Wrist Straps have been used for decades during weight training, and many serious lifters rely on them quite a bit for their main lifts. There are others however, that don’t believe in using wrist straps. To the purists, it’s just a method to cheat up a weight that you can’t lift without them.
So who’s right – should you use wrist straps if you’re serious about building muscle and increasing strength? Well, yes and no. As with most things, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
If you use wrist straps too often, you aren’t challenging your grip strength. Not only will this make your grip the weakest link, but there is ample evidence that the act of gripping a bar forcefully actually increases activity in the nervous system and can lead to greater muscle fiber recruitment. In other words, making your hands grip extra hard could pay off with more total body strength and the extra muscle that goes along with it.
That being said, there is a place and a time when using wrist straps can be very advantageous. If you have been working out long enough, you will find that your bigger muscle groups are just stronger than your grip for certain exercises. Deadlifts, heavy rows, and heavy shrugs are a few that come to mind. If you are training heavy, your grip will probably fail before the back or traps, and you won;t be able to get those last few reps that make all the difference.
So what’s the answer? How do you know when to use wrist straps? Approach it like this: If you aren’t training heavy and to failure, don’t even get them out of the bag. Let your grip do the work when you’re training in the 70-80% range. When you are going heavy (85% +), skip the straps for the first set or two, but when you start to get fatigued, strap up for the last sets. Push yourself harder while wearing the straps and force the larger muscle groups to do more than they’re used to. This will give you new muscle growth and you will probably see a boost in strength too.
Us this technique to ensure you aren’t neglecting your grip strength, but you are still pushing the rest of your body on heavy days. That way you’ll get the best out of both worlds.