Lifting Straps – Should you use them?
Should you use lifting straps? It’s yet another massive debate with people on both sides passionately arguing the case for and against them.
Having had a crossfit background, I have been guilty of judging people on using them myself. However, since strength training I’ve been bringing them in for my heavier topsets on deadlifts and I’m getting a couple more reps, so definitely see the benefits. A lot of the for arguments are that there’s better Lat isolation or they say ‘I feel it in my back more’ or even just being able to perform more reps with a weight that they can’t without them.
When performing deadlifts, rows or pulldowns, the majority of the time your grip will give out before your back will. If you use straps a lot you will need to add in some grip work on top of everything else. Grip training itself is extremely taxing to your CNS and is difficult to recover from as everything you do involves your grip to some extent. My advice? Don’t use them every set, just when grip is starting to become an issue with the weight you’re using. That way you’re not having to do additional grip training and you can reap the benefits of being able to go heavier on your lifts.
Additional info: Pros and Cons of Strapping up, Using Straps to Build Muscle – Sean Nalewanyj, How Using Straps Can Save Your Back and Elbows – Jason Ferruggia
How To Press
- Grip the bar so that your forearms are perpendicular to the ground and your wrists are straight (bar is in heel of hand, directly over forearm bones) not bent back. For most that will be just at the edge of the knurling.
- Take a deep breath, flex the chest and lats hard to create a shelf for your upper arms to rest on. Try to avoid the common ‘rack’ position (think Olympic lift, where the bar touches chest/collarbone and bar rests on shoulders) as this will cause you to lose tightness at the bottom of each rep.
Straight Wrists Bent Wrists or ‘Rack’ Position
- Drive the bar quickly overhead to lockout, bringing your head and chest through at the top of the movement (so bar is directly overhead), this reduces the stress on the anterior deltoid (front shoulder) and lumbar spine (lower back). You can then exhale before starting the next rep.
Bad Overhead Position Good Overhead Position
- Rep 2 begins at the top position, inhale and control the bar down to the start position to ‘bounce’ off the lat shelf and back to the top before you breathe out again to start next rep.
- Keep your legs straight throughout with anywhere from deadlift to squat stance, squeeze glutes and abs hard throughout the lift.
How To Deadlift
- Take a stance roughly heels in line with hips – Alternatively think about doing a vertical jump, this varies with course but it is a guide.
- Toes should be slightly turned out. Not as much as the squat but definitely not parallel. Bar is just in front of your shins whilst standing.
- Bend down and grip the bar, your arms should hang vertically (so a shoulder width grip). You can use an alternating or hook (thumbs under fingers) grip, as the bar gets heavier, but if you want to improve your grip strength try and use a double overhand grip as long as possible. In this position your shins should now be touching the bar.
Deadlift Overhand & Alternating Grip
- Take a deep breath, squeeze shoulders together and lift chest, pushing bottom back. Your lower back should remain either static or slightly arched throughout the lift, don’t let it round!
Good Vs Bad Back Position
- Squeeze the pressure into the bar and sit back into your heels till you feel like you’re about to fall backwards, then lift, keeping the bar as close to the body as you can.
- As soon as the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward to complete the lift (lockout), squeezing the glutes hard. Do not lockout by leaning back at the top!
Good Vs Bad Lockout Position
- Return the bar to the floor along the same path, don’t drop it! If you have exhaled at the top, take another breath and hold as you lower. Most deadlift injuries occur on the lowering as people tend to relax and drop the bar down, jerking the lower back, or with poor back position at the start of the lift.
- At the end of each lift, re-set your position before taking another breath and lifting again. As soon as you feel your lower back starting to round or can’t lockout the set is over.
Farmers Walks – Build your forearms & traps and strengthen your core – all whilst doing your ‘cardio’
Anyone who has performed a Farmer’s Walk with a significant weight will agree, they are killers! Although they look straightforward, they work your whole body, leave you gassed, and have been referred to as the ‘moving plank’ by spine specialists – Definitely a recommended ‘core’ exercise as far as I’m concerned. As a ‘Hench’ conditioning exercise, what can beat walking around carrying big-ass weights?
The normal Farmer’s Walk can be performed with just about anything you can pick up, from dumbbells and kettlebells to sandbags and olympic plates (loose plates – savage on the grip!). Simply assume a deadlift position over your objects, pick them up and walk a pre-determined distance for a few sets. As a guide, try to use bodyweight in total, or to be truly Hench, work up to bodyweight in each hand! Aim to walk 30-35 metres around 4-6 times.
The single handed Farmer’s Walk is the king of core strengthening! It will absolutely trash your grip, obliques, traps, lats and just about everything else! Set-up is the same, but with just one weight, swap it after each length (30-35 metres). Again work towards being able to hold bodyweight in one hand for Henchness!
Most importantly – Focus on posture throughout the entire exercise. Keep your shoulders back and down, head up not forward, arms by your sides and abs braced throughout – If you’re walking like a Neanderthal you’re not doing yourself any good! Throw these on the end of your workouts as a finisher, done correctly you won’t be able to hold a weight afterwards!
Start with the two handed variety and move on to the one handed for a real challenge! For a true strongman type Farmers Walk, either use purpose made handles or olympic barbells, the added instability will only increase the benefits of the exercise!
Wrist position when pressing
I’ve been looking into this a lot lately and it seems, as usual, there are many different opinions! Some advocate a ‘rack’ type position, where the bar is sat back in the hands towards the fingers and touches the collarbone/upper chest at the bottom of the movement. Others a more extreme ‘knuckles in line with forearm’ wrist position and some, as I do, feel it has to be somewhere in the middle.
When pressing (either overhead or bench) it is imperative that you can utilize as much of your strength as possible. If the wrists are rolled back, i.e bar back toward base of fingers, the wrists will flex and absorb some of the force. They will also create instability – akin to squatting in trainers (rubber soles). Aside from the pain you’ll feel when your using heavier weights, this instability should be enough to put you off, you don’t want to drop the bar on yourself! If you hold the bar with knuckles in line with forearm, then you are supporting the weight with your thumbs only – good luck with this with heavier weights!
However, when the bar is directly over the bones of the forearm (as in the right hand image), you can apply 100% of your effort directly to the bar. This can take some getting used to, especially if you’ve been letting the wrists roll back slightly (left image), however it is definitely worth doing. You will feel the difference immediately, especially on the bench, where you will get more pectoral activation and less deltoid. You may find you will need to lower your weights until you grow accustomed to the new grip, but your strength will come back and with improved technique comes greater muscle recruitment and thus more growth.
On a side note: don’t get confused by the term straight wrists, the weight of the bar should be on the heel of your palm so that you can squeeze it as hard as you can during the press. Give it a try next workout and let me know what you think?