The word “cheating” is thrown around a lot in health and fitness. Many times, the people who throw the word around are the ones who are making excuses for their own lack of effort. To push the body above and beyond it’s limits is not cheating when it is lead by hard work and effort.
When we look at people who are attempting to lift heavy weight and even stay safe, certain pieces of equipment can help. When we look at straps and chalk, one is not simply better than the other, and neither in a sense is cheating, but both provide their own variation of assistance and help in a lift.
Straps get a lot of scrutiny, especially in the deadlifting culture. It is not seen as a true pull from some if a person uses straps. Straps allow a person to hold on to a huge amount of weight, more than they obviously could do with a natural grip, but it does not take away from the effort needed to pull. Straps can even help with keeping moisture down to a minimum, providing a barrier between the bar and skin. Straps should only be used when grip is compromised, not just when any lift attempt. The key to building grip strength is attempting to pull weight that is not easy to hold. But when it comes to just seeing what you can pull max load, straps can give you an idea of where you stand.
Chalk has developed this nostalgia of rugged coolness in the gym. It is also a mess. Some gyms do not allow chalk due to the messiness. But the ones that do, chances are you will see the remnants of chalk usage on the floors and barbells. Chalk though falls into line with straps in that they help out with grip, but not necessarily grip to hold a lot of weight. Yes, chalk does contribute to lowering the moisture in the hands which will help with a stronger grip, but chalk also helps out with safety as well. When someone is performing an explosive movement like a clean, chalk can help keep better grip control on the bar, so the bar does not “slip” out of the hands during a lift.
So, remember, chalk and straps are not cheating when used appropriately. They are more of an accessory to people who wish to pull and maneuver a lot of weight effectively and safely.