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This is a guest post from Yasha Kahn. Yasha was born in Russia, raised in LosÂ Angeles, and grew up in Boston.Â He’sÂ a weightlifter and weightlifting coach at the Norwood Training Center near Boston. Check out his website for more great articles.
In 2009, one of Americaâ€™s best lifters, Zach Krych, had a freak accident. While cleaning withÂ 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 Zachâ€™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. Itâ€™s time to move on. Freak accidents happen. We donâ€™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. Letâ€™s address the benefits of using straps when cleaning: Â
The hands: Using straps lessens the wear and tear of the skin on the hands. It also allows a lifter to continue training when callusâ€™ 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:Â 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 youâ€™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 shouldnâ€™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.