In 2009, one of America’s best lifters, Zach Krych, had a freak accident. While doing cleans using straps, Zach lost his balance and fell backwards, crushing both of his wrists under the weight of the bar. A video montage was made showing his painful injury along with his route to recovery.
The American lifting community saw this video and from that point on, using straps while cleaning became taboo.
While writing this article, I asked 16 American lifters whether they use straps when cleaning. 14 of them said no, citing Zach’s injury as their main reason. The straps won the battle, but Zach won the war. A nation of lifters has denounced the use of straps while cleaning in solidarity with Zach.
Enough. It’s time to move on. Freak accidents happen. We don’t stop snatching because of the dislocated elbows we rarely see at world championships – why would one freak accident stop us from doing something that could actually benefit our lifting?
Weightlifting straps are ropes made of fabric or leather that athletes use to help them get a better grip on the bar. There are a few different types of straps, but they all work the same way. Straps wrap around the wrist and around the bar in the opposite direction of the fingers, strapping the lifter to the bar.
Straps are used in almost any exercise that uses a bar and where grip is important. Let’s address the benefits of using straps when cleaning:
The hands: Using straps lessens the wear and tear of the skin on the hands. It also allows a lifter to continue training when callus’ are causing pain.
Position and Flexibility: Having a full grip on the bar when in the rack position is very beneficial:
- It places the torso in a more vertical position for the rack, which reduces the chance of collapsing under the pressure of the catch.
- It places the torso in a more vertical position for the squat, forcing the legs to work.
Lifters that lack shoulder and elbow flexibility to fully grip the bar in the rack position can use straps to force the full grip. By using straps, an inflexible lifter will be forced into a good rack position. With every clean, the lifter will gain the flexibility needed for a full grip-rack position.
Control: During the transition between the pull of the clean and the rack position, a lifter must have full grip of the bar in order to have full control. With full control, the lifter can pull the bar and themselves into the catch position quickly and precisely. If the lifter doesn’t have the flexibility to continue holding onto the bar in the rack position, they may not have enough control to complete the transition with precision. Using straps helps lifters have this control until they have the flexibility to do it without them.
Safety: A lifter must know how to safely miss a lift. When missing a clean with straps, push the bar away from you and open your hands to let go of the straps. The straps will loosen from the bar and you will no longer be strapped on, creating distance between you and the bar.
If you’re falling backwards with a bar in the front squat position (whether using straps or not), the natural response is to place your elbows on the platform to brace the fall.
DO NOT LET YOUR ELBOWS TOUCH THE PLATFORM!
Touching the platform with your elbows is dangerous and will lead to injury. Instead, keep the bar on the shoulders and point the elbows away from the floor.
Lifters shouldn’t only use straps for heavy cleans. If straps are used for heavy cleans, they should also be used during the warmup. This will help to stretch the elbow and shoulder joints before putting them under higher stress with heavier weight.
Nearly all professional weightlifters have tried using straps for cleans. Some decide to not use straps because of pain and discomfort. Others don’t need the benefits that straps provide. And some use straps on occasion because they are helpful. I personally only clean with straps when I’m at the beginning of the Base Phase, when the weights are light, the sets are long, and I need to work on flexibility. I do however use straps often for front squats – because with straps I’m forced into the right and tight positions in a very controlled exercise.
This article was originally posted on the Olift Magazine. After I submitted this article, Anton Jefferson, the Head Honcho of Olift Magazine, told me that he’s never used straps when cleaning, but will give it a try. This is Anton Jefferson’s experience, and reaction to cleaning with straps.
Lastly, after the original ‘Cleans with Straps’ article was posted on Olift, Zach Krich wrote the following reply:
“This is Zach, and I want to thank you for posting this article. Ultimately, it wasn’t the straps fault that I crushed my wrists.
It was mine.
I panicked as I fell when I realized that I couldn’t get my hands off the bar (I had this strange sensation that the bar was going to smash out all of my teeth if I kept my elbows up), so I pushed my elbows back. It’s going to be instinctual to break your fall by putting your elbows down, and it’s hard to fight your instincts. This makes using straps risky, but everything carries a risk. I had safely missed by falling backwards before, but never with such heavy weight and in such a deep position. Also, I had double wrapped the straps, which prevented the straps from loosening when I opened my hands. (I don’t recommend doing that.)
There are definitely benefits to cleaning with straps (saving torn hands, reps from the hang, working on a full grip in the squat…), and you’ve given great advice if someone chooses to do so.
Keep your elbows up! ” Thank you Zach for your response.
Before you go back to strap-hating, give straps a chance with light cleans during the warm-up. See how they feel and decide for yourself.