On Trial: Wrist Straps vs. No Straps

Is it better to use or to ditch wrist straps for pulling exercises?
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FACTS OF THE CASE

With straps: Wrist straps come in a wide variety. Most are the basic canvas type that you loop around your wrist and the bar. Some involve a Velcro closure that wraps around your wrist and a hook that goes around a bar or a barbell. Regardless of the style, they all serve the same purpose: to increase your grip strength and endurance.

Without straps: Even if you don’t employ wrist straps, you can increase gripping ability with the use of lifting gloves or chalk.

THE EVIDENCE

In a study by the Weider Research Group, trained bodybuilders performed two back workouts. In one workout, they used wrist straps and did three sets of pullups to failure, three sets of dumbbell rows using their 10-rep max to failure, three sets of wide-grip pulldowns using their 10RM to failure, and three sets of seated cable rows using their 10RM to failure. In the other workout, they performed the same exercises in the same order with the same weight, but they didn’t use wrist straps.

It was discovered that for all sets of all exercises, the use of wrist straps offered a significant advantage compared to bare hands.

  • For pullups, straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of one extra rep on all three sets.
  • For dumbbell rows, straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of two extra reps on all three sets.
  • For pulldowns, straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of two extra reps on all three sets.
  • For seated rows, straps allowed the subjects to complete an average of one extra rep on the first two sets and two on the last set.

Clearly, being able to complete one or two additional reps on every set of your back workout with a given weight is a definite advantage in developing back mass and strength. Although most training experts will tell you to only use wrist straps during the final sets, when your grip strength is lessened due to fatigue, our study shows that straps allow for more reps during every set.

Furthermore, the subjects noted that using straps allowed them to better concentrate on their backs and less on their arms. This is another important point, as focusing on the muscle leads to greater muscle activity, which can result in greater mass and strength gains.

THE VERDICT: WRIST STRAPS

When doing pulling exercises, such as most back exercises, FLEX recommends you use wrist straps during all sets to enhance gains in both muscle strength and size. Some experts will warn that this may limit your grip strength and forearm development. However, your focus should not be on building grip strength and forearm size during a back workout. It should be on developing back size and strength, and it appears that using wrist straps will enhance this endeavor. To develop forearm size and grip strength, include a workout that focuses on forearm and grip exercises. — Jim Stoppani, PhD

Reference: J. Stoppani et al., “The use of wrist straps enhances muscular strength during back exercises,” unpublished, awaiting approval for presentation at the 2008 National Strength and Conditioning Association National Conference.

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