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If you’ve been lifting for any amount of time you’ll have come across two important pieces of equipment that people wear in the gym: wrist straps and wrist wraps. Both straps and wraps aid in your performance and protect you from potential injury. However, they are not used for the same purpose.
So, what are the differences between wrist straps vs wrist wraps? Wrist wraps are used to create rigid support around your wrist while lifting. Wraps keep the wrist neutral and prevent it from flexing or bending. Wrist straps do not protect your wrist, but rather increase the amount of weight you can grip. Straps are used when your grip fails.
There are several other benefits to using straps and wraps, but depending on the outcome you want to achieve in the gym one piece of equipment may be better suited over the other. In this article, I’ll cover the differences in greater detail and discuss the pros and cons.
In a Hurry? Here Are My Recommendations
If you want a quick recommendation on which piece of equipment you need, here are my top picks for both wrist straps and wrist wraps.
What Are The Best Wrist Straps?
Wrist straps will help you lift more weight if your grip is the limiting factor. This could be the case in exercises like the deadlift, barbell row, or chin-up. At some point, your grip will not be as strong as your other major muscle groups (back, shoulder, biceps), and you’ll need assistance from wrist straps to continue getting stronger.
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.
Check out my review of the Best Lifting Straps.
What Are The Best Wrist Wraps?
Wrist wraps will help stabilize your wrist while lifting. If you struggle with keeping your wrist neutral while performing exercises like the bench press or overhead press, wrist wraps are your go-to solution to keeping your wrist neutral and healthy.
The absolute best wrist wrap that you can buy is the Gymreaper lifting straps (click for reviews and today’s price on Amazon).
Check out my full review of the Best Wrist Wraps For Powerlifting.
What Are Wrist Straps?
Wrist straps are used by every type of strength athlete, from bodybuilders, powerlifters, Strongmen, and Olympic weightlifters.
Their primary function is to allow a lifter to grip more weight. This is achieved by attaching the strap around your wrist and then looping the extra material around the barbell creating a hook-like system between your hand the barbell.
As you progress through your lifting career, you’ll get to a point where your muscular strength has developed beyond the capacity of your grip.
At this point, lifting straps can be a helpful tool to continue to build your strength in the gym.
Most commonly, the grip will fail during pulling exercises, such as the deadlift.
You’ll find yourself being able to lift the weight with your back, legs, and glutes; however, as you reach the top of your lift the barbell begins to slip from your hand and you fail to lock the weight out.
At this point, you have a grip issue, and lifting straps can be a great solution to be able to continue lifting beyond your natural grip capacity.
For example, here’s Thor Bjornsson who deadlift 501kg with wrist straps. It’s highly unlikely he could have done this feat of strength without straps.
You may also find wrist straps to benefit other exercises where grip is heavily involved, such as barbell rows, chin-ups, and lat pulldowns.
It’s important to note that if you’ve diagnosed yourself as someone who has a grip issue, that you should seek to improve your gripping capabilities by getting your hands and forearms stronger. I wrote an entire article on how to improve your grip.
Some of my suggestions to improve your grip are:
- Ensuring you know how to place your hands on the barbell or dumbbell correctly
- Practicing heavy barbell holds (30-seconds at a time)
- Using the Captain of Crush Grip Strengthening Tool (I recommend starting with the “Sport Version”)
In addition to these tips, you should ALSO be using lifting straps. This is because it will take some time for your grip to get stronger naturally, and at the same time you’ll want to continue to maximize your overall strength gains by not having your grip as the limiting factor.
Lifting Strap Pros
Here are the pros of using lifting straps:
- They’re easy to use
- You can quickly increase your gripping ability
- They allow you to lift heavier in most pulling exercises
- You can push yourself to lift a few more reps than normal
- They’re relatively inexpensive ($20-30)
- You can use them for multiple exercises
- One pair will last you a life-time
- They don’t take up a lot of room in your gym bag (like a belt)
Lifting Strap Cons
Here are the cons of using lifting straps:
- If used too much you can develop an over-reliance on them causing a weaker overall grip
- Leather straps don’t absorb sweat well causing them to deteriorate faster (this is why I recommend nylon lifting straps)
Do You Need Wrist Straps?
Every serious lifter has a pair of lifting straps in their gym bag.
However, I don’t think every lifter needs to start out wearing wrist straps. I only think you need to consider wearing wrist straps if you’ve identified that you are losing out on lifting more weight or reps because your grip is failing on specific exercises.
At that point, I think it’s necessary to look at buying wrist straps.
With that said, don’t use the wrist straps to mask a weak grip.
Yes, you should use the straps to get the immediate benefit of being able to lift more weight or reps without your grip failing. But, you also need to consider how you’re going to train your hand and forearms in order to continue building up your natural gripping abilities.
The same thought process is applied when considering whether you should wear a lifting belt. If you wear a belt, it doesn’t mean you should stop training your core. Just like if you wear wrist straps, it doesn’t mean you should stop training your grip.
My favorite lifting straps are the Iron Mind Strong Enough lifting Straps (Click for today’s price on Amazon)
What Are Wrist Wraps?
Wrist wraps are a common piece of equipment that you’ll see people wearing in most gym settings. As well, just like straps, wrist wraps are used by almost every type of strength athlete.
Their primary function is to keep a lifter’s wrist neutral. The goal is to prevent the wrist from flexing either forward or back while lifting. This is achieved by taking the elastic material of the wrap and stretching it around your wrist, which creates a cast-like structure.
The reason why it’s important to keep the wrist neutral while lifting is because any movement of the wrist under load will increase the stress at the level of the joint. Therefore, a wrist wrap can aid in preventing wrist injuries as well as keeping the wrist pain-free.
This is especially important for exercises like the bench press and overhead press. In these movements, the barbell should sit in the base of the palm with the load directly over a neutral wrist.
However, as you get stronger and the weights get heavier, the wrist might flex backward in an uncontrolled manner. Therefore, wearing wrist wraps can keep the barbell directly stacked over the wrist.
Another reason why a neutral wrist position is important outside of preventing wrist pain is that the movement will be more efficient.
When your wrist cocks backward, it’s because your stabilizing muscle groups in your forearm have started to fatigue. This requires other muscle groups to work harder to pick up the slack. Therefore, muscles in your pecs, shoulders, and back need to work harder to control the movement of the barbell.
By keeping your wrist stabilized the system as a whole is working in unison with each other, and not compensating for weaker muscle groups.
With that said, I would ensure that you’re always trying to work on your weaknesses. So if you find your wrists not able to stabilize properly, then in addition to wearing wrist wraps, you should also implement some forearm strengthening exercises.
Here is my go-to circuit for forearm strengthening (yes, it’s designed for climbers, but strength athletes can benefit too):
Virtually every competitive powerlifting, weightlifter, Crossfitter, and bodybuilder will have a set of wrist wraps in their gym bag.
However, they’re not used for every exercise in the gym, nor are they used on every set.
They’re a tool that is utilized when you’re going for a max effort, either when building to a heavy set, or working closer to your fatigue limit like when doing an AMRAP set (as many reps as possible).
Wrist Wrap Pros
Here are the pros of using lifting straps:
- They’re easy to use
- You can quickly stabilize your wrist joint
- They allow you to feel more comfortable under heavier weight
- You can push your forearm and wrist strength beyond natural capacities
- You can wrap the wrists tighter or looser depending on your preferences
- They allow you to return to lifting post-injury quicker
- They can make the weight feel lighter in your hand
- They’re relatively inexpensive ($20-$30)
- You can use them for multiple exercises
- One pair should last you at least 5 years
- They don’t take up a lot of room in your gym bag
Wrist Wrap Cons
- If used too much you can develop an over-reliance on them causing more instability in your wrist
- They may feel slightly uncomfortable to start with depending on the level of tightness around your arm
- Cotton wrist wraps don’t offer enough support (this is why I suggest wraps made from a blend of Elastic, Nylon, and Cotton)
- Velcro may begin to fray if you don’t treat them properly
Do You Need Wrist Wraps?
You should invest in a pair of wrist wraps if you find that your wrists are not able to stay neutral while you’re lifting.
In addition, you should consider wrist wraps if you have a history of wrist pain. While you should always consult medical advice, wrist wraps have been said to allow people to return to lifting much quicker.
Another main reason to get wrist wraps is to make the weight feel lighter in your hand and to generally increase your confidence under heavier weights.
Beginner lifters likely don’t need wrist wraps, but if you have some strength training experience and are getting stronger in the gym then it’s definitely something you should consider.
I want to caution you that wrist wraps are not a magic cure for poor wrist stability.
At the same time you wear wrist wraps, you should also be working to increase the stability of your wrists through specific strengthening exercises. You’ll always want to work on improving your natural stability and strength, in addition to using tools to assist.
My favorite wrist wraps are the Inzer True Gripper Wrist Wraps (click for today’s price on Amazon)
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Wrist Straps Worth It?
Yes, wrist straps are worth the cost given that you will be able to immediately lift more weight. In addition, wrist straps should last you a lifetime, so you’ll only be making the $10-$20 investment once.
Do Wrist Wraps Weaken Your Wrist?
Wrist wraps do not weaken your wrist. Wrist wraps will support the natural stability of your wrist joint in order to keep it neutral when lifting. However, your wrists won’t get stronger if you continue to wear wrist wraps thinking that you don’t need to implement wrist strengthening exercises. So in addition to using wrist wraps, you should also be working on improving your natural stability and strength.
The difference between wrist straps and wrist wraps is that straps are meant to increase your gripping ability, and wraps are meant to stabilize your wrist joint under load. While beginner lifters likely don’t need to bother with these pieces of equipment, at some point every lifter will add both straps and wraps to their gym equipment.
Related article: 7 Best Weightlifting Hooks Reviewed