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If you’re finding that your grip is failing when lifting then you are faced with a significant problem.
This is because it doesn’t matter how strong your body is, if your hands can’t hold onto the barbell then you’ll always be limited by your grip over anything else. This problem is worse for people with smaller hands.
Therefore, you may be looking for solutions, such as lifting straps or lifting hooks. Both of these are excellent lifting accessories to immediately improve your grip.
So, what is the difference between lifting straps vs lifting hooks? Lifting straps wrap around the wrist and have a long piece of material that loops around the barbell several times. Lifting hooks are secured to your wrist with a velcro band. The band has a metal hook that hangs beneath the palm, which wraps around the bar under your fingers.
Both lifting straps and lifting hooks are used to increase grip strength, but which one will be best for you? In this article, we’ll discuss the nitty-gritty details of each of these lifting accessories, including the pros and cons. By the end, you’ll know which one is best for your lifting situation.
In a Hurry? Here Is My Recommendation
For most lifters, I’m going to recommend lifting straps over lifting hooks.
While you will need to learn how to wrap lifting straps around the barbell, which might take you few practice attempts, they will feel more comfortable than lifting hooks, in addition to being safer to use.
Lifting hooks have less of a learning curve, but myself and others have always found them to be slightly uncomfortable on the wrist. This is because most lifting hooks come in a one-size-fits-all model, which doesn’t take into account individual wrist and hand size.
In addition, any rotation of the barbell may cause the barbell to fall from the hooks, which is dangerous and defeats the purpose of trying to improve your grip.
Therefore, if you’re unsure whether to buy lifting straps or lifting hooks: go for lifting straps.
Since testing 10 of the most popular lifting straps, the Gymreaper lifting straps have been my go-to (click for today's price on Amazon).
While Gymreapers is a relatively new company, they have definitely raised the bar. Every piece of the lifting strap has been carefully manufactured, from the thickness and durability of the material, which prevents fraying, to the neoprene padding around the wrist that creates an incredibly comfortable lifting experience (even under heavy loads you won't feel a lot of pressure on the wrist). The best part: it's one of the cheaper options for lifting straps. The only cheaper strap would be made from 100% cotton, which will fray within a few months, and will likely slip on the barbell.
Important To Remember: Don't Neglect Your Grip Strength
Before diving into the differences, pros, and cons of lifting straps vs lifting hooks, I want to address the elephant in the room.
If you’re looking for lifting straps or lifting hooks, then it’s clear you have a grip issue.
This means that your grip is the limiting factor holding back your strength gains.
Once you’ve developed a grip deficiency, it’s really hard to get stronger in most pulling exercises, such as deadlift, chin-ups, and rows.
Unfortunately, grip issues are not easy to quickly to solve. It will take several months of grip-specific training to increase your hand and forearm strength. Check out my favorite grip strengthener devices.
This is why lifting straps and hooks can be a good solution for allowing you to train through having a weaker grip, and not compromise your overall strength progression.
However, it’s important that at the same time you use lifting straps or hooks while working out, you also start training your grip more specifically (using hand grippers) so that you can improve your natural gripping abilities.
I wrote an entire article on how to maximize your grip. After buying a pair of lifting straps or hooks, I encourage you to read this article.
Here are my top tips for improving your grip strength:
- Make sure you know how to place your hand correctly on the barbell or dumbbell
- Make sure you learn the differences between the mixed-grip and hook grip
- Implement ‘heavy holds’ with a barbell and progress the time under tension
- Practice ‘pinch’ grip strength
- Using the Captain of Crush Grip Strengthening Tool to practice your ‘crunch’ strength (I recommend starting with the “Sport Version”)
- Structure your training split to give your hands a break from pulling exercises
- Develop a handcare routine that addresses calluses
Now that we understand that lifting straps and hooks are meant to supplement your grip, not replace it, let’s talk about the differences, pros, and cons of each.
Related Article: Lifting Straps vs Wrist Wraps
Lifting Straps: What Are They, Pros, Cons
Lifting straps, also called wrist straps, are used by virtually every type of strength athlete, including powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, Crossfitters, bodybuilders, and Strongmen.
Here you can see Thor Bjornsson who deadlift 501kg with lifting straps.
At the time, this was the heaviest deadlift in the World. So you can see that lifting straps can handle an incredible amount of weight lifted without a struggle.
To use lifting straps effectively, you place your hand through a single loop, which then tightens around your wrist. You place your hand on the barbell, and with the extra material, you wrap the strap in circles. This ties your hand into the barbell making it almost impossible to let go of the weight.
The reason why lifters enjoy using straps is that it mimics what it feels like to grip the barbell naturally. While using straps you still have contact with your hand against the barbell, which isn’t the case when using hooks.
In addition, straps are a versatile piece of equipment that allows you to do any exercise while wearing them. This includes niche exercises such as Snatch Grip Deadlifts, which requires you to take a wide grip on the barbell when deadlifting, something that would feel really awkward doing with hooks.
With that said, lifting straps certainly have a learning curve.
It generally takes a few attempts to wrap the strap around the barbell properly. The key mistake people make is wrapping the strap “over the barbell” versus “under the barbell”. When wrapping the strap, always loop under the barbell first.
Here’s a video of World Champion Powerlifter, Kevin Weiss, showing you how to wrap lifting straps around the barbell properly:
Once you’ve mastered how to wrap the strap under the barbell, which honestly doesn’t take long to learn, you’ll feel comfortable using lifting straps for any exercise.
Check out my article where I review the 10 Best Lifting Straps on the market
Design of Lifting Straps
There are several types of lifting strap designs you can get, including lasso and figure 8 straps.
The main difference you’ll see is typically in the length of the strap material.
For most lifters, the longer the strap material, the better. The more revolutions you can make withi the strap around the barbell, the tighter your grip will be on the barbell.
The shorter straps you’ll see are designed more for the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. These athletes only want a slight improvement on their natural grip abilities. In addition, the shorter straps allow the barbell to move more freely in the hand, which is helpful for exercises like the snatch.
However, if you’re not an Olympic weightlifter, you’ll want to have your hand wrapped tightly around the barbell to get the maximum gripping ability possible. This is why you need a strap like the Iron Mind Strong Enough Lifting Strap because the material is at the maximum length possible.
Exercises Used With Lifting Straps
You can use lifting straps for any upper or lower body pulling exercise, including:
- Any deadlift variation
- Bentover Barbell Rows
- Wide Grip Seated Rows
In addition, any exercise where you feel like your grip is being challenged, you can wear lifting straps, including:
- Dumbbell Step Ups
- Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats
- Dumbbell or Barbell Shrugs
- Farmer Walks
Also, I mentioned in my front squat guide, that many people who lack wrist and shoulder mobility will use lifting straps to hold onto the barbell during this exercise. This is called the strap assisted grip for front squats.
Lifting Strap Pros
- Can handle any weight capacity
- Extremely durable and long-lasting
- Mimics what it feels like to grip onto a barbell naturally
- Can be used to prevent your hands from feeling beat up
- Can be used across a variety of exercises
- They are light-weight and don’t take up too much room in your powerlifting gym bag
- Can allow you to increase your gripping strength immediately
- Can be used on any dumbbell or barbell, no matter the size
- Relatively cheap for the value you’ll get
Lifting Strap Cons
- There is a learning curve to wearing them when starting
- Leather straps can deteriorate (this is why I recommend Nylon straps)
- If used too much you can develop an over-reliance and will never improve your natural gripping abilities
Considerations: Who Should Use Lifting Straps?
Any lifter looking to immediately improve their grip strength should turn to lifting straps as their go-to solution. I would only use lifting straps on your most challenging sets to prevent a loss of grip, and at the same time, not develop an over-reliance on using them.
Once you’ve learned how to wrap the straps around the barbell, you’ll feel more confident using them for any exercise. At first, it might take you up to a minute to wrap your hands into place, but over time, you can cut this time down to about 10-seconds.
No matter your lifting goal or level of experience, lifting straps should be a staple part of your gym equipment. You won’t need them all the time, but when you do, you’ll be able to lift more weight and push yourself harder in the gym.
Lifting Hooks What Are They, Pros, Cons
A lifting hook is another go-to solution for people who struggle with grip strength in the gym.
The lifting hook is exactly how it sounds. There is a metal hook that curves underneath the barbell in order to shift the loading demand from the hand to the wrist.
When using lifting hooks you could essentially take your hand off the barbell, which eliminates any tension through your hand or forearm that would otherwise be used to grip the weight.
While this might sound like a sweet deal because you remove any grip limitation altogether, there are actually some drawbacks that you’ll want to consider.
Lifting hooks do have a weight limit for most types. If the model you’re looking at doesn’t say the weight limit then it’s likely around 300lbs. Although, you can find heavy-duty lifting hooks that have been tested up to 600lbs.
So just make sure you’re getting hooks that are relative to your levels of strength.
When testing hooks for weight limit, this is assuming the lifter takes their hands completely off the barbell and isn’t using any gripping strength to assist. Keep in mind, that if your hand isn’t assisting with the movement, then all of that tension gets placed on your wrist joint.
As such, the heavier you lift, the more uncomfortable the lifting hook will feel on your wrist. Obviously this can be mitigated by not totally removing your hand from the barbell and sharing the distribution of the load between the hook and your hand.
However, you typically need slightly larger hands if you intend to keep your hands in contact with the barbell. This is because hooks have a bulky design and create more separation between your hand and the barbell. So if you don’t have long fingers, then it will be harder to wrap your entire hand around the barbell.
Hooks are mostly used by beginner lifters who aren’t yet lifting a lot of weight (less than 300lbs). For some smaller individuals and women, they may never lift over 300lbs, and lifting hooks would be perfectly suitable for their entire lifting career.
Check out my article where I review the 7 Best Lifting Looks on the market
Design of Lifting Hooks
There are several types of lifting hook designs you can get.
The main difference you’ll see is how the hook is constructed, whether it’s two-prongs or a single fabricated unit.
For most lifters, I would recommend the single-fabricated unit since it will feel the most comfortable on the wrist no matter what your hand size. The downside to the single-fabricated unit is that these hooks will typically have a lower weight limit.
The two-prong design is slightly more durable and will have a higher weight limit. The down-side to the two-prong design is that it is a bit bulkier, so it’s more suited for people with longer fingers and bigger hands generally.
Exercises Used With Lifting Hooks
Lifting hooks are only primarily used for barbell exercises.
- Any deadlift variation
- Barbell Row
- Barbell Shrugs
In my opinion, the only exercise you’ll get a big benefit from using lifting hooks is deadlifts. You won’t see Olympic weightlifters use lifting hooks for exercises like the snatch or clean and jerk.
You may be able to do some dumbbell exercises with lifting hooks, but it will depend on the type of dumbbell that you use. This is because the hook might be too big or too small for the specific piece of equipment.
Lifting Hooks Pros
- Can stabilize the wrist more because it has a velcro strap that locks the wrist into place
- Will immediately improve gripping strength
- Can take 100% of the gripping loading demand
- Relatively durable if you check the weight limits
- Fairly cheap for the value you’ll get
- Easier to use than lifting straps (no learning curve)
- Can be used to prevent your hands from feeling beat up
Lifting Hooks Cons
- Less durable the heavier the weight gets
- They don’t come in different sizes (for the most part)
- If the hooks are too big and bulky then your hands might not even make contact with the barbell
- The weight can roll out of the hooks if the barbell rotates
- Doesn’t mimic what it feels like to grip onto a bar naturally
- Can’t be used for all exercises in the gym
- May create a lot of stress at the wrist depending on the load used and how much you can wrap your hand around the barbell
Who Should Use Lifting Hooks
You should use lifting hooks if you are a beginner lifter who isn’t lifting over 300lbs yet.
However, you’ll likely need to consider the size of your hands, as lifting hooks will be more comfortable if you have bigger hands.
If you only need to improve your grip on exercises like the deadlift, row, and shrug, and you won’t need grip assistance with any other movements, then hooks will serve your purpose.
The best single-fabricated lifting hook is the Heavy Duty Pro Metal Lifting Hooks (click for today’s price on Amazon). Lifters find this to be the most comfortable lifting hook on the market.
The best two-prong lifting hook is the Harbinger Lifting Hooks (click for today’s price on Amazon). Only get this lifting hook if you plan on lifting heavier loads (above 400lbs).
Wondering what the differences are between chalk and straps? We explain the pros and cons, and which you should use based on the exercise and your goals. Check out: Chalk vs Straps.
Lifting straps and lifting hooks allow you to grip more weight in the gym. While you should naturally try to build up your grip strength, these lifting accessories can allow you to continue to get stronger despite a grip deficiency.
I would use lifting straps over lifting hooks as they will feel more comfortable on the wrist, allow you to grip more weight, and are more durable. My go-to lifting strap is the Iron Mind Strong Enough Lifting Strap.