Polovnikov Vasiliy cleaning with straps

Cleaning With Straps A Quick How-To Guide on Cleaning with Straps

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This is a guest post from Yasha Kahn. Yasha was born in Russia, raised in Los Angeles, and grew up in Boston. He’s a weightlifter and weightlifting coach at the Norwood Training Center near Boston. Check out his website for more great articles.

In 2009, one of America’s best lifters, Zach Krych, had a freak accident. While cleaning with 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 blasphemous.

While writing this article, I asked 15 American lifters whether they use straps when cleaning. Thirteen 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.

Polovnikov Vasiliy cleaning with straps
Polovnikov Vasiliy cleaning with straps

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: Safety is important. 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.

Also note that lifters shouldn’t use straps for only heavy cleans. If straps are used for heavy cleans, they should also be used during the warm-up. This will help to stretch the elbow and shoulder joints before putting them under higher stress with heavier weight.

So before you go back to strap-hating, give straps a chance with light cleans. See how they feel and decide for yourself.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily OLIFT Magazine. Staff authors are listed here.

Yasha Kahn is a National-level weightlifter and coach. He’s been involved in the sport of weightlifting for over a decade and has worked with some of the best coaches and strength athletes in the world. These days, Yasha shares his thoughts on weightlifting and sports through seminars and on Yashathoughts.com.

10 thoughts on “Cleaning With Straps A Quick How-To Guide on Cleaning with Straps

  1. Great article as usual, Yasha. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of argument here but I agree with your perspective on this. I’ve tried cleaning with straps before and it can be kind of shocking at first because you’re forced to keep a full grip on the bar throughout the pull but it really helps with flexibility, turnover speed, and to continuing pulling until you’re under the bar. If you’re going to clean with straps, you definitely have to warmup with them before going heavy. It takes time for the wrists and elbows to get used to this position. Watching Vasiliy clean 220kg with straps was amazing and really demonstrates the usefulness of straps with cleans, even though many people will disagree with you. I missed a heavy clean backwards the other day for the first time (I wasn’t wearing straps though). I had never practiced missing backwards but my instinct was to keep the elbows up and just sit back and let the bar roll over my head. It’s a little scary having a heavy bar slamming inches away from your face but it’s certainly the safest. I walked away without any injury. You just want to make sure you leave enough room behind you. In the video above, “Missing a clean and falling backwards,” while the lifter safely missed backwards, if he was any closer to the wall behind him, things could have gotten sketchy. Always enjoy your posts. Keep up the great work!

  2. Yasha,
    When you want your grip to be stronger is it better to use as little as possible of the lifting straps? what would u recommend to built your grip?

  3. My coach, Paul Fleschler, was there when Zach Krych had his accident at the Olympic Training Center. I don’t and will not use straps on cleans. Zach was an experienced lifter and knew how to “safely miss a lift.” For me it’s not worth the risk.

  4. 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! :)

  5. Olympiadcliftading is ‘The Spinal Musadcle Group’ (SMG someadtimes called ‘spinal erecadtor musadcles) and there are alsmot no good olympic style lifters with bada0backs !In answer to your other topic on slow moveadments. I watched V. Alexadeev do very slow motionadpower snatches in the power snatch, but at the end of his workouts(1970 Columadbus, OH). And again, I have no idea if this was his regaduadlar rouadtine or it was done to conadtrol and refine the natadural sinuadsoidal wave path of least resisadtance for effiadciency in mechanadics and dynamadics or to stimaduadlate the very minor musadcle fiber strength that might be lost in high speed acceladeradaadtion. Ultiadmately the Force Vecadtor applied to a given mass results in the acceladeradaadtion rate. (F=ma) and the force in Newadtons must be conadtinaduadally apllied withadout any disadconadtinuiy. Basic dynamadics and physics. So, these later moveadments were very slow as the weights escaadlated in poundage up to 235a0Lbs. Slow motion has worked for me on the power rack with pulls from the lower pateladlar tenaddons using 880Lbs., Front squat with 6 inch moveadment with tranadsiadtion to back posiadtion with up to 1220 lbs. and overadhead presadsouts with 6 inch presadsouts until stiff arm supadports up to 628 lbs. holdading for up to 6 secadonds. The result was 405 lb for 3 sets of 3 reps. and 420 for 2 sets of 2 reps’ power clean very fast and into a high rack posiadtion startading with 135 lbs. and jumoading 90 lbs. per set of 3 repadeadtiadtions up to max in each exeradcise every two weeks and only after a heavy trainading period. This was Bednarski’s workadout described in a Strength & Health Magadaadzine artiadcle that I clipped out and used when I was youngeruntil I was in my llate 40’s. I didn’t do this in my prime years 1964–1971 prior to my knee surgaderies (7) and when it was too late I only pwer snatched and cleaned after 1976–96 when I wwas unable to jerk what I cleaned.Using this method, I also sucadcessadfully trained my exwife (World & Nationa lChamadpion), an Ameriadcam Chamadpion and a teenage runadner up in nationadals plus about 20 othaders that were ranked in state levadels. But no actual research was done on my part in a bioadmeadchanadiadcal sciadenadtific study. The data was kept in my trainading logs but I am more interadested in the lift propaderadties in aeroadspace as a profession.John C. Kovach, M.T. (retired defense engiadneer)Tempe, AZ

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