure evil and only low-life moronic wannabe bodybuilders use them. This is one of the reasons people are afraid to rely on straps for exercises such as the deadlift. Question is, are you really a sinner if you deadlift with straps? I don’t think so.
FOREARMS vs. HIPS & BACK
Your forearms and grip muscles will never be able to match the strength that can be produced by your hips and back. That’s why sooner or later you will start missing reps because you can’t hold on to the bar. The most popular solution to this problem is to use the so-called mixed grips (baseball grip) for your working sets. One palm should be pointing towards you, and the other one facing in the opposite direction. This way when your forearms start to open, they negate each other’s weakness.
I have never used this grip. Why? Because in my view it has major downsides – it’s uneven and can cause biceps tear of the underhand arm. That’s why in my wannabe a powerlifter days I used the hook grip (the first four fingers wrap around the thumb). This grip has several major benefits over the mixed grip:
1. It makes your arms longer, which allows you to lift more weight.
2. It is much safer for your biceps tendons.
3. It’s perfectly symmetrical.
The downsides of the hook grip is that your thumbs will hate every minute of it and will feel smashed and unappreciated. Some people have even reported loss of thumb sensitivity in the area. Of course, they like that because it makes them appear macho and “dedicated”.
Another major downside of the hook grip is that it does not develop your grip strength, despite disrespecting your thumbs beyond belief. The hook grip is just a way to create the effect of lifting straps without using them. That’s cool because you can rely on this grip in competitions which many powerlifters and all Olympic weightlifters do.
But, what about those who don’t compete?
Well, you are going to hate the answer: Just use straps for your working sets.
One of the ways to overcome those limitations is to just use regular overhand grip for most of your warm-ups (when you get strong your last warm-ups will be limited by grip too) and use straps for your working sets. That way you are still developing your grip to a certain degree while not using the uneven mixed grip or the thumb killing hook grip.
Another way to do things is to just use the hook grip for one or two sets in order to minimize the stress on your thumbs and rely straps for the rest of the heavy sets. But, if you are not competing, in powerlifting, I can’t see why you would do this to your fingers.
I know very well that a lot of people will hate me for writing all of this, but it’s the damn truth. I think being labeled a loser for using straps is way better than tearing something while being called a real man. If you are so concerned about your grip, you can train it separately using stuff like weighted pull-ups, overhand grip deadlifts, shrugs…etc.
However, I have to admit that using straps for all back exercises is not the way to go. I don’t think there is a reasonable excuse, other than injury, to rely on them for stuff like pull-ups, lat pull-downs, dumbbell rows. It’s way easier to hold on to the bar when you are doing pull-ups or chin-ups. Your lats and other back muscles cannot generate so much force that your grip fails to catch up. The deadlift, however, is a different story.
I remember the times when I used to look at people using straps with disgust. Sometimes it was justifiable. I’ve seen some crazy stupid stuff like using mixed grip and straps at the same time which is like paying twice for one product.
Ironically, I was using the hook grip for my deadlifts and secretly hoping that people around me would think that I am actually lifting with regular double overhand grip. I wanted them to think that I have crushing grip strength. Stupid, egoistical and naive.
My thumbs used to cry every night. I even developed some sort of twitching. My thumb would shake from time to time without having received such commands. I knew the reason was the hook grip I was using for deadlifts. I hated it and that’s why I said to myself: “I don’t care what they say. I am jumping on the straps train. I love my arms and thumbs too much.”