ARGUMENT 1: DON’T USE STRAPS WHEN YOU DEADLIFT, THEY MAKE YOUR GRIP WEAK
If you use straps, you'll never get forearms like these
This is by far the most common argument against straps, specifically with regards to their use in the deadlift, but really it applies to the general usage of straps. It is this belief that the usage of straps actively makes the grip weaker, whereas the absence makes the grip stronger.
What is comical about this argument is that it hinges on the premise that grip strength is a necessary quality that must be developed, yet at the same time is obviously being exposed by one who does not engage in any actual grip strength training. The notion of using the deadlift as a grip strength trainer, or any other sort of passive means of developing grip strength (not using it on rows, pull-ups, pull downs, etc) is one held by those who quite simply do not have strong grips. A grip strength athlete would never be content to have their strength only be developed passively, but instead actively seeks to improve the quality of their grip. They do this with specific grip strength exercises, like using grippers, timed holds, plate/block pinching, the rolling thunder, and a variety of other possible exercises available. It is absolutely true that grip strength is a valuable quality, and that is why one should not leave it up to the deadlift in order to develop it, but instead should actively improve one’s grip. Additionally, this makes an argument FOR straps, for an active grip trainee’s grip is either taxed from previous sessions, or needs to be spared so that they can dedicate their full effort to it, whereas the deadlift is being performed as a whole body exercise in this capacity, and removing grip from the equation allows one to be able to focus more on the rest of the movement.
Above: A man who clearly needs to have a strong grip
Below: That same man knowing when it's time to train grip and when it's time to train deads
But let us also examine the lacking value of the deadlift proper as a grip strengthening exercise. I do not think it is unfair to say that those who speak of the merits of not using straps in order to train the grip with deadlifts most likely have a dogmatic view on the lifting process as a whole. What this entails would be the following “rules” as it comes to deadlifts.
-All deadlifts are pulled from a dead stop. No touch and go.
-The eccentric has no value and should be avoided.
-No ramping or hitching, the reps must be clean with “good form”.
-A mixed grip or hook grip may be used with chalk, but absolutely no straps.
There used to be more rules, but the guy holding them had a weak grip
With these 4 “rules”, we have completely removed any potential for the deadlift to be any sort of effective grip exercise. By making every rep be from a dead stop, we have greatly limited the amount of time the bar is in the hands of the lifter. When trainees do not attempt to control the eccentric, either by letting the bar go or simply crashing into the floor with it, we’re now reducing any time the bar was spent in the hands of the lifter by half. By refusing to allow any grinding or hitching, we’re ensuring that it is an incredibly minimal amount of time the bar will be in the hands of a lifter, maybe at most 1-3 seconds. I ask you, how effective do we imagine that to be for developing lasting grip strength?
Let us also factor in that these same people that speak of the merits of the deadlift as a grip strength builder intentionally utilize a grip while deadlifting that minimizes amount of grip strength needed. These trainees utilize either a mixed grip or a hook grip, in the case of the former employing a far more dangerous method of gripping the barbell compared to a double overhand style, whether it be hook or strapped. Why is it that, in our pursuit of grip strength development, we are striving to take grip strength out of the equation? If the goal was in fact to develop more grip strength, would we not instead use a double overhand grip in order to really tax ourselves? Would we not abstain from chalk to make sure it was really “us” that was doing all the gripping? Once again, we bear witness to the peculiarities of this philosophy on grip strength development, wherein to the outside observer, it appears honestly as a means of avoiding hard work, both within the deadlift itself and outside of deadlift training in the training of the grip proper.
As a final aside, allow me to make my biased proclamation that the very things that trainees are willing to speak out against in the deadlift are the things that will most likely make one a stronger deadlifter. Touch and go reps, grinding, and even the occasional hitch and ramp can be crucial when one goes for a ball busting, maximal effort type of set, and making it a philosophy to always avoid these is a philosophy to avoid ever leaving one’s comfort zone. However, in order to effectively make use of these tools, straps become necessary, for it is an absurd amount of time for one to be holding a near maximal weight deadlift in one’s hands, while removing the variable of grip endurance from the equation allows one to focus far more on the deadlift itself, attempting to reap maximal benefits. In truth, I say straps can be crucial to deadlift progression, and I will speak more to that in the next counter argument.
At least it works for this guy
ARGUMENT 2: YOU CAN’T USE STRAPS IN A MEET, SO YOU SHOULDN'T USE IT IN TRAINING
This tired argument once again hinges on the pithy witticism of how one should “practice how you play”. As I have said before though, just because something is repeated often and sounds good to say out loud does not actually mean it is true or holds value. In the case of this argument, it appears that the person who believes and promotes this idea has not actually taken a look into their own training.
The following things (along with straps) are not allowed in a powerlifting meet on the platform
-Safety squat bar, swiss bar, trap bar, dumbbells, or any other unique bar
-Pull ups, rows, GHR, Reverse hypers
And, I mean, to put it into perspective, THIS is legal at meets
Yet, for some reason, people do not have any issues with these “illegal” movements and practices. This is because, at some point, a trainee has recognized that not every lift performed is intended to be practice, and instead there are times when lifts are performed for the sake of getting stronger, not necessarily better. On this topic, there is no single successful athlete who practices how they plays. You will not find any successful powerlifter who simply goes to the gym and does 9 lifts in 8 hours after cutting weight and calls it a day. Nor will you find a football player who just plays a full game of football every practice, or a basketball player who only plays basketball, etc etc. In sports practice, we constantly will place ourselves in positions wherein the intent is not to simulate the competitive environment, but to instead isolate a specific skillset and improve upon it within isolation so that it may be applied in competition. Lifting is no different from this, and as such the notion to avoid anything purely because it’s not allowed in competition is flawed.
Unless these guys are practicing for American Gladiators, they're doing it wrong
But on the topic of the strapped deadlift, I offer one further observation: why is it that one is allowed to modify the deadlift by making it stiff legged, or romainian, or deficit, or a block pull, or against bands/chains, or halting, and all of these are fine, but to add straps is some sort of offense? Can this not simply be another deadlift alternative, available to a trainee to use when necessity dictates? So many times I see the critique that “you can lift more with straps than without”, but I fail to see how this is an issue at all. Isn’t overloading the deadlift muscles a boon, not a bane? For is it not incredibly beneficial to a lifter to be able to train their body to be able to lift even heavier loads, such that, when competition happens, the lighter loads move much easier? Yes, it requires one to understand that there is not a direct, one for one relationship between the numbers of a strapped deadlift and a strapless one, but this is true of any alternative movement. I know that the numbers I can hit with a safety squat bar are not the same as with a barbell, thus I do not use one to anticipate the numbers of the other. All this means is that a lifter must employ some critical thinking, which should be true of any training decision.