Decades ago, powerlifters like the great Paul Anderson used wrist straps to help him deadlift thousands of pounds. It took bodybuilders some time to accept them, but now straps have become an integral part of the bodybuilding workout.
Straps are short, narrow pieces of material (an average of two feet long by one to one-anda-half inches wide) that are wrapped around the wrists and the barbell, or the handles of the machine being gripped. They are most commonly used on deadlifts, shrugs and rows because the forearm muscles are the “weak link” in the chain. Wrist straps enable you to subject the primary muscle to more weight than the forearms are capable of holding.
As with belts and wraps, the primary disadvantage of straps is that you can become dependent on them. If you use straps on just about every exercise, your forearm muscles and wrists will never develop their maximum gripping strength. Another drawback is improper use. Many bodybuilders experience severe wrist pain while using straps. While the weight being lifted could be the cause, it’s more likely the position of the wrists relative to the hands. The wrist is really a meeting place between the forearm and hand bones. The radius and ulna forearm bones connect to the hand and finger bones by way of the small wrist bones. The most distinct features of this area are the two bony protrusions on the sides of the wrist. These two bumps play a huge role in proper usage of straps.
Many bodybuilders place the straps directly over the bumps, but this is not a good idea, as all the weight being lifted (which will probably be many hundreds of pounds) is then transmitted directly to the small wrist bones. These small structures are not designed to support that kind of weight and the result is often stretched ligaments, wrist pain and potentially broken bones.
You also have to remember the main nerves for the hands run through the small wrist bones. Wearing straps improperly may cause nerve impingement; more commonly known as carpal tunnel syndrome. So what’s the solution? Make sure that the straps are resting snugly around the bottom of your hand, missing the wrist altogether.
There are a number of different types of straps. Most cost about $15 to $20, but you could pay upwards of $40 to $50 for a top-end pair. Straps come in two styles. Some are simply straight pieces of material, while others have a loop at one end through which you feed the other end. Most bodybuilders prefer the loop variety for light exercises such as pulldowns and chin-ups, and the straight version for shrugs and deadlifts.
You could also easily make your own straps. Go into a fabric or hardware store and buy about six feet of tough woven or nylon material. Cut the straps into lengths of about 25 to 30 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Anything less than 1 1/2 inches will cut into your wrists. Make sure to allow enough material to make the loop (if you are going to be making the loop variety). If you want extra strength and protection, cut the straps twice as wide and then fold in 126half and stitch. Make sure you use heavy thread and double stitching. Make sure the stitching is strong, especially if you make the loop variety.
Other sources of material include judo and karate belts and car seatbelts, which are all made of very strongmaterial. The martial arts belts also have the benefit of softness. You may have to fold the car seatbelt in half to eliminate the sharp edge.