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With so many differing opinions on whether to use chalk or straps, it can be difficult to make a decision on which is better.
It’s important to understand that there are pros and cons to both options, and that both chalk and straps provide some value to our training – when used correctly.
Therefore, the best option when deciding between chalk vs straps depends on the frequency of use, the style of training, and our performance goals.
So, should you use straps or chalk? If your goal is to increase grip strength to compete in powerlifting, then you should use chalk and only use straps when necessary. However, if you’re training for bodybuilding or aesthetics, then using straps to prevent your grip from fatiguing is more beneficial for higher repetition training.
In this article I’ll…
- Discuss when we should use chalk or straps
- Provide the pros and cons of each
- Give practical advice for powerlifters on how to incorporate chalk and straps into their training
- Provide you with tips from 3 top powerlifters for their opinion on chalk vs straps.
Chalk vs Straps: When To Use Them?
There is a time and place for both chalk and straps in a training program, but using them correctly is crucial for success in powerlifting and even for strength in everyday life.
Chalk is used for a variety of movements because it can help prevent us from losing our grip on barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells because of its ability to absorb moisture, which is a necessity once we start to sweat.
Chalk is also often applied to lifter’s backs to prevent the bar from slipping off the back when squatting, and to prevent the back from sliding on the bench while bench pressing.
Straps are used less often than chalk because they’re really only beneficial when used for exercises where our grip may become fatigued.
Exercises that easily fatigue our grip are pulling exercises (deadlifts, rows, pulldowns), and static holds (farmers walk, suitcase carry, iso hold).
Deciding Between Chalk vs Straps
Chalk is the best option for powerlifters because it allows us to lift the most weight we can without assistance. In other words, rather than relying on the assistance that straps provide, your hands and grip have the opportunity to get stronger.
Straps on the other hand do provide assistance, which is great if you want to train muscle groups that aren’t limited by your grip strength.
Straps are especially useful when we’re performing higher repetitions for hypertrophy or for technique work, because at these times we're more focused on the time under tension of other muscle groups – rather than grip strength.
However, if you’re a competitive powerlifter, you cannot use straps in competition. So relying on the assistance of straps may hinder your overall performance in the long run if you use them too often.
Takeaway: Straps can be a useful tool for powerlifters and regular gym-goers when we’re not overusing them.
Chalk: Pros & Cons
- Increase Grip Adherence
- Builds Grip Strength
- Approved For Use In Competition
Increased Grip Adherence
The main benefit of using chalk is that it helps us to increase our grip adherence by absorbing moisture generated by our palms – which allows us to maintain a tighter grip on the weight.
This allows us to focus more on the movement itself, and allows us to complete all the prescribed amounts of volume without the bar slipping out of our hands.
Not only can it help with moisture, but it can also help increase our grip when we’re using a bar with poor quality knurling or a dumbbell/kettlebell with limited texture – as these different textures would typically help us to maintain a better grip.
Builds Grip Strength
Another benefit of using chalk is that it allows us to use our natural grip strength to hold onto the bar, which leads to increases in our grip strength simply because we’re challenging our grip by using it.
Using chalk does not provide us with additional grip strength beyond our normal grip strength capacity; instead, it allows us to properly express the grip strength we already have because the bar is not slipping out of our hands.
By using chalk instead of straps, we will be able to maintain/build the grip strength that is necessary to compete in barbell sports,and perform everyday activities.
Approved For Use In Competition
Chalk is a necessity for those competing in powerlifting competitions because it will help keep the bar from sliding down the back when squatting, prevent the back from sliding on the bench press, and absorb moisture from our hands for deadlifts.
For these reasons, it is approved for use in competitions and should be used by all lifters planning to compete. If everyone else competing is using chalk and we’re not, then we may be putting ourselves at a disadvantage.
- Does Not Prevent Grip Fatigue
Does Not Prevent Grip Fatigue
Chalk will not prevent our grip from fatiguing early which means that our grip will fatigue much faster using chalk than it would if we used straps.
When our grip fatigues too quickly we limit the amount of volume we are able to accumulate at a certain weight, which ultimately results in less potential for gains in strength and size for our larger muscle groups.
One downside of chalk is that it can be messy and it tends to get everywhere when we’re training; for this reason, many commercial gyms do not allow the use of chalk.
Often this decision is made because lifters who are not responsible enough to clean up after themselves, ruin it for everyone else (don’t be this person, clean up your mess!)
That being said, liquid chalk is also a great option and does not transfer to gym surfaces – unless the liquid is spilled. However, my preference is for powdered chalk when allowed because it requires fewer reapplications between sets.
Are you struggling with your deadlift grip not being strong enough? If so, check out our article on How To Maximize Your Deadlift Grip (Never Fail Again On Grip).
Straps: Pros & Cons
- Ability To Accumulate More Volume (sets x reps x load)
- Allows Us To Focus On Developing Other Muscles Groups
Ability To Accumulate More Volume (sets x reps x load)
Using straps will prevent our grip from fatiguing and therefore eliminate our grip strength as a limiting factor for pulling exercises.
This allows us to get in more total volume during our training than we could otherwise. Using straps gives us a big advantage when we’re doing higher repetitions for hypertrophy, or we’re trying to get in as many sets and reps as possible using heavier weights.
The more volume we can accumulate (and recover from), the more potential there is for strength and hypertrophy adaptations from our training sessions.
Allows Us To Focus On Developing Other Muscle Groups
Another benefit to using straps is that they allow us to focus on developing other muscle groups by not having to worry about holding onto the weight.
This is especially useful when we’re doing accessory movements which are typically performed with higher repetitions, as our grip could easily fatigue and prevent us from continuing on before we really get the full benefit from the exercise.
Using straps can help us to develop stronger supporting muscle groups (lats), or certain ranges of motion (rack pull) by allowing us to perform as many reps as necessary, with the focus required to achieve the best results.
- Does Not Build Grip Strength
- Not Approved For Competition
Does Not Build Grip Strength
The main issue with straps is that when they’re used too often and we rely on them too heavily, they will limit how much we’re able to grip without them.
This is an issue because we will likely not have the grip strength to lift maximal loads without them, which would make competing in powerlifting or everyday lifting/carrying much more difficult.
Not Approved For Competition
Straps are not permitted for use in competition because they help us to lift heavier loads than we could lift naturally, as we are not limited by our grip when using them.
Because they’re not permitted in competition, powerlifters should limit the use of straps so that they don’t get accustomed to deadlifting with straps and fail their lifts in competition because they don’t have the necessary grip strength to hold onto the bar.
Chalk vs Straps: What Top Powerlifters Are Saying
Stephanie Earl – Competitive Powerlifter & Wellness Athlete
“Using chalk is something that allows me to keep a tight grip on the barbell during all 3 of my main lifts. I usually use chalk during top/heavy sets. It's something I just keep in my gym bag for when I need it so I can avoid my hands from slipping during my lift. I don't normally ever use straps. I don't get to use straps on the platform, so I don't train with them. I think they would have a benefit for someone who is trying to do tempo work, or for someone who is doing a fair bit of rowing exercises – they can come in handy then. If the exercise calls for specific isolation work in my lats, for example, using straps helps deter my focus on keeping my grip tight to focusing on proper scap retraction and keeping a strong mind to muscle connection with the muscle I'm trying to work. There is a time and place for them, and it comes down to the intention of the exercise”
Jessica Buettner – Competitive Powerlifter
“For competition specific deadlift days I will always use chalk and try to avoid using straps. This is to maintain my grip strength and train most similar to competition. I think that this is the reason my grip has been so strong. Straps are useful for my accessory work and high rep sessions, but I think that leading into competition straps should be used as little as possible to maintain specificity.”
Guillaume LeBlanc – Competitive Powerlifter
“The most important aspect at this point in my training is based on volume, and maximizing volume for a given set/exercise based on the programming that week. In other words, the intention behind most of my programming is to eventually have the biggest lift possible on the platform, meaning the benefits of using straps and being able to handle more volume for more sets typically outweighs not using them.
For example, if I am doing sets of 10 for deadlifts, I will most likely use my straps for those top sets as I am working on the deadlift itself and not necessarily on my grip. I typically use my deadlift straps for my heavy sets when I need to do more than 5-6 reps, but this is not set in stone as sometimes I will use my straps if I am doing 6 paused reps.
Closer to competition I will use the same equipment as I will be using in competition, meaning limiting the use of the straps as much as possible and even not using them at all. The building blocks of the programs have already been accomplished at this stage and I want to really dial in my exact technique for competition.”
Chalk vs Straps: Practical Advice For Powerlifters
1. Don’t Rely On Straps Too Often
It is common these days to see lifter’s using straps for everything, even the bench press! But it’s important that we don’t rely on straps too often, because we need to build our grip strength so that we can lift heavier weights unassisted, without our grip failing.
2. Use Chalk For The Majority Of Your Top Sets
I recommend using chalk for the majority of our tops sets, so that we’re training our grip to develop/maintain the strength capacity to hold on to heavier loads.
In doing so, we can be sure that we’re getting the necessary stimulus to maintain/build our grip strength when it matters most – which can give us more freedom to use straps (if necessary) during our backoff sets.
3. Keep Strap Usage Reserved For Deadlift Variations & Pulling Accessories
Using straps for deadlift variations (snatch grip deadlift, romanian deadlift, rack pull) or pulling accessories (rows, pulldowns) can be a good idea because these variations are included in a training program to strengthen specific muscle groups and/or specific ranges of motion, and are not being included specifically for the purpose of building grip strength.
For this reason, wearing straps for these movements to focus more on the movement itself and develop a better mind-muscle connection, can be a good idea.
4. Avoid Using Straps For Grip Strength Focused Accessories
When accessories are programmed for the purpose of improving our grip strength or simulate everyday activities like carrying our groceries (farmers walk, suitcase carry, iso hold), then it is important to use these exercises as an opportunity to train our grip – rather than using straps and limiting the benefits of the exercise in order to lift heavier weights for longer.
That being said, if we’re competing in strongman activities then using straps makes more sense as it is sport specific; but if we’re performing these exercises for injury prevention and to address weaknesses, then don’t use straps.
5. Reach For Chalk First Before Opting For Straps
I suggest always trying to use chalk first, and then switching to straps once our grip starts to fail.
If our grip is not failing or becoming too fatigued, then there is no point in using straps; however, if we’re experiencing extreme grip fatigue that would impact our performance, then it makes more sense to use straps.
Battle Armor Loose Chalk
My favorite chalk is the Battle Armor Loose Chalk, which I use for powerlifting, weightlifting, and kettlebell training because it has a bit of grit to it – which not only absorbs moisture but also improves my ability to maintain my grip.
I also prefer this brand of chalk because I find it stays on longer and requires fewer applications between sets, which makes the chalk last longer so that I’m really getting my money’s worth.
Iron American Liquid Sports Chalk
The best liquid chalk for the price is the Iron American Sports Chalk because it is great quality and therefore requires fewer applications between sets compared to other liquid chalks on the market.
The brand claims that it lasts 68.7% longer than its competitors, and while I can’t confirm this percentage – I will say that I definitely do not have to reapply after every set. For this reason, it’s my go-to chalk when I’m traveling and I end up training at a gym that doesn’t allow powdered chalk.
Gym Reapers Lifting Straps
The Gym Reapers Lifting Straps stand out amongst competitors as the best lifting straps for powerlifting because they are comfortable due to their neoprene padding, they’re durable because of their double stitching, and they come in a variety of colors for a very affordable price.
These straps are my favorite when I’m doing higher repetition training because they don’t dig in during my sets because of their neoprene padding – which allows me to put all my focus into my sets.
Gym Reapers Figure 8 Lifting Straps
If you prefer the security of a figure 8 style of lifting strap, then I would recommend the Gym Reapers Figure 8 Lifting Straps. These figure 8 lifting straps are great for deadlifts because they will be the most secure, they’re able to withstand any weight we throw at it, and they’re durable enough to last a lifetime.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Chalk Better Than Straps?
If we’re trying to improve our grip strength and/or we’re competing in powerlifting, then chalk is better than straps; however, if we’re looking to get extra volume in and we’re not concerned with grip strength then straps could be the better option.
Are Straps For Deadlifts Cheating?
In competition it would be considered cheating, but if we’re using them in the gym it wouldn’t necessarily be considered cheating. However, using straps for deadlifts certainly gives the lifter an advantage, because they wouldn’t be limited by their grip strength.
Is Chalk Cheating For A Deadlift?
Using chalk for deadlifts is never considered cheating because it does not prevent grip fatigue, it simply improves our grip adherence to the bar and allows us to express our actual strength potential.
Should You Use Chalk For Deadlifts?
Chalk should be a staple for all lifters, as it is especially helpful when our hands are slippery from sweating or we’re using a poor-quality bar. Chalk is there to help us hold onto the bar so that we get the most out of our deadlifts and don’t waste opportunities to build size and strength.
How Much Does Chalk Help Deadlift?
While it’s hard to quantify exactly how much chalk can help the deadlift, I would say from experience it increases my deadlift by about 20% because I tend to have more moisture on my palms, and I struggle to get my reps in at heavier weights and for higher repetitions if I don’t use chalk.
Other Strap Resources
- Best Lifting Straps in 2021: What Are Top Lifters Wearing?
- Best Figure 8 Lifting Straps: Top Straps Reviewed (2021)
- Leather vs Nylon vs Cotton Lifting Straps: Which Is Best?
About The Author
Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.