The History of Weight Lifting Straps

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Having previously examined weight lifting belts and weightlifting shoes, the time seems right to examine weightlifting straps. For some weightlifting straps are just another everyday piece of equipment. They boost your numbers on the dead lift, the barbell row and just about anything else that requires grip strength. Yet for others weightlifting straps signify cheating. This being the case, they’re nevertheless a popular piece of equipment, hence today’s article. When these devices emerge in the iron game? Who invented them? How long have they been used for?

Well in today’s post we’re going to examine these questions and more, beginning with some rather interesting patterns from the early 1900s.

Early Precursors 

In a fascinating article from 2007, Marilia Coutinho discussed wrist wrapping in powerlifting. According to the author the first wrist protection and support device was patented in 1901 by a Russian citizen living in New York. The device, invented by Vitold Drosness, was not designed for power lifters but rather for manual workers. Nevertheless as shown in the picture below, these devices were certainly the precursors to the modern weightlifting straps, a point which will soon become clear.

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Within a decade of the Russian’s design new advancements were being made and for the first time, equipment was being designed for the sporting world. Created by James Tyrrell these new devices were intended for more support and nothing else in games such as golf. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that we are inching closer towards weight lifting straps. By the early 1920s we have our first wrist support created solely for athletic use. Invented by HH Hansard, the below device was created for use in golf, billiards and other games.

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Although Marila’s article was concerned with wrist wraps and not straps, it nevertheless provides us with a good background. With that out of the way however, we can move onto the good stuff.

Bob Peoples, the Original Inventor?

Known throughout the iron game for his strength and incredible perseverance, it seems that if he did not invent them, Bob Peoples was responsible for popularising the first original weightlifting straps. It was during his time in the 1940s when he was lifting heavier and heavier weights that it appears that Bob stumbled across the idea of using hooks or weightlifting straps to increase his poundages. Unlike the very finished products of today, it appears that Bob created his own wrist staps using rudimentary metal materials. Ersatz equipment aside, Peoples nevertheless deadlifted over 650 pounds during his career. The hooks were an every faithful. From humble beginnings, it appears that the idea of using holster straps soon spread.

In his 1950s Rader Isometronic Power and Muscle Devlopment Course, Peary Rader of Ironman magazine likewise suggested the use of weightlifting straps for those struggling with heavy weights. Commenting on the dead lift, Rader noted that

Some men tie their hands to the bar with straps in order to exert full body power without their hands slipping from the bar. Straps with hooks fastened to them are also used. Anderson uses a similar method and other top strongmen have likewise. It goes without saying that this exercise will greatly increase your gripping power, but few men are able to grip enough to prevent handsome slipping in this position.

Rader was of course referring to Paul Anderson, the great American powerlifter from the mid-century. Although retiring formally in 1956, Anderson was known throughout the iron community as a man of Herculean strength. And although the majority of Anderson’s lifts were done without straps, it appears that Anderson used them in his training. So, already, we have weightlifting straps being used in the mid-century.

Increasing popularity

So we see that weightlifting straps were being used both before and during the 1950s in the United States. According to Jim Schmitz, the first mass nationwide campaign regarding lifting straps came in June 1965 through Strength and Health magazine. Interviewing the great doyen of American weightlifting, Tommy Kono, John Terpak reported on weightlifting straps under the title of ‘The Golden Straps’.

In a short account of weight lifting straps, which I highly recommend you read, Jim tells a number of funny anecdotes relating to one of my favourite Russian weightlifters, who was competing in Las Vegas in 1977. The man in question was Vasily Alexeev, who is forever known as one of the strongest men in world history. As a brief aside we must comment that the Soviet weightlifter set 80 world records and won gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics… He was something of a big deal.  The old footage of the great man in action on YouTube is nothing short of inspiring but like the rest of us the Vasily was human and thus capable  of being utterly ridiculous at times.

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The evidence of this came in 1977 in Las Vegas. The Russian was halfway through a workout, and was struggling desperately with his snatches. He went to his bag to search for his weight lifting straps, by then a common piece of gym equipment so it seems, and came up empty-handed. Rather then let a good gym session go to waste, he pulled out a pair of gym socks and wrapped them around the bar like straps. Though struggling to contain his laughter, the Russian continued to train, much to the amusement of everyone in the gym.

Though admittedly a very good anecdote, the story nevertheless shows how commonplace weightlifting straps had become. Returning to one of my favourite competitions, that is the World’s Strongest Man, fans will remember the 1982 games which saw Bill Kazmier deadlift over 400 kilos using weightlifting straps.

Now its during the 1980s that we finally see our first weightlifting patents emerge. The first being the  Joseph J. Meeko’s 1984 patent shown below. Meeko, quite significantly, cited the the men from the early 1900s quoted previously.

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We also have evidence of similar devices in the form of Conway’s Lat Straps, which were being advertised in Iron Man Magazine in the early 1980s. Unfortunately I can’t find a photo of said straps but it’s likely they resembled something like the below.

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Now interestingly for us, both Conway and Meeko referred to the practice of using weightlifting straps as commonplace for the gym community. They were simply standardising the process.

Conclusions

Whether you like to use them or not in your training, it’s clear that weight lifting straps have long held a place in the heart of weightlifters. From Bob Peoples in the 1940s to Vasily and his socks, it’s been a long and interesting journey.

As always… happy lifting!

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