Wrist Straps for Bodybuilding: How to Use, Benefits & More

Wrist straps, also called lifting straps, aid your grip. They effectively reduce the weight held, ensuring your forearms aren’t the weakest link in the chain. While most commonly used on heavy pulls, they can help with raises & shrugs too.

Doug Hepburn Bent-Over Rows Wrist Straps

(Straps are not wrist wraps. Wraps support joints like the elbows, wrists & knees, similar in effect to a lifting belt for the lower back. They reduce stress on your wrists during wide-grip bench presses, for instance, but are beyond scope here.)

Many bodybuilders feel that wrist straps are a crutch, like Arnold says in The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.

But they’ll compensate for this by using grips like over-under, or perhaps hook, that have their own disadvantages. They may avoid otherwise great exercises or ways of performing them that could best serve their goals.

Frank Zane used wrist straps on heavy rack pulls or partial deadlifts, targeting his entire back and more. This allowed a pronated grip to avoid biceps stress. It allowed him to pull evenly, more consistently, from each side to protect his spine.

Nonetheless, it’s clearly not good either to use straps too often if you want a balanced physique.

You can train forearms directly through wrist curls, reverse or hammer curls & reverse wrist curls to stretch & work them utmost. However, most trainees find that typical exercises, done without wrist straps, hit them well enough.

Like any known tool though, wrist straps can play a role in achieving specific aims. Never considering them is a mistake, which may happen because you let the macho standards of others dictate what’s best for you.

Instead, learn how to use them properly for bodybuilding, their benefits & other considerations here.

How to Use Wrist Straps

First, do you even need them?

Most trainees will struggle with thick bars for many exercises and not just when deadlifting. Unusual bars deviating from Olympic & powerlifting standards, often for home use, can be tough to hold.

This disrupts exercises like bent-over rows. It also affects pull-ups on stations that have unnecessarily thick, rubberized grips. In these cases, focus on using more suitable equipment.

In other cases, you’ll find that chalking your hands makes a big difference, so this should be considered next.

Finally, you can modify form. For example, instead of doing lateral raises standing, which allows more weight by jerking upward, you could do them seated instead.

High reps per set may temporarily allow you to avoid wrist straps, though endurance will eventually limit you too.

Once you determine a real need for wrist straps, they’ll take some practice to apply effortlessly. Proper use is tricky to describe but “clicks” once you start using them.

Here are some basic steps:

  1. Place the loop around your wrist, slipping it over your hand with the long strap portion hanging downward.
  2. Take the long strap portion and start wrapping it loosely around the bar underneath. The loops should overlap slightly but not bunch up. You’ll need to do this with the same hand once the other is wrapped.
  3. Before wrapping it fully, start to rotate the bar via wrist extension while keeping your hand on the wrapped part, holding it against the bar to create tightness.
  4. You want the bar to slightly fall into the strap while lifting so it bears some of the weight. This means the strap can’t be overly tight. With practice, you’ll get a feel for the right degree here.

Know that your wrist, the area bearing the weight, will get irritated especially with heavy weights. This shouldn’t do serious damage like tearing your skin if wrapped properly though.

I use the Harbinger brand though anything with decent reviews works fine. Use nylon or leather material, and don’t overspend hoping to get better straps.

Though not detailed here, hook straps can work too and be used to similar purpose. I don’t feel speed straps, sometimes used for Olympic lifts, work as well or suit bodybuilding exercises.


Work (or focus on) target muscles.

Deadlifts, shrugs, and even lateral raises can eventually be limited by grip strength.

Obviously failing too early because of the forearms will harm the stimulus for the target muscles, becoming an inefficient grip exercise instead.

Straps can also help when gripping becomes a distraction, perhaps on an exercise like barbell bent-over rows with an overhand grip.

A weak grip affects pronation foremost. The bar may slide out of your fingers especially when the tips more directly face the floor. Therefore, you may have some improvement by cupping the bar with your hands, so the finger bases facing the floor instead.

With a heavy enough weight though, none of this matters, and a neutral or supinated grip is just as susceptible.

Especially for rack lifts, even with an over-under grip, they may simply be impossible to do yet a solid option to work the whole posterior chain, especially the upper back.

Straps may assist with the “arms as hooks” cue sometimes given on pulling exercises to emphasize the back muscles. The smaller arm muscles won’t dominate with a medium or slightly wider grip though, so straps are unlikely to matter here.

Pull evenly with heavy weights.

This benefit is overlooked but important when deadlifting.

An over-under grip reduces the effective length of the underhand arm, having the elbow bent for the overhand arm to counteract it. This can lead to unbalanced pulling. It may even lead to slightly unsymmetrical development.

Especially on a very heavy exercise like rack pulls, this makes the exercise riskier. As Frank Zane said, tearing a biceps seems more likely with over-under grips. Straps allow you to use an overhand grip for a more even pull instead.

Work the forearms.

A great exercise, often compound, overloads more than one muscle group, in effect creating a secondary exercise within the main one.

Even if deadlifts focus on hip extension with the glutes, shoulder blade retraction can “fail” during the motion to work the trapezius. Likewise, the grip itself gets tested almost separately.

Overhand deadlifts are great for the forearm flexors. You may find that even with straps, pronation allows them to work quite hard, better than over-under.

Unexpectedly, a good exercise for the forearms is heavy cheating lateral raises. The extensors get worked to keep the wrists even with the forearm so as to avoid collapse. Holding the dumbbells works the flexors too.

You may not fail because of the forearms, but whatever effort is demanded may be more than enough to develop them.

Other Considerations

Determine strap use according to your needs.

Despite what many gurus would have you believe, effective training allows for a lot of variation based on preferences.

Larry Scott developed huge shoulders using cheating-style, heavy dumbbell lateral raises. Frank Zane relied on cables, with controlled motions, to earn impressive delts as well.

While cheating may seem riskier, that’s not always the case depending on the exercise & method. It may allow a consistent style that feels uninhibited. It can give you more opportunities to progress.

But as mentioned earlier, you may decide to eliminate cheating on lateral raises so you can hold onto the dumbbells without the grip fading.

The point is that you should use wrist straps in personal fashion, and changing how you perform an exercise can eliminate (or necessitate) the need for them. This should be evaluated holistically.

Consider forearm involvement.

Since the chest has better leverage than the front deltoids when bench pressing, they aren’t worked as fully as possible on them. The body optimizes energy use over the long run.

Yet many bodybuilders find their front delts get enough development here so choose to avoid overhead pressing.

(The overhead press is still among the best exercises for the shoulder, and it’s valuable for etching the serratus anterior!)

Pulling & curling involve the single-joint arm flexors, so the brachioradialis in the forearm, along with the wrist flexors (belly of the forearm) to maintain your grip.

With these movements being ubiquitous, most bodybuilders ignore direct forearm exercises without looking worse for it.

Despite this, many old-school trainees included them. Experts like Vince Gironda, Larry Scott, Frank Zane & Rheo Blair felt they couldn’t be overdeveloped.

In the end, direct work achieves the greatest possible development. Doing otherwise is like adding lunges to hit the adductors instead of using the adduction machine. If you want larger forearms, perform direct work.

Like any muscle group though, forearms can get over and underdeveloped… only you can determine if this is so.

Of course, you could use wrist straps more often to reduce forearm size if you desire that, however unlikely!

Straps just improve your grip.

Other benefits from wrist straps, beyond how they affect your grip, are unlikely to have much value.

If anything, the mind-muscle connection is stronger without straps. This is often harmed when using thick grip attachments which have little purpose for bodybuilding.

Personally, I can make a weight feel lighter for my target muscles when I squeeze the bar intensely. Perhaps this happens due to greater stability & concurrent activation potentiation.

Wrist Straps for Bodybuilding: A Personal Choice

In the squat vs. leg press debate, you’ll find a vocal group of trainees arguing in favor of barbell squatting for no other reason than appealing to tradition.

Barbell squatting is an accessible way to overload the vasti, glutes & lower back. Yet using a barbell can feel awkward, especially with shoulder injuries or depending on your body proportions.

Nonetheless, it’s an efficient, superb option for most trainees when done properly. It avoids lumbar risk present in leg pressing, as your spine curls at the bottom, while stimulating the erector spinae too.

Practically, many top bodybuilders forgo squats when the risk becomes too great due to their immense strength. Yet some bro trainees will never replace or even rotate squats, despite having needs that could make it sensible.

Don’t make a similar mistake by avoiding wrist straps!

Bodybuilding is its own pursuit that ultimately isn’t driven by evolution or anything related to athletics… it has its own rules.

If you determine that straps allow you to do an exercise, or form style, that works your targeted muscles best (often the forearms too, at least for that motion) or more safely… ignore everyone else and do it!

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