I have already spoken to why I think deadlift with straps is superior to deadlifting without straps, but here my intention is to explain HOW to deadlift with straps. I’ve been to 3 strongman competitions so far, and at each comp I have witnessed people missing out on getting more reps and possibly even winning events because they don’t know how to properly set up straps for deadlifting. We try too hard to make deadlifting with straps mirror deadlifting without straps, when really we need to understand that these are two different movements, each with their own benefits and considerations. As such, when we deadlift with straps, we must find out the best possible way to do so, in order to derive maximal benefit and obtain maximal results.
To start with, we will address how to properly set up straps in general. I have covered this on youtube with a video titled “Straps 101”, but here I can discuss in a little more depth.
A common mistake I see is simply in putting the straps on. There is actually a right and wrong way to do this, at least in accordance with the method I use. The length of the straps should naturally be facing down toward your fingers, not up toward your forearm/elbow.
The second part people tend to screw up on the set up of straps is how they wrap it around the bar. People tend to put too little thought into this, thinking “they’re just straps”, but in reality, there is a superior way to set these up. Most people tend to just wrap the strap around the bar in one direction, winding over and over until they run out of room.
All this really manages to do is create a brand new fat bar for you to have to grip, while the same time not really doing anything to actually help your grip on the bar. You have wedged a bunch of cotton/leather/whatever between your hand and the bar without any real advantage in terms of gripping onto the bar. Some folks remedy this by only wrapping around the bar once and then wedging the excess length between their middle and ring finger, squeezing as hard as they can on the excess material. This will afford you the luxury of being able to hold onto the bar with all the strength of your middle and ring finger, but is doing very little to maximize the benefit of the strap.
In order to get the most out of the strap itself, you need to wrap in different directions. That might sound crazy at first, but allow me to explain. Rather than wrap the strap around the bar over and over, wrap the strap around the bar once.
After you have gone over the bar one time in one direction, take the excess and cross over the material in the opposite direction, so that you form an “X” over the bar with the strap, and have an equal amount of material on both sides of your hand.
In setting up the strap this way, you are making it so that the strap is acting against itself, rather than against you or the bar. The strap is now rubbing against itself, creating friction, which also means that the heavier the weight pulls against it, the greater friction it creates (I want to at this point clarify that my undergrad and masters is in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy, so if I am completely butchering science here, you must forgive me). The purpose of your hand in this instance is NOT to grip the bar or strap, but instead to simply press against the bar with the strap in between to maintain this tension. Using this method, the strap is less of a strap and more of a handcuff, locking you to the bar, in many cases actually making bailing out impossible. I have had instances where the bar has actually dragged me to the ground/off my feet, which sucks at that moment, but is awesome any other time you are pulling.
Even in the rare event that people manage to set up the straps correctly, the execution can still get mess up by hand placement.
To start with, do NOT use a mixed grip with straps. It’s just pointless. You are negating one of the primary benefits of pulling with straps, and this is pulling double overhand with ZERO loss of grip strength. A mixed grip is great for powerlifting competitions, but you aren’t dealing with one of those when you do a strapped dead. Instead, take advantage of the fact that you are reducing your risk of bicep injuries, can evenly space your hands, and can make yourself “longer” (ala Paul Carter’s critique of strapped double overhand, which comically enough I viewed as a positive) than you would with a mixed grip, which means shorter ROM, and therefore more reps/weight on the bar.
On the subject of getting “longer”, there are several other ways that straps can help in this endeavor that many competitors and trainees are missing out on. With straps, you are no longer limited to the location of knurling when it comes to placing your hands on the bar. Whereas before the smooth part of the bar would be completely off limits for a hand location on a dead, with a good set of straps you are no longer limited in this regard. What this means for you, the user, is that you can now place your hands incredibly close together, which, if you’re a sumo puller can be a boon for really maximizing leverages, but even for a conventional lifter, with a narrow enough foot placement, you can help reduce your ROM and lower back strain.
Note the difference in bar height. Keep in mind, the bar is at rest in these photos. When some weight is pulling down on it, it just makes it work even better.
One other final way that straps can allow one to get longer in the dead is by allowing a trainee to pull with a thumbless grip rather than a full grip. This may seem like madness to those used to pulling heavy deads without straps, but if you are implementing the above mentioned protocol, your straps will be doing the work, which means that your thumb isn’t really needed to maintain the hold. Meanwhile, what your thumb IS doing in a full grip is forcing the bar to be much higher in your hands, which means that you will be forced to pull with more ROM than you need to. By switching to a thumbless grip, the bar rests lower than the base of your thumb joint, more in alignment with the middle knuckle of your fingers, greatly reducing ROM and again eliminating back strain, adding more reps and weight to the bar.
As I have mentioned, these techniques become very valuable for winning events in competition, but they can even be valuable in training. If we understand the strapped deadlift to be a building lift rather than a practicing lift, we can appreciate its value in making our non-strapped deadlift stronger, even if we are not practicing the identical mechanics of the non-strapped version. We allow ourselves to get longer and remove grip from the equation of the lift, which in turn trains our bodies to get accustomed to heavier loads than when we are limited to our natural grip. Yes, it may be the case that the weight we can lift without straps is not the same as what we can lift with straps, but if the latter allows us to make the former stronger, does it really matter how the numbers map up? If I know I can pull 650 with straps, and as such know this means I can manage a clean 635 without straps, and in turn attempt THAT weight in competition, I continue to meet my goals, no?
Good luck using these techniques. If I see you using them at my next competition, I will wish you luck.