I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I used to be a barbell purist. I’m not sure how the idea got lodged in my head, but I spent quite a few years working with the assumption that barbell exercises were always (or almost always) superior to their biomechanically similar, non-barbell counterparts. It took me way too long to realize and accept that trap bar deadlifts are a superior option for most people in most contexts than the straight bar deadlift. Both research and my own self-experimentation helped me see the light.
This article will compare and contrast the trap bar and straight bar deadlifts and make a pitch for the trap bar deadlift as the better option for the majority of lifters.
- Comparing Trap Bars and Straight Bars
- Basic Differences
- The Hinge-Squat Continuum
- Benefits of the trap bar deadlift
- Drawbacks of the trap bar deadlift
- For powerlifters
- For non-powerlifters
- Addendum, January 2018
- Read Next
- How to Use Trap Bar Deadlifts to Build Total-Body Strength
- How to Do Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Trap Bar Deadlift Mistakes
- The Benefits of Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Trap Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked
- Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives and Variations
- Trap Bar Workouts
The Best Damn Trap Bar Workout, Period
- Reason 1: It’s Friendlier to Lifters with Long Levers
- Reason 2: It Promotes Healthier Shoulders
- Reason 3: It Hits All the Same Muscles, But is Safer on the Spine
- Getting the Most out of Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Use Indicator Sets
- The Best Damn Trap Bar Workout, Period
- One Last Thing: Know What You’re Lifting
- Why Trap Bar Deadlifts Are Awesome
- Trap Bar Deadlift – Form, Muscles Worked, and How-To Guide
- How to Perform the Trap Bar Deadlift: Step-By-Step Guide
- Training Modifications for the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift – Muscles Worked
- 5 Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Who Should Do Trap Bar Deadlifts?
- Trap Bar Deadlift Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
- Movement Integrity – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
- Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
- Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
- Muscle Endurance- Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
- 4 Trap Bar Deadlift Variations
- 1. Deficit Trap Bar Deadlift
- 2. Jumping Trap Bar Deadlift
- 3. Trap Bar Deadlift with Accommodating Resistance
- 4. Tempo Trap Bar Deadlifts
- 3 Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives
- Glutes Gone Wild
- Here’s what you need to know…
- Take Your Trap Bar Deadlift from Good to Great
- Trap Bar Deadlift Complete Guide – Muscles Trained, Benefits, Instructions, and Variations
- Trap Bar Deadlift Guide
- How to Properly Perform a Trap Bar Deadlift
- Are There Alternatives to the Trap Bar Deadlift?
Comparing Trap Bars and Straight Bars
Barbells are straight hunks of metal that let you load weight on each side. To deadlift a barbell, you stand behind the bar, grip it, and rip it. Trap bars take a hexagonal shape (which is why they’re sometimes called “hex bars”) with sleeves on the end that let you load weight, and they have handles on either side that allow you to grip the bar with a neutral grip. Trap bars generally have two sets of handles – one set that’s at the same level as the rest of the bar (called “low handles”), and one set that’s elevated (called high handles). To deadlift a trap bar, you stand inside the bar, grab one of the sets of handles, and lift it.
There are more (important) similarities between the barbell deadlift and trap bar deadlift than there are differences. Both involve picking heavy weights up off the floor using comparable loads, both essentially train the hinge pattern, both involve similar (or identical) ranges of motion, and both elicit similar degrees of activation in the muscle groups they train.
The differences between the trap bar and barbell deadlifts are primarily a matter of degree.
They allow for comparable loading, but most people can deadlift a bit more with a trap bar.
While both essentially train the hinge pattern, peak spine and hip moments tend to be a bit larger for the barbell deadlift than the trap bar deadlift, while the peak knee moment tends to be larger for the trap bar deadlift.
And, while both elicit similar degrees of muscle activation in the muscle groups they train, quad activation tends to be a bit higher for the trap bar deadlift, while hamstrings and spinal erector activation tend to be a bit higher for the conventional deadlift.
The Hinge-Squat Continuum
It’s common to argue that conventional deadlifts should be trained instead of trap bar deadlifts because a trap bar deadlift isn’t a true “hinge” movement – more like a hinge/squat hybrid. So, the thinking goes, since you’re already training the squat (or at least you should be), you’re wasting your time with the trap bar deadlift since it won’t train the hinge pattern very well by itself, and it doesn’t train the squat pattern as well as actually squatting.
While it’s true that trap bar deadlifts are a little bit “squattier” than conventional barbell deadlifts, they’re much closer to a “hinge” than a squat. Let’s dig into the data.
A 2011 study by Swinton et al. reported peak joint moments in the conventional and trap bar deadlifts with loads ranging from 10% of 1rm to 80% of 1rm. The average deadlifts in this study were 244.5kg (539lbs) for the conventional deadlift, and 265kg (584lbs) for the trap bar deadlift. All of the submaximal testing with both bars used were based on barbell deadlift 1rm numbers.
For the conventional deadlift, the peak hip flexion moment was 353Nm, and the peak knee flexion moment was 96Nm. The ratio of peak hip moment to peak knee moment was 3.68:1. This compares favorably to another study which reported knee and hip moments at the point the bar broke the ground. In that study, the ratio was 3.56:1.
For the trap bar deadlift, the peak hip flexion moment was 325.6Nm, and the peak knee flexion moment was 182.5Nm. The ratio of peak hip moment to peak knee moment was 1.78:1.
|Peak Hip Moment||353Nm||325.6Nm|
|Peak Knee moment||96Nm||182.5Nm|
Let’s contrast this with another study on well-trained lifters examining the squat. This study didn’t report peak moments, but it did report joint moments at six different time points during the lift (including at the very bottom of the squat, 90 degrees of knee flexion, and the point of minimum bar velocity, which are the three places where you’d expect joint moments to be maximal or very close to maximal). The highest reported hip flexion moment was 628Nm at the point of minimum bar velocity, and the highest reported knee flexion moment was 756Nm in the hole, for a hip:knee ratio of .83:1.
We can also look at joint ranges of motion. It varies a bit study-to-study and between various styles of the squat, but you tend to see about 100-120 degrees of both knee and hip flexion at the bottom of the squat, for roughly equal knee and hip ranges of motion. For the conventional deadlift, you tend to see ~100-110 degrees of hip flexion, and only about 50-60 degrees of knee flexion, for almost double the hip range of motion. And the trap bar deadlift? The joint ranges of motion for the knee and hip are, on average, within 2-6 degrees of what you see in the conventional deadlift.
So, when looking at a “true” squat, you see similar knee and hip range of motion and comparable peak knee and hip moments. The conventional deadlift, on the other hand, places 3-4x greater demands on the hip extensors than the quads, and takes the hips through a range of motion almost 2x longer than the knees. The trap bar deadlift still places almost twice as high of demands on the hip extensors than the quads, and has joint ranges of motion that are almost identical to the conventional deadlift.
Yes, the trap bar deadlift is a bit “squattier” than a barbell deadlift, but it’s definitely still a hinge pattern, and nowhere close to being a squat. It’s also worth noting that the conventional deadlift isn’t even a pure hinge in the first place – that would be reserved for stiff-legged deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, strict good mornings, and the like.
Finally, reiterating something from the study that reported the peak joint moments in both the conventional and trap bar deadlifts: All the weights used were based on the participants’ conventional deadlift maxes. However, they deadlifted 8.4% more weight with a trap bar.
The peak spinal flexion moment was 9.2% higher for the conventional deadlift, and the peak hip flexion moment was 8.4% higher for the conventional deadlift. If the participants would have actually used the same relative load with each bar (i.e. 80% of trap bar 1rm vs. 80% of conventional 1rm) instead of the same absolute load, the demands on the hip extensors and spinal erectors probably would have been nearly identical.
In essence, the trap bar deadlift works your back and hip extensors almost as hard as the conventional deadlift does at worst, and just as hard in all likelihood, with the added benefit of also providing a little extra stimulus for your quads (though not nearly as much as squatting does). What’s not to love?
Benefits of the trap bar deadlift
It’s easier to learn than the barbell deadlift.
The barbell deadlift certainly isn’t an immensely technical lift, but it generally takes at least a few sessions to really get the hang of it, and it takes quite a while to really master. The main thing that makes it challenging to learn is finding your balance. The bar must stay in front of your legs, which makes it easy to lose your balance forward or round your spine to compensate. With the trap bar deadlift, your shins won’t get in the way, so it’s easier to keep your balance and maintain a good spinal position, especially for people who are new to the lift.
No hyperextension at lockout.
A common technical error with barbell deadlifts is over-pulling. When people lock the weight out, they’ll hyperextend their spine to finish the lift. Now, this isn’t the end of the world, but it’s probably a little riskier than just finishing in an upright position, and it just looks ridiculous. With the trap bar deadlift, there’s no barbell in front of you to use as a counterbalance to allow you to hyperextend. People assume a good lockout position naturally.
No need for a mixed grip.
With a barbell deadlift, you have three options to hold on to heavy weights: hook grip (which is really painful), using straps (which people tend to irrationally avoid), or pulling with a mixed grip (one hand pronated, and one hand supinated). Most people opt for a mixed grip. A mixed grip can cause you to shift your weight slightly off-center, which people fear will lead to muscle imbalances. I’m of the opinion that it’s not a big deal, but it’s a concern people have. More pressingly, people occasionally tear their biceps on the supinated arm when deadlifting. With the trap bar, the handles allow you to take a neutral grip with no need to supinate one hand, and the grip is just as secure as a mixed grip since the bar can’t roll in your hands.
High handles for people with insufficient hip ROM.
This may be the biggest benefit of the trap bar. “Normal” hip range of motion with the knees bent to 90 degrees (minimal tension on the hamstrings) is 100-120 degrees. Remember, a conventional deadlift requires ~100-110 degrees of hip flexion with the knee not bent all the way to 90 degrees, and with tension on the hamstrings. A barbell deadlift starts near end-ROM hip flexion for most people, and past end-ROM hip flexion for a non-negligible amount of people. A lot of people just simply can’t get enough hip flexion ROM to deadlift from the floor, no matter how much mobility work they do. These people have to compensate with spinal flexion, which increases their risk for spinal disc injuries.
Now, they’d probably be fine to deadlift with a barbell if they stuck to low rack pulls or low block pulls, but, in my experience, a lot of people are just stubborn and either don’t want to set up rack pulls/block pulls every time they deadlift, or they refuse to stop pulling weights off the floor.
The high handles on the trap bar deadlift decrease the range of motion just enough that almost everyone can pull from the floor while maintaining good spinal position. Additionally, it doesn’t require any equipment setup, and people just tend to be a little less stubborn about using the high handles since the weight still starts on the floor. The range of motion is still easily long enough to elicit a large, positive training effect, and it’s more tolerable for a lot of people.
Less chance of getting pulled forward/spinal flexion.
Even if you’re a technically proficient deadlifter, your spine can still start to round as you fatigue. Your hips start giving out, so your body finds other muscles to shift the load to. With the trap bar, since knee movement isn’t constrained by the bar, your hips can shift more of the load to your quads as they start to fatigue instead. Jacked quads are better than a jacked up back.
It can still be just as hip-dominant as a barbell deadlift.
A trap bar simply allows for more freedom of movement. A barbell deadlift requires a particular type of pull – it must be hip-dominant because the barbell must stay in front of your legs through the lift. That requires pushing your butt back, minimizing forward knee travel, etc.
With a trap bar, you can still deadlift with that exact same style – push your butt back, minimize forward knee travel, and deadlift as if you were using a barbell (without bloodying your shins and with lower risk of spinal flexion). You can also drop your hips a little lower and let your knees travel a little further forward to use your quads a bit more. The trap bar gives you that choice. With a barbell, there is no choice.
The trap bar DL gives you a ton of flexibility in DL style. It can be just as hinge-y as a barbell deadlift (top) or much squattier with a more upright torso (bottom), which can be a lot more comfortable for some people with back issues.
(Likely) higher transfer to other sports.
Two studies (one, two) have now found that peak power and peak velocity with a variety of loads are higher with the trap bar deadlift than the conventional deadlift. This would likely mean a slightly superior training effect for sports that rely on high power outputs or high velocities of movement (i.e. basically all of them).
Drawbacks of the trap bar deadlift
Not used in competition.
The most obvious drawback of the trap bar deadlift is for powerlifters. You don’t pull with a trap bar on the platform. Barbell deadlifts are more sport-specific.
The handles may be too wide for smaller people.
Most commercially available trap bars have handles that are the perfect width for average-sized men, and plenty of heavy-duty trap bars have handles that are the perfect width for larger men. However, the handles are wider than is comfortable for many women and some smaller men.
No sumo deadlifts
A trap bar requires a conventional deadlift stance. If you’re more comfortable pulling sumo, you’re stuck with the barbell.
Just a note on the hinge-squat continuum: As opposed to the ~3.5:1 hip:knee moment ratio in the conventional deadlift and the ~1.8:1 hip:knee moment ration in the trap bar deadlift, the ratio in the sumo deadlift is almost exactly 1:1. Its joint ROMs say “hinge,” but its joint moments say “squat.” It’s easily more of a squat/hinge hybrid than the trap bar deadlift.
Balancing your grip
While you’re getting the hang of the trap bar, you may accidentally grip slightly too far forward or too far back on the handles, which makes the load a bit unbalanced. This is easy enough to remedy, though: If you notice the bar trying to tilt when it breaks off the floor, just sit it back down, reposition your hands accordingly, and pull again. After a session or two, you shouldn’t have any problem gripping the bar in the right place every time.
Less challenge at terminal hip extension
While the hip extension demands of the conventional and trap bar deadlifts are pretty similar off the floor (i.e. when the peak hip moment would occur), it is considerably easier to lock out a trap bar deadlift because the bar doesn’t have to stay in front of your legs. A recent study showed that, while hamstrings activation off the floor was a bit higher in the conventional deadlift than the trap bar deadlift, the difference wasn’t significant. However, there was a significant difference (favoring the conventional deadlift) through the top half of the movement.
Stupid commenters on social media
Send them this article. I look forward to reading their immaculately well thought-out feedback.
Obviously, when training for a meet, barbell deadlifts should be your bread and butter. You pull with a barbell on the platform, so you should also train with one.
However, in the offseason (especially if you’re one of the people who needs to flex their spine to get down to the bar), it may be worth showing the trap bar deadlift some love. Especially for high-volume deadlift work, I think the trap bar is a great tool because you’re less likely to move toward spinal flexion as you fatigue. The trap bar is also useful for overload work; it allows for slightly heavier loading, but the overall movement pattern is still similar to a normal deadlift.
The trap bar is also a great teaching tool for people who aren’t good at engaging their quads to help initiate the pull. You can try trap bar deadlifting while intentionally allowing for a lot of forward knee travel. This will force your quads to help out at the start of the lift, giving you a feel for how they should contribute. When you go back to a barbell, you’ll have an easier time integrating that initial drive from your quads into the lift.
While I don’t think this is necessarily an either/or issue – the trap bar deadlift and the barbell deadlift are both great movements, and either could easily be the cornerstone of a lower body training program – between the trap bar deadlift and the conventional deadlift, I think the trap bar deadlift is the better option overall. It allows for more flexibility in the movement, doesn’t require a mixed grip, is easier to learn, allows for higher velocity and higher power output (all other things being equal), and is safer for a lot of people. The only exception would be when choosing a movement to train terminal hip extension; a conventional deadlift would be a better option in that case (though a hip thrust may be an even better option than the barbell deadlift for strengthening terminal hip extension).
A couple of years ago, I would have argued vehemently for the barbell deadlift for almost all people in almost all circumstances, but research, my personal experience, and my experience with my non-PL clients have changed my mind.
Addendum, January 2018
Two recent studies give us more data to compare trap bar and barbell deadlifts. The first found that people can lift more with a high handle trap bar DL than with a barbell deadlift. With 1RM loads, power, velocity, and force output were greater with a high handle trap bar, while total displacement and total work were (unsurprisingly) greater with a barbell. I feel like all of those findings were to be expected, but I’m just linking the study here so this article remains a complete catalog of the research comparing trap bar and barbell deadlifts.
The second, more interesting study (in my opinion) compared barbell and low handle trap bar deadlifts with 90% 1RM loads. Crucially, it compared 90% 1RM barbell DL loads to 90% 1RM trap bar DL loads, whereas some previous research had used the same absolute loads for both variations (which means a higher percentage of 1RM for barbell DLs, and a lower percentage of 1RM for trap bar DLs). This study found that mean force, velocity, power, total work, and time spent accelerating were all significantly higher with the trap bar deadlift, even when using the same percentage of 1RM. This furthers the case that trap bar DLs may have more direct carryover to athletic performance than barbell deadlifts. This study was reviewed in the January 2018 issue of MASS in much more detail.
Results of Lake et al (2018). Image from Volume 2, Issue 1 of MASS.
- How To Deadlift: The Definitive Guide
- Everything You Think Is Wrong With Your Deadlift Is Probably Right
- How To Help Your Squat Catch Up With Your Deadlift
This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
Few exercises are as venerated as the deadlift. Do it right, and not only will you hammer your glutes and hams, but you’ll also work your quads, psoas (hip flexors), and just about every muscle in your core, especially your traps, abs, erector spinae, and obliques.
But therein lies the catch: Not everyone fully realizes these muscular benefits, because few people do the lift right.
That’s where the trap bar comes in. Even if you’ve never used one, you’ve likely seen the hexagon-shaped lifting tool leaning against a corner of your gym. By placing yourself directly in the center of the bar, you’re all but forced to initiate the deadlift with the all-important “hip hinge” movement pattern, pushing your hips back (like you’re closing a door with your butt) instead of bending forward at the waist.
To be clear, the trap bar won’t help you correct all form flaws. You’re still going to have to make sure that you don’t allow your back and shoulders to round, that you don’t lower your hips too far (i.e., squat), that you keep your core engaged, and that your upward drive is focused on pushing your hips forward instead of “pulling” the bar up.
But the hip hinge is the hardest element of the deadlift to master. It’s also one of the keys to performing the move with maximum strength and power, and for minimizing your risk of injury. Nail the hip hinge with the help of a trap bar, and you’ll be on your way to squeezing the most out of every rep—both now and when you switch to an Olympic (straight) bar.
Your move: If you’re new to the deadlift or need to master proper form, you’ll be well-served using a trap bar. But don’t stop with the deadlift.
Open-Back Trap Bar HulkFit amazon.com $229.99
The trap bar can also be used to perform the loaded carry, floor press, overhead press, and squat jump. An open trap bar offers even more options, including the step-up and lunge. In short, the trap bar isn’t just for learning to grease-the-groove with the deadlift—with a little ingenuity, it can expand your exercise library regardless of your experience level.
Trevor Thieme C.S.C.S. Trevor Thieme is a Los Angeles-based writer and strength coach, and a former fitness editor at Men’s Health.
How to Use Trap Bar Deadlifts to Build Total-Body Strength
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The Trap Bar Deadlift is a full-body exercise that targets the hips and legs. It’s a variation of the traditional Deadlift that uses a trap bar, which is a hexagon-shaped bar that surrounds the lifter.
It’s widely considered one of the best exercises for developing total-body strength, building a larger back and traps, and improving explosive power for athletic performance.
Here’s everything you need to know about Trap Bar Deadlifts to perform the move correctly and add it to your workouts.
How to Do Trap Bar Deadlifts
Step 1: Stand in the center of a trap bar with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your hips and knees, reach down and grasp the handles of the trap bar.
Step 2: From this position, sit your hips back so you feel tension in your hamstrings. Pull your shoulders down and back, stick your chest up and flatten your back. Tuck your chin and focus your eyes about 20 feet in front of you.
Step 3: Take a deep breath in and tighten your core as if bracing for a punch.
Step 4: Explosively stand up by straightening your hips and then your knees. Keep your back flat and core tight. Tighten your glutes at the top of the rep.
Step 5: Lower the trap bar to the ground in control and set up for the next rep.
Should I use the handles?
The most common model of trap bar has a set of handles that are a few inches above the height of a traditional barbell. This is ideal for taller athletes who might have trouble using proper form from the ground. You can consider using the handles if you’re 6-foot-2 or taller.
Trap Bar Deadlift Mistakes
Mistake 1: You round your back
The most common mistake athletes make on the Deadlift is rounding their back—although Trap Bar Deadlifts tend to be easier on the back than other variations (more on this below). Some rounding in the upper back is OK, but it becomes a problem when the lower back rounds or when the entire back looks like a boomerang as it often does with inexperienced lifters. This puts significant stress on your spine and can cause an injury such as a herniated disc.
Back rounding is usually the result of one or more issues:
1. A poor setup. Make sure your back is flat; imagine trying to squeeze a softball under your armpits to engage your lats and brace your core as if you’re about to take a punch.
2. Lack of core strength. Put simply, you need to build a stronger core. Our 27 Best Core Exercises for Athletes is a great place to start.
3. Lack of back strength. Your lats and other back muscles need to be strong to support heavy Deadlifts. Some of the best exercises to strengthen these muscles for the Deadlift are Dumbbell Rows, Barbell Rows, Pull-Ups, Snatch-Grip Deadlifts and Good Mornings.
4. The weight is too heavy. Back off the weight until you can perform the lift with perfect form.
Mistake 2: Your hips rise up too fast
You will often see a lifter’s hips shoot straight up because they straighten their knees before starting to extend their hips. This puts you in a tough position that makes it difficult to lift heavy weight and maintain form.
To fix this, focus on extending your hips first. Imagine that a cylinder is around your body and your head should be the first thing that comes out of it.
Mistake 3: You lean back at the top of the rep
Many lifters lean back excessively at the top of the rep because they think this is the best way to finish the lift and target their glutes—it’s more common with the Barbell Deadlift but it still applies here. This just puts stress on your spine and is pointless. Stand up straight and tighten your butt at the top of the rep. There’s no need to lean back.
Mistake 4: The bar tilts as you lift it off the ground
You’re ready for your lift, set up properly and feel confident that you can pull the weight you selected off the ground. You start the lift, and then the trap bar tilts awkwardly forward and ruins your rep.
This is an incredibly frustrating mistake, but it’s an easy fix. Simply put the weight down, recenter your grip on the handles and try again. Odds are this will take care of the issue. If not, your grip might not be up to snuff, so it’s time to prioritize grip strength in your workouts.
The Benefits of Trap Bar Deadlifts
It Builds Full-Body Strength
The Trap Bar Deadlift is considered one of the best total-body exercises in existence. The primary target is your lower body, however simply holding a heavy bar in your hands makes it a potent upper-body and core developer. In terms of an exercise, there aren’t many exercises more effective than picking up heavy things and putting them down.
“The nice thing about Trap Bar Deadlifts is that you can get Squat mechanics with Deadlift benefits,” says Michael Boyle, co-founder of Michael Boyle Strength and Conditioning. “The Trap Bar Deadlift for us is our No. 1 bilateral exercise.”
It’s Easier on Your Back
The trap bar shifts the weight next to your body in line with your center of gravity, whereas the weight is in front of you when holding a traditional barbell. This allows you to pull the weight straight up vertically, which puts less stress on your back.
It’s Highly Transferable to Sports Performance
A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that subjects were able to produce more power during a Trap Bar Deadlift than a Barbell Deadlift when lifting at 65- and 85-percent of their max.
Power is the lifeblood of successful athletes. It allows them to exert high levels of strength in short periods of time, which is the foundation of virtually every sports skill, including sprinting, jumping and throwing a ball. Put simply, athletes who are powerful tend to be better athletes
Trap Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked
As mentioned above, the Trap Bar Deadlift is a full-body move. It strengthens and builds the glutes, hamstrings, quads, low-back muscles, lats, traps and your grip, among many other muscles.
Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives and Variations
Trap Bar Rack Pulls
Rack Pulls elevate the weight on a rack (hence the name) or blocks. This allows you to pull more weight to strengthen the top half of your Deadlift and is easier on your back.
Trap Bar Resisted Deadlift
Simply place a band under your feet and attach it to each side of the trap bar to challenge your muscles through the entire range of motion.
Trap Bar RDL
RDLs are a variation of Deadlifts
Trap Bar Workouts
Here are a few ways you can use Trap Bar Deadlifts in your workouts.
Trap Bar Deadlift for Strength
1) Trap Bar Deadlift – 5×3
Trap Bar Deadlift for Explosive Power
1a) Trap Bar Deadlift – 5×3
1b) Squat Jumps – 5×4
Workout With Trap Bar Deadlifts
1) Med Ball Overhead Throws: 4×3
2A) Trap Bar Deadlift – 5×3
2B) Straight-Arm Pulldown – 5×5
3A) Dumbbell Press – 4×8
3B) Single-Arm Dumbbell Row – 4×8 each arm
4A) Step-Ups – 3×10 each leg
4B) Bent-Over Lateral Raises – 3×20
5) Suitcase Carries – 4×20 yards each side
6) Optional: Biceps and Triceps
- Front Squat 101: How to Master the Move in 5 Minutes
- 3 Ways You’re Messing Up Romanian Deadlifts
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The Best Damn Trap Bar Workout, Period
A while ago, in Internet “expert” land, someone decided to blast out the idea that deadlifts aren’t deadlifts unless you’re using a straight barbell. A trap bar, they said, is something different. It’s kind of a squat, kind of a leg press, kind of a cheater deadlift. Well, they’re wrong.
My respect to the people who can grip and rip a whole heap of weight using a straight barbell. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. But the truth of the matter is, unless you compete in powerlifting or another lifting sport where barbells are required, the vast majority of people can get all the same rewards, with fewer of the risks, using a trap bar. That’s why I wrote this. Because someone had to.
The truth of the matter is, using the trap bar is one of the smartest moves you can make as a lifter who’s after deadlift performance. It’s time someone made a case for this lift. Here are my reasons for loving it, and how I like to program it.
Reason 1: It’s Friendlier to Lifters with Long Levers
A 6-foot-6 basketball player, or someone of similar size, will almost always have an awkward and difficult time attaining a strong barbell deadlift, and the reason has much less to do with their so-called “mobility” than many coaches are willing to admit. In truth, it’s about leverage. Some of us are built in ways that simply aren’t conducive to strong pulls using the straight bar.
Having a strong pull means the bar needs to travel in a straight line from bottom to top. It also means the shoulder blades need to start in a position above the bar to create the sturdiest base of support. Remove one of these two factors and not only will your form suffer, you’ll have a low ceiling on how much you can lift. To illustrate, check out my quick tutorial on barbell deadlifting.
The reason why the trap bar creates less of a problem for taller or longer-limbed lifters is due to the fact that there’s no longer a straight bar blocking the shins from migrating forward via ankle dorsiflexion. It’s already aligned with your center of gravity. This allows a lifter to drop their butt a couple of inches, keep a straighter spine, and ultimately pull from a safer and more powerful starting position.
Reason 2: It Promotes Healthier Shoulders
We’ve all seen a deadlift performed with a double overhand grip. Though everything is symmetrical when performing pulls this way, there’s no escaping the fact that even a double overhand grip is still promoting a loaded pull while internally rotated at the shoulder joint.
That may not be much of a problem if you’re not into lifting ultra-heavy, or if you don’t have a history of poor posture. Unfortunately, I’ll go as far as to assume that 5 out of 10 people reading this are dealing with one of the two. For those reasons, lifting with the neutral grip that a trap bar can provide places your arms in a slightly externally rotated position. This is both closer to healthy anatomical position, and much more similar to the real-world posture for carrying a heavy load.
Reason 3: It Hits All the Same Muscles, But is Safer on the Spine
In all honesty, you can target your posterior chain a bit more easily when performing barbell deadlifts. I’ll admit that. But the reality is this: Most people who like to pull really heavy from the floor aren’t doing it to zero in on their glutes and hams. They’re doing it to crush a strength PR, and just to be able to pull heavy. And heavy trap bar deads still make the glutes and hams work plenty—just not quite as hard as the barbell deadlift. It works all the same muscles, in slightly different ratios.
The difference is what happens at the spine. When it comes time to lift heavy, no matter how strong you are, you’re placing yourself at a greater risk for acute lumbar spine injuries compared to doing the same thing with a much lighter load. It just takes one missed rep.
Now, think about my first point. If you’re a person with leverages that aren’t favorable for deadlifts, you’re probably at even greater risk. But time and time again, we try to force-feed this lift to ourselves and our clients, telling them they need to meet arbitrary single-rep strength standards in order to consider themselves strong or capable.
I would argue that it’s smart to sacrifice that smidgen of posterior dominance that a barbell deadlift may provide in exchange for the more even force distribution the trap bar spreads between the quads, glutes, back, and hamstrings. If you’re talking about slightly higher-rep sets, like the 8 reps I’ll have you do in the workout below or something higher, that exchange is even smarter.
And if you have any kind of injury history, well, the case is clear. The trap bar allows you to get low, dig in, and crush a new pulling PR with greater confidence.
Getting the Most out of Trap Bar Deadlifts
You can program trap bar deadlifts exactly the way you programmed your barbell deadlifts. It lends itself to pretty much every classic size and strength rep scheme. They’re fantastic for cluster sets, which I explained in my article “The Simple Strength Trick to Get the Most Out Of Heavy Lifts.” And yes, you can usually pull a bit more on the trap bar than the straight bar, though the amount varies dramatically lifter by lifter.
But before you go balls-to-the-wall and try to clear every plate in the gym, compare the different options the bar offers. I like to think of them as a progression.
Step 1: High Handle
Keeping the trap bar high handles-up is a great introduction to the apparatus, and if it’s more comfortable, it’s also fine to use throughout your entire training journey. Play around with foot width until you find one that’s both comfortable and powerful, and vary your tempo from a dead-stop style to a controlled eccentric touch-and-go method.
Step 2: Low Handle
To get used to pulling from the same place you pulled barbells from, simply flip the trap bar over and use the bottom handle, if your bar has one (most do, but some don’t). You’ll likely have to hinge farther, since your hands will be farther apart than a typical conventional barbell deadlift asks of them. This will bring in more glute and hamstring activation.
Step 3: Deficit
Set up low handle (or high handle, if your fingers might get mashed on the low handle like in the below video), and then add a plate or two under the feet or step on an aerobic step. You’ll have to get down lower, and pull for longer. It also brings in more quad, to go along with plenty of glute and hamstring. It’s an easy way to make light weight feel heavier, and also a way to focus on your form.
I believe in increasing pulling space and general range of motion before adding significant weight. Only when you can match your old rep PR’s using this three-step procedure should you consider adding more plates to the bar.
Use Indicator Sets
An indicator set is a preselected weight you use in order to gauge your freshness and strength for the day. It’s a helpful tool if you go into a workout intending to lift heavy, because everyone has off days, and for most of us, it’s best we don’t learn that the hard way.
Indicator sets involve a weight you can move with ease, but that’s still heavy enough to require perfect form to lift. The empty bar won’t cut it, and neither will the first ramping set up.
Personally, in heavy squat, deadlift, and bench press workouts, my indicator set was always 275 pounds. I made sure to hit that number in my ramp each time in order to see how fast it moved. Sometimes it moved like butter, and other times it moved like molasses. Depending on that set, it allowed me to tailor the rest of my workout appropriately. The last thing you want to do is attempt a lifetime PR when you can hardly move half of that weight with ease.
The Best Damn Trap Bar Workout, Period
I recommend alternating these workouts each week. Yes, this means you only get to crush a heavy 3-rep set once every two weeks, but if your goal is long-term progress rather than short-term ego-stroking—and it should be—that’s enough. If you’re someone who prefers twice a week, sure, you can alternate the two workouts.
Week 1: Heavy/CNS Load
- Empty Cradle x 6
- 30% of 1RM x 3
- 50% of 1RM x 3
- 60% x 3
- 70% x 3**
- 75% x 3
- 80% x 3
- 85% x 3
- 90% 3-5 sets x 3
- Rest 3 minutes between sets.
Indicator set.** I chose 70 percent based on the fact that the workout asks for heavy sets of 3 reps. Seventy percent of this number will likely be a load you can typically handle for 10 reps or more. It’s a good place to put an indicator set and gauge your power, speed, and joint stress on any particular day.
Week 2: High Volume
- Empty Cradle x 8
- 30% of 1RM x 8
- 50% x 8
- 60% x 8
- 75% 3-5 sets x 8
- Rest 2 minutes between sets.
One Last Thing: Know What You’re Lifting
Trap bars come in many shapes and sizes. At the gym where I work with clients, the trap bars are 45 pounds. At the gym where I train myself, the trap bars are 60 pounds. There are some on the market that are even lighter or heavier than those.
Knowing the exact weight of the bar you’re lifting could make the difference between a comfortable 3RM and one that feels difficult for a reason you aren’t yet aware of. Take it into consideration!
Now go get in the hexagon, and make some gains without shame!
Why Trap Bar Deadlifts Are Awesome
Deadlifting rocks. There’s something primal about picking a big weight up, putting it down again and trying to lift more next time. It’s simple, and it’s awesome.
Deadlift variations have a place in most athlete’s training programmes, whether you are a powerlifter focussing on heavy barbell lifts, or a runner doing kettlebell RDLs. The benefits of working the hamstrings, glutes and low back with the deadlift are undeniable.
However, barbell deadlifts do not suit everyone. Me, for example.
I’ve been enjoying the addition of the trap (or hex) bar deadlift to my training. So much so that I’ve decided to write an article about it.
What are Trap Bar Deadlifts?
A trap (or hex) bar is a hexagonal shaped barbell. Essentially, you stand in the middle of the hexagon, rather than behind the traditional straight barbell. Some trap bars have two sets of handles, one high, one low. Others just have the handles at the same height as a straight barbell.
How are Trap Bar Deadlifts Different from Barbell Deadlifts?
First, let’s think about how barbell and trap bar deadlifts are similar. Both train the hip hinge, both involve a similar range of motion and both involve lifting weights off the floor, and putting them down again.
OK so what’s the difference? Essentially – trap bar deadlifts are a bit “squattier” and barbell deadlifts are a bit “deadier”. Here’s what that means:
The trap bar dead tends to put more emphasis on the quads, while the barbell deadlift puts more emphasis on the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors. Do not miss understand this though – the trap bar deadlift still gives your glutes and hamstrings a great workout!
So why would you want to do that?…
Why Are Trap Bar Deadlifts Awesome?
1. Less Stress on the Lower Back
Barbell deadlifts put a fair amount of force through the lumbar spine. Because the weight is in front of the body, we essentially use the hips as a pivot and the back as a crowbar. For many people, that’s OK (provided they lift with good form). For some people, like me – that’s not OK.
I have a dodgy back (scoliosis, bulging discs, worn facet joint and sensitive nerves). I need to be careful. I’ve come to the conclusion that traditional barbell deadlifts are not for me. I’ve smashed my back too many times. But I LOVE deadlifts….this is where the trap bar comes in.
Being ‘inside’ the bar, the weight is closer to your centre of gravity. This means the lever of the ‘crow bar’ is shorter – so there is much less sheer force on the spine. Perfect if you want to train glutes, hamstrings, and low back, without quite as much risk.
2. Easy to Learn
Beginners generally take at least a few sessions to get the hang of barbell deadlift form. Some people will require a great deal of coaching and will struggle with the mobility required for this movement, and the challenge of maintaining a good position throughout the lift.
With the trap bar, the movement is much less technical. It’s easier to get into a good position with an upright torso and a flat back. The bar doesn’t scrape your shins, your knees come further forward and your hips can sit lower.
3. No Hyperextension
Have you ever seen that person in the gym who gets to the top of a barbell deadlift, and then bends their back backwards? Don’t be that guy! That person knows they should contract their glutes at the top of the lift, but they overdo it and hyperextend the spine, which is just asking for injury.
With the trap bar dead, the barbell isn’t in front of your hips, so there is no counterbalance to hyperextend against or push off. Trap bar dead
4. Less Spinal Flexion
When we deadlift, it’s important to have a flat back. As the load gets heavier and we fatigue, your spine can round. Your body starts shifting the load onto other muscles as the hips get tired. With the trap bar, your knees can move forward, so your quads, rather than your back, naturally take some of the load away from the hips.
How to Trap Bar Deadlift
- Step inside the bar, with your feet in line with the weight sleeves.
- Squat down. For a more hip-dominant lift, push the hips further back. For a squattier, quad-dominant lift allow the knees to come further forward.
- Grip the handles tightly on either side.
- Retract your shoulders back and down.
- Brace the core and lift the weight, driving through your feet.
- Bing the hips forward and squeeze the glutes. Do not hyperextend the spine.
Trap bar deadlifts develop the glutes, hamstrings and back. The main benefit is that they put less stress on the lumbar spine than barbell deadlifts which is important for people with back issues. They require less technical proficiency than barbell deadlifts and are easier to learn. Finally, they are more flexible than barbell deadlifts – by changing your position you can change whether the lift has a greater effect on the quads, or the hips/glutes.
From a risk vs reward perspective, I really like trap bar deadlifts. They give plenty of bang for the buck, with a lower risk of injury. Give trap bar deadlifts a try!
If you want to really mix things up – you can try thick bar trap bar deadlifts. Just slap a set of Beast Grips onto the handles and take your training to the next level.
BEAST YOUR GOALS
Trap Bar Deadlift – Form, Muscles Worked, and How-To Guide
The trap bar deadlift is a total body pulling movement that can be used across sports to develop strength, power, and general fitness. Athletes and newcomers alike can benefit from learning and training the trap bar deadlift due to the wide variety of training variations and benefits the trap bar deadlift offers.
The Trap Bar Deadlift — also referred to as the hex deadlift or diamond bar deadlift — is most often seen as a strength and hypertrophy based exercise that can be used interchangeably with conventional and sumo barbell deadlifts. In addition, the trap bar deadlift can be used to increase muscular hypertrophy, power output (such as in the jumping trap bar deadlift variation below), and general pulling strength.
In this trap bar deadlift exercise guide we will discuss:
- Trap Bar Deadlift Form and Technique
- Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Muscles Worked by Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Trap Bar Deadlift Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
- Trap Bar Deadlift Variations and Alternatives
- and more…
How to Perform the Trap Bar Deadlift: Step-By-Step Guide
The trap bar deadlift is a deadlift variation that is done using a specialized bar. The specific designs may differ based on the manufacture, however the general layout allows a lifter to stand within a closed frame with plates loaded to the ends of the barbell. In doing so, the lifter can assume a more upright pulling movement.
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the trap bar deadlift. Note, that depending on the training modifications (see next section) the back and shin angles can be manipulated to better address individual needs and goals.
1. The Setup
Start by assuming a hip width stance with the toes pointed forward (in line with the knees).
The stance width will vary, however generally speaking, the width should allow for the athlete to have the shins perpendicular to the floor with the back flat and shoulders directly above the bar.
Coach’s Tip: Think pushing the hips back and keeping the shins vertical (however they can be slightly forward if you are allowing the hips to drop (see training modifications in next section).
2. Load the Pull
Squeeze the bar as you pull the shoulderblades down the back, allowing the chest and shoulders to get pulled upwards.
Without lifting the bar, find full pressure in the foot as you start to load the pull.
Coach’s Tip: Flex the triceps and pull the back taunt.
3. Push Through the Floor
Push downwards into the floor with the legs, and keep the chest up.
Focus on feeling the knees and hips extending as you drive your feet into the ground.
Coach’s Tip: Push through the floor (with the legs).
4. Stand Strong
Assume a vertical position with the pelvis neutral (no lumbar extension/flexion) and the upper back set.
The shoulderblades should be down the back, with the load being diserpse between the upper back, traps, glutes legs and grip.
Coach’s Tip: Squeeze the glutes at the top.
Training Modifications for the Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift (generally speaking) places a lifter in a more upright position, however, that is not always the case. It is important to note that the trap bar deadlift can be used as an exclusive posterior chain movement. To do this, lifters can perform the movement with vertical shins, similar to that of a Romanian deadlift. The trap bar offers coaches a little more programming freedom to manipulate positions based on goals and needs of athletes due to the barbell not being in front of the shins (allowing the hips to be higher or lower in the pull to a greater extent).
Regardless of the position you choose to use with the trap bar deadlift, the common faults often seen under fatigue are shifting loading from the posterior chain (hips, glutes, hamstrings) to the anterior chain (quadriceps), which often still allows for slightly greater margins of safety when compared to conventional barbell deadlifs.
Trap Bar Deadlift – Muscles Worked
The trap bar deadlift targets many of the same muscle groups as sumo deadlifts, clean deadlifts, and even conventional barbell deadlifts. While the movement is similar to most pulling exercises, the trap bar deadlift does have distinct muscular demands, which are discussed below.
- Trapezius and Back
The trap bar deadlift effectively targets the glutes (gluteus medius and maximus), key muscle groups in overall athletic performance, lower body strength, and power. Due to the hip flexion, the glutes are loaded at high amounts (like most deadlifts) and can be used to increase glute strength, hypertrophy, and functioning.
The trap bar deadlift works the hamstrings, however to a slightly lower degree than a Romanian Deadlift and/or the conventional deadlift variations. Due to the increase knee flexion (increase quadricep involvement…see below) the hamstrings are not stressed as much, however are still a primary muscle group.
The trap bar deadlift is a deadlift variation the does target the quadriceps to a higher degree (as well as in the sumo deadlift). Due to the increased knee flexion in the set up, the quads are stressed throughout the lift more than a conventional or stiff-legged deadlift. In having more knee flexion, a lifter is often able to keep a more upright torso positioning, minimizing strain on the hamstrings and lower back (in comparison to the conventional deadlift).
Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
Nearly all deadlifts target the erectors (lower back muscles), however the trap bar deadlift does decrease the amount of loading placed on the erectors due to the increased back angle (more upright torso, due to greater knee flexion). This can be helpful for lifters who may have lower back concerns or are looking to not overstress the erectors yet still get in enough pulling volume for muscle growth and strength development.
Trapezius and Back Muscles
Similar to most deadlifts, the trap bar deadlift can build serious strength and muscle mass to the trapezius and back muscles. Due to the increased back angle (torso in a more upright position), lifters may find a greater emphasis on middle and upper back development and less strain on the lower back muscles.
5 Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
Below are five benefits that coaches and athletes can expect when they integrate the trap bar deadlift within a training program.
1. Increased Pulling Strength
The trap bar deadlift is a great exercise to develop foundational pulling strength and muscle mass necessary to deadlift (and even squat) heavier loads. It can be used in conjunction with the other main lower body strength movements (back squats, front squats, conventional deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts) to maximize pulling strength.
2. Application to Weightlifting Movements
As discussed in the below section, the trap bar deadlift can be a valuable training exercise for some Olympic weightlifters who lack general strength and/or are looking to increase general total body strength. The trap bar deadlift should not replace clean and snatch deadlifts/pulls, but can be used as a supplemental lift in most volume and strength cycles.
3. Decreased Lumbar Stress
Deadlifting places high amounts of loading on the hamstrings, hips, back, and erectors (lower back), however the trap bar deadlift can be used to minimize lower back stress (compared to the conventional and sumo deadlifts). This is helpful for beginner lifters who may not have developed proper lower back strength and control or individuals who are prone to lower back injuries.
4. Quadriceps and Glute Strength
The trap bar deadlift (in addition to developing the hamstrings and back) can also be used to add quality muscle mass to the quadriceps and glutes, especially at angles above parallel (which can be helpful for lifters with sticking points or weakness in certain ranges). Due to the more upright torso positioning of the trap bar deadlift, the quadriceps and glutes are emphasised to a higher degree.
5. Supramaximal Loading
More advanced athletes/lifters can use the trap bar deadlift to overload the central nervous system and/or allow an athlete to gain experience and confidence attacking and handling heavier loads (than they normally could lift with a conventional/sumo deadlift). This can be helpful to peak maximal strength levels in more developed lifters as well as can help to overload the nervous system in response to near-maximal loads being lifted in greater volumes.
Who Should Do Trap Bar Deadlifts?
The below section breaks down the benefits of the trap bar deadlift based on an lifter’s/athlete’s sport goals and abilities.
Strength and Power Athletes
Below are a few reasons why the trap bar deadlift can beneficent strength and power athletes.
- Powerlifters: The trap bar deadlift is a great deadlift variation and/or accessory lift to increase pulling strength and decrease strain placed upon the lower back (due to the increase torso angle). Additionally, lifters who lack leg drive and or are looking to overload the top half of a movement can use the trap bar deadlift (as the range of motion is slightly less at the hip joint than a conventional deadlift) to supramaximally load a movement and add quality training volume and new stimulus.
- Strongman Athletes: Similar to the benefits for powerlifters, strongman athletes can benefit from the inclusion of trap bar deadlifts into their training program for overall strength and loading. In addition to deadlifting performance, the trap bar deadlift mimics heavy farmers carry lifts, which can easily be done using a trap bar and simply walking (in the event a lifter does not have proper farmer walk handles).
- Weightlifters: The trap bar deadlift, at times, can be used to supplement the clean pull/positional strength necessary for creating leg drive in the clean. While this is not as specific to the clean and jerk as a clean deadlift or clean pull, a trap bar deadlift can be done in base phases to increase pulling volume, vary training stimulus, and allow for some variation within training. Lastly, I personally find it to be a helpful training exercise for lifters who may lack proper torso positioning and leg drive in the clean, in which the trap bar deadlift can be used to build a better pulling foundation.
CrossFit/Competitive Fitness Athletes
Competitive fitness and CrossFit athletes can benefit from the trap bar deadlift for many of the same reasons as the athletes above. In addition, the trap bar deadlift can help to add variety to a training program as these types of athletes almost always are pulling in a conventional fashion (deadlifts, cleans, snatches, swings, etc). By implementing the trap bar deadlift into strength and accessory blocks, you can develop underused muscle groups and increase pulling capacities.
Formal Sports Athletes
Trap bar deadlifts are a great movement to produce strength, hypertrophy, and sport specific patterning (it mimics jump set up, the athletic stance, and power position); similar to many of the benefits discussed above. Additionally, the lower back is often stressed less (due to the increase torso angle), which may be an area of concern for in-season athletes or athletes who are more prone to lower back injury.
The trap bar is a valuable training exercise for all levels of fitness. Similar to the above groups, the benefits of the trap bar deadlift varying based on training goals, abilities, and mobility/flexibility restrictions. With that said, the trap bar is foundational movement pattern that can be taught and trained before progressing to more back and hamstring depending movements like sumo and conventional deadlift if proper form and/or low back injury is a concern.
Trap Bar Deadlift Exercise Guide
Trap Bar Deadlift Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
Below are four sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the trap bar deadlift specific to the training goal. Note, that the below guidelines are simply here to offer coach and athletes loose recommendations for programming.
Movement Integrity – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
The trap bar deadlift can be used for beginner lifters who may lack the postural awareness for more advanced movements like sumo and conventional deadlifts.
- 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions with light to moderate loads, at a controlled speed (focusing on proper eccentric/lowering of the weight), resting as needed.
- Due to the limited range of motion and the more natural upright position in the trap bar deadlift set up, the trap bar deadlift can be a valuable asset in the educational process for newer lifters (it can also be a good way to add quality muscle in the development stages instead of losing valuable training time to teaching more complicated lifts.
Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
The trap bar deadlift is a great way to add overall hypertrophy to the lower body, back, and torso due to the high amounts of loading that can be moves.
- 3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads OR 2-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions with moderate loads to near failure, keeping rest periods 45-90 seconds.
- With the trap bar deadlift, you are often able to lift heavier loads than you would with any other deadlift variation, therefore using it as a way to increase training volume (when programmed accordingly).
Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
The trap bar deadlift can be used to increase leg drive and upper back/trapezius, and grip strength; all of which can enhance overall pulling strength.
- 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions with heavy loading, resting as needed.
- Generally speaking, athletes can lift slightly more weight than they would for a standard deadlift (conventional or sumo), making this a great way to overload a lifter’s neural systems and boost confidence with less stress place on the lower back (due to a more upright torso angle).
Muscle Endurance- Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
High rep training can increase muscle endurance and improve a lifter’s resistance to metabolic build-up and acidity due to high intensity training.
- 2-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions with light to moderate loads, keeping rest periods under 30-45 seconds.
- Athletes who rely on muscular endurance, such as cyclists, runners, and even fitness competitors may benefit from performing high rep base trap bar deadlift to better resist lower body and middle/upper back fatigue.
4 Trap Bar Deadlift Variations
Below are four (4) trap bar variations that coaches and athletes can do to increase sports specificity, boost strength and power, and increase movement integrity in the trap bar deadlift.
1. Deficit Trap Bar Deadlift
The deficit trap bar deadlift is done by having a lifter stand on a pair of plates or a short box (1-3 inches). By performing trap bar deadlifts on a deficit, you increasing the knees for a deeper starting position (deep knee and hip angles). The deeper angles create a higher demand on the quadriceps, glutes, and the hamstrings. In addition, this can be helpful to those lifters who lack back/leg strength off the floor in a deadlift.
2. Jumping Trap Bar Deadlift
The jumping trap bar is a plyometric alternative to the trap bar deadlift that can increase the rate of force production and power output of a lifter/athlete. Simply have the lifter assume a trap bar deadlift setup, and when ready, stand up aggressively and end with a hard jump, land in the same place, and repeat).
3. Trap Bar Deadlift with Accommodating Resistance
Adding accommodating resistance by way of bands or chains can slightly vary the training benefits of the trap bar deadlift. For some lifters, this can be done to increase the rate of force production (when lighter loads are used and speed is of the highest priority). For other lifters, this can be a way to increase overall force development as a lifter must engage more motor fibers as they i move through the movement.
4. Tempo Trap Bar Deadlifts
Tempo training can be done with the trap bar deadlift and is a way to increase time under tension, enhance positional awareness, and add a training stimulus that doesn’t involve additional loading to a lifter. This can be helpful for a wide variety of reasons (like increasing technical awareness, positional strength, and muscle coordination, just to name a few).
For example, a coach may want a lifter to lower (eccentric phase) the trap bar deadlift at a pace of two seconds, then pausing for two seconds on the ground, in a contracted state (isometric), and then explode upwards as fast as possible (and resetting at the top of the lift for 2 seconds before beginning the next eccentric phase); for a total of 8 repetitions. The workout would then read, Tempo (22X2) trap bar deadlift deadlift x 8 reps
3 Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives
Below are three (3) trap bar deadlift alternatives that often can be used interchangeably within training to add quality muscle loading and stimulus to an athlete while still allowing for variety in one’s programming.
1. Sumo Deadlifts
The sumo deadlift is a good alternative to the trap bar deadlift due to the hip and knee angles that a lifter assumes in the set up and pull. While a lifter clearly has a wider stance in the sumo deadlift, the quadriceps and glutes work to a higher degree than a conventional deadlift (much like in the trap bar deadlift). Additionally, a lifter must maintain a strong and rigid upper back and torso as the angle of the spine in the trap bar and teh sumo deadlift are more vertical than a conventional deadlift.
- Sumo Deadlift Exercise Guide
2. Dumbbell Deadlifts
If you are looking to increase muscle coordination, activate new muscle fibers, and challenge movement patterning on a more unilateral basis, the dumbbell deadlift can be a good alternative to the trap bar deadlift. Often, with barbell or trap bar deadlifts, a lifter may have asymmetries in pulling strength of coordination, which can produce the barbell or trap bar to rotate or twist the lifter as he/she descend or ascends. Not only is this dangerous to spinal health, is also suggests muscle coordination/movement and/or muscular development (asymmetrical) issues.
3. Clean Deadlift
The clean deadlift is a deadlift variation done primarily in olympic weightlifting training, specifically to prepare an athlete’s positional pulling strength for the clean. In the clean deadlift, the athlete tends to have the hips start slightly lower than a conventional deadlift, however almost similar to the trap bar deadlift. In doing so, like the trap bar deadlift, the clean deadlift can increase glute, hamstring, and quadriceps strength specific to the sport movement. It is for this reason that the trap bar deadlift and the clean deadlift can be seen as very similar pulling movements for Olympic weightlifters.
- Clean Deadlift Guide
Featured Image: Mike Dewar
It’s also great for people who have lower-back problems. “It was developed in 1985 by Al Gerard, who suffered from a lot of lower-back issues,” says Tamir. “It was created with the idea of putting less stress on the spine.” With a traditional barbell or dumbbells, the weight is in front of you, so it’s further from your axis of rotation (or your hips, since that’s where you’re hingeing from). “So your hips and your lower spine area need to work more in order to lift that weight,” says Tamir.
On the other hand, when you’re doing a trap bar deadlift, the weight is closer to your center of gravity, explains Tamir. “With a trap bar, your hands are at your sides and the weight is more underneath you, so there’s less pressure or force going into your spine.” With trap bar deadlifts, you’re also not hinging your hips as far back and leaning as far forward, which can potentially be hard on your back (especially if your form isn’t perfect). Of course, if you have back issues, you should always clear your workout routine with your doctor. But for some people, trap bar deadlifts are a great alternative to regular deadlifts.
Trap bar deadlifts are also slightly more knee dominant than a typical deadlift. While trap bar deadlifts are still primarily a hip-dominant exercise, which means your glutes and hamstrings are doing most of the work, you bend your knees more than you would in a regular deadlift so your quads are also sharing the work, says Tamir.
And even though trap bar deadlifts might look a little intimidating, they’re actually more beginner-friendly than barbell deadlifts, says Tamir. Since the weight is closer to your center of gravity, it’s not as challenging to maintain your form, he explains. “, we use it as the second progression after we learn a kettlebell deadlift, and then once people show that they can maintain a neutral spine with a trap bar deadlift, then we’ll start going into a sumo deadlift, ,” explains Tamir.
Speaking of form, here’s how to properly perform a trap bar deadlift if you spot the setup in your gym.
- Step into the center of the trap bar and stand with your feet about hip-distance apart, toes forward. (You can widen your stance a bit and slightly turn out your toes if that feels more comfortable.)
- Hinge your hips and push your butt back slightly, then bend your knees to reach down and grab the handles at your sides. Your arms should be straight and your lats pulled back.
- Keeping your neck neutral and your back flat, drive through your heels to straighten your knees and come back to standing, squeezing your glutes at the top. (Make sure your pelvis is tucked under so you’re not overextending your hips.)
- Hinge your hips back again and bend your knees to lower the trap bar back to the floor.
- Do 8 to 12 reps.
The weight you should use depends on your fitness level, but your RPE (or rate of perceived exertion) should be at about an 8 out of 10, says Tamir. You should feel like you could bang out another rep or two at the end, but not any more.
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Nothing turns more heads than a big, muscular backside. That’s because the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body, and rightly so, as it must be strong enough to keep the trunk erect and act as a powerful hip extensor. Everyday tasks such as standing, walking, and climbing stairs are all aided by the gluteal muscles. These three exercises will turn any pancake butt into a seam-ripping glory.
Trap Bar Deadlift
The main function of the gluteal muscles is to extend the hip. So when one thinks about powerful hip extension exercises, the conventional deadlift comes to mind. However, I prefer the trap bar deadlift for a couple of reasons. First, the trap bar deadlift places less demands on the spine. The hexagonal shape distributes the weight closer to your center of gravity, which means less stress on your spine compared to a traditional deadlift. Second, the trap bar deadlift is easier to master, making it an ideal choice for beginners. In addition, most trap bars come with a set of high handles which allow people with insufficient range of motion in the hips to deadlift with immaculate form. And finally, it’s virtually similar to the conventional deadlift. Contrary to popular belief, the trap bar deadlift places twice the demands on the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) compared to the quads and is more similar to the traditional deadlift than the squat as far as joint ranges of motion . And since the bar isn’t directly in front of you like a regular deadlift, you can push the hips further back to emulate the position of a conventional deadlift.
To perform the trap bar deadlift, begin by stepping inside the hexagonal bar and aligning your mid-foot with the sleeves of the bar. For a more hip-dominant deadlift, drive the hips further back, while slightly bending at the knees. Grab the bar where the wrists align with the sleeves. Arch your back and retract your shoulder blades back and down. Grab a big belly breath and brace your core. Drive through the heels and completely extend the hips, contracting your glutes hard at the top. Return to the starting position without breaking form. This movement is best trained heavy, so begin with sets of 5-8 reps.
Double Band Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust deserves a place on this list, but I prefer the double band hip thrust. First, band resistance increases towards the end range of motion, or top of the movement, where the glutes activate the highest. And second, placing a smaller band around the knees increases maximum voluntary isometric contraction of the gluteus medius by forcing you to drive the knees out.
To perform the double band hip thrust, begin seated on the floor with your back against a bench. Let your shoulder blades rest just above the bench. If the bench is too tall, stack a small box or set of weight plates underneath you until you reach the appropriate position. Place a long band across your hips, anchored either to a rack or heavy pair of dumbbells. Place a short band around your knees. Extend your arms across the bench for increased stability. Bend your knees ninety-degrees and set your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Inhale deeply, exhale all the air out, and contract your abs. Execute by tucking your chin, driving through the heels, and squeezing your glutes hard at the top, while simultaneously flaring your knees out. This movement is best trained with high reps, so begin with sets of 15-20 reps.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The rear foot elevated split squat, commonly known as the Bulgarian split squat, is dubbed as an excellent quad builder. Although the quads do get significant stimulus, there’s also a lot of damage to the glutes due to the eccentric (muscle lengthening) stretch on the way down. By creating a more vertical tibial angle, or shin angle, we can reduce quad involvement and maximize the amount of damage to the glutes. Moreover, by elevating the leading leg on a small box or set of plates, we can increase the range of motion, thereby accentuating the stress on the glutes.
Begin by holding a dumbbell in each hand and standing a few feet away from the bench. Place the instep of your rear foot on the bench. Lower yourself until the knee comes in close contact to the floor. To place a bigger emphasis on the glutes, make sure your shin is fairly vertical at the bottom of the squat. Lean slightly forward as you descend. Pause and drive through your heels to return to the starting position. This movement is best trained with moderate reps, so begin with sets of 8-12 reps.
Swinton, P A, et al. “A Biomechanical Analysis of Straight and Hexagonal Barbell Deadlifts Using Submaximal Loads.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 25, no. 7, July 2011, pp. 2000-9., doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73f87..
Glutes Gone Wild
Here’s what you need to know…
- Do trap bar RDLs. Hit your glutes and save your knees with this variation which takes the deep knee bend out of trap bar work.
- Build glutes using single leg glute bridges. Since the range of motion is so short for glute bridges, double the contraction by using only one leg at a time.
- Single leg hip thrusts will blast the glutes. If you regularly do hip thrusts, make it even more effective by using only one leg.
- Modify reverse hypers to fit your needs. Reverse hyperextensions require special equipment and they can be hard on the back. Do these instead.
A strong backside is about more than just being able to fill out a pair of pants. It’s the foundation of strength for the entire body and will allow you to build more muscle all over.
The glutes can handle a tremendous workload, but a lot of the classic big lifts that work the glutes the most – squats, deadlifts, lunges – can take a toll on the lower back and knees in excess. So it’s important to sprinkle some more joint-friendly glute exercises into your program to blast your ass without beating yourself up too badly.
1 – Trap Bar Romanian Deadlifts
RDLs can also be rough on the lower back. If you have a history of back issues or just need something a little more low-back friendly to balance out the other lower back intensive work you’re already doing in squatting and deadlifting, do these. They aren’t regular trap bar deadlifts (which are more like a squat). Instead, think of it as a regular RDL, just substituting the trap bar for the barbell. You perform the first rep from the floor like a regular trap bar deadlift with some knee flexion, but from there it’s a pure hip hinge pattern.
The trap bar lets you keep your hands more in line with your body, thereby reducing shear on the spine. It’s very similar to using dumbbells, just with a far greater loading capacity. One cue I like is to think about trying to reach your hands behind you as you lower down. You won’t actually be able to do it, especially with heavier loads, but just thinking you will puts you in a better position and allows you to sit back into the hinge more to load your glutes as opposed to your lower back.
2 – Single Leg Barbell Glute Bridges
The trouble that I’ve found with bilateral glute bridges is that because it’s a relatively short range of motion and you’re calling on the strongest muscle in your body (the glutes) to move the load, you can really pile on the weight – far more than you can deadlift. That’s not a bad thing alone, but as the loads get heavier, it can get pretty uncomfortable for the neck and hips, and there’s a tendency for your body to slide backwards on the floor as you bridge up. And after a hard leg work out, the last thing I feel like doing is loading and unloading a barbell with a shitload of weight. So if I’m being completely honest, I guess it was laziness that drove me to try single leg barbell glute bridges in the first place.
Even though the loads with the single-leg version pale in comparison to what you can handle bilaterally (far less than half), the contraction feels even bigger. Moreover, because the weights are lighter, it’s much more comfortable on the neck and hips, and loading the bar isn’t nearly as big of an ordeal. As a point of reference, I’ve done bilateral glute bridges with 585 pounds and have yet to get over 155 on the single-leg version. It can be awkward at first to get the barbell centered on the hips, so I’ve found it helpful to start the set with a bilateral bridge and then lift one foot once you’re already in position, as opposed to starting from the floor on one leg.
You can also start with eccentric single-leg bridges; just bridge up with two legs and lower yourself down with one. The eccentric version is both a great progression to work towards single-leg bridges and a great exercise in its own right if you want to overload the eccentric with heavier loads.
3 – Single-Leg Hip Thrusts (Feet Elevated)
The shoulder and feet elevated hip thrust is a great way to work the glutes and hamstrings through a greater range of motion. It’s substantially more difficult than having your feet on the floor though, so don’t go trying to add load right away. Your bodyweight should be more than enough to start. Think of it as a controlled thrust. This exercise is better when done in a controlled fashion with a pause at the top of each rep. After you’ve spent some time mastering the bodyweight version you can add weight by draping chains or weighted vests over your waist. When that’s no longer sufficient or practical, try a lightly loaded barbell.
Before you even start, be careful that both benches are secured to the floor so they don’t slip mid-set. Then begin by raising yourself up on two legs and getting your bearings before removing one foot from the bench rather than starting on one leg directly from the floor. I also highly recommend resting and resetting between legs to make sure you’re situated and stable on the bench before you start.
4 – Modified Reverse Hypers
Here are a few variations of the reverse hyper exercise that are a bit easier on the lower back and don’t require any specialized equipment. With a regular reverse hyper, it’s easy to descend too far down and go into lumbar flexion at the bottom, which puts tremendous shear on the lumbar spine. Likewise, it’s easy to come up too high and hyperextend your lumbar spine at the top, which is also problematic, especially under heavy loads. To avoid this issue, try moving the legs “in and out” instead of “up and down.”
Lie prone on a table or bench with your legs hanging off the edge, your knees bent and your hips flexed to approximately 90 degrees. From there, brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and extend your legs straight back behind you. Hold for a brief pause and return to the starting point. When your legs are fully extended, there should be a straight line going from your feet to your head. Since your legs aren’t moving up and down in the vertical plane, it’s much easier to keep a neutral spine, thereby allowing you to hone in on the glutes without irritating your lower back.
Start with just your own bodyweight until you get the hang of it. Trust me; it’s harder than you might think. You should feel it almost entirely in your glutes. If you feel it in your lower back, you’re probably raising your feet up too high. Once you can comfortably do a few sets of 8-10 reps with just bodyweight, you can progress by adding ankle weights or putting a small dumbbell between your feet. If you’re doing them correctly with controlled form, it won’t take much weight at all (around 10-25 pounds tops). You can also modulate the difficulty with your setup position – the more of your torso that’s resting on the bench, the easier it will be, and vice versa.
5 – Prone “Running Man” Hip Extensions
This one is very similar to the modified reverse hypers above, only it’s done one leg at a time. I call it “running man” hip extensions because the leg motion vaguely resembles the running stride. Plus, that way it allows me to double-dip and count it as my cardio for the day since it’s sort of like running, right? Regardless, the same form cues discussed above all apply. Extend the legs straight back behind to avoid hyperextending the lumbar spine. When one leg is extended completely, the other hip should be flexed at approximately 90 degrees.
The “running man” name is somewhat of a misnomer in that you don’t want to fly through your reps quickly. Rather, do them in a controlled fashion with a deliberate pause as you extend each leg, almost like you’re running in very slow motion. The unilateral element increases the core and hip stability demands significantly. The key is to avoid motion at the pelvis and lower back and have all the movement originate from the hips. When these become easy, you can either add small ankle weights or progress to the variation below.
6 – Donkey Kick Reverse Hypers
These are similar to the running man extensions, only rather than alternating legs each rep, keep one leg fully extended the whole time while the other leg performs all the given reps before switching sides and repeating the process. They don’t look like much, but if you do them correctly and do both legs back-to-back with no rest, the burn in your glutes and hamstrings is insane. It’s really an advanced exercise so make sure you’ve got the previous steps down before trying them or chances are you’ll be feeling it more in your lower back, which of course we don’t want.
None of these reverse hyper variations are meant to replace heavy lifting, but they’re great supplemental exercises to give your glutes some extra work without crushing your lower back or knees. They’re also great choices if you can’t make it to the gym and need something challenging to do at home that doesn’t require weights or machines.
Take Your Trap Bar Deadlift from Good to Great
The trap bar deadlift is an incredibly effective exercise. It is a kind of squat/deadlift hybrid lift. Obviously, you deadlift the bar off the floor with it in your hands but the movement pattern is closer to a squat. This allows you to create a deeper knee angle than conventional deadlifts.
As a result, the trap bar requires the quadriceps to work harder than they would with a straight bar. This means that you can train the quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, lower back, forearms, and traps with the trap bar deadlift. This makes it arguably the most efficient exercise out there.
I love the trap bar deadlift and often program it in my client’s training programs as well as my own. Most often the trap bar deadlift is used as the main lift one day per week, and we use this exercise as a indicator lift. If your numbers are going up week to week then it’s a pretty good sign the program is working.
If you haven’t tried the trap bar deadlift before then, I urge you to include it in your training regime.
Here is a quick overview of the benefits of the trap bar deadlift:
- Trains almost the entire body
- Causes more quad activation than regular deadlifts
- Reduces strain on lower back because of more upright torso angle
- Involves greater forces than conventional deadlifts
- Produces higher peak power outputs than deadlifts
- Allows you to achieve higher bar speeds than straight bar deadlifts
The trap bar deadlift is awesome, but it can be even better with one small adjustment.
Matching up the resistance profile of an exercise with the strength curves of the working muscles increases the effectiveness of an exercise. It allows you to challenge the muscles throughout the entire range of movement. This causes a greater stimulus across a greater range—and that adds up to more gains.
The trap bar deadlift is an extension movement pattern. This movement pattern has an ascending strength curve—you get stronger throughout the range.
You are weakest at the bottom and strongest at the top, so the hardest point in a squat is at rock bottom. Likewise, the hardest part of a deadlift is moving it off the floor. Once it’s past your knees, locking it out is generally easy the easy part.
Consequently, the total weight on the bar is limited by what you can move off the floor (your weakest position). This means your muscles have to work maximally to initiate the lift, but for every inch thereafter they are more mechanically advantaged. This means the muscles don’t have to work as hard. So, you are only working them maximally in the early part of the lift.
There is a simple fix to this issue that allows you to make the entire range of the lift equally demanding. Try adding a band to the bar and as you lift, the tension on the band increases.
By modifying the lift to match your capablitites helps you challenge your muscles across the entire range and makes it a more effective muscle builder. On a rep by rep basis you get a much higher stimulus. It makes every rep harder, but it also means you get a far higher muscle building stimulus.
The video demonstrates how to set up the bands and perform the lift:
Being tall is great in most walks of life. Reaching stuff down from cupboards, playing basketball, seeing your favorite band at a gig…yep, your height plays to your advantage.
Building muscle is a different story altogether! Filling out Orangutan length arms and legs better suited to a Giraffe isn’t easy. That’s why you need to optimize your time in the gym by training in a manner which suits your structure. To rinse every ounce of potential out of your frame you have to do what is effective for you. Not what works for the typical gym-bro.
That’s why I put together my Long-Limbed lifter program. I give you the exact exercises, sets, and reps to get you the best results possible. If you are interested in learning more click this link.
Reason #1: The Trap Bar Has A Lot of Versatility
For the purposes of this article, when I say the word combo “Trap Bar,” I’m using it as an all-encompassing word combo to refer to both the traditional style of trap bar as well as the newer open styles. You can definitely perform more activities with the open style, but the closed style still has much versatility as well.
Probably one of the greatest aspects of the trap bar is the said versatility. You could think of it as a barbell that doesn’t get in the way. With a trap bar, the only contact you will usually have with the bar is only where your hands are gripping. Since no part is touching your legs at the top and bottom of the movement, this opens up your options for what you are able to do with it.
Farmer’s Walks are a great exercise to do with a trap bar. Since the weight is one solid piece, you will have slightly more stability during the walk, meaning that you can increase the isometric output of your “core” muscles compared to using dumbbells or separate farmer’s handles.
Other walking or stepping type motions include Trap Bar Lunges, step-ups, Farmer’s medleys, etc.
Some great lower-body stationary movements you are open to doing with a trap bar include seated deadlifts, normal deadlifts, RDL’s, “Dead-Squat” deadlifts (more on this later) etc. Since your knees have nothing preventing them from moving forward as they would with a straight bar, you have more variability to choose from during these deadlift movements. You can perform a normal deadlift (with pretty close to the same body positioning as your would with a barbell). Keep note though that during a straight bar deadlift, the bar is against your legs at the top which aids in trunk stability and prevents excessive movement in your lower vertebrae. With the trap bar, no part of the bar is touching your legs at the top, so more mindfulness is required to prevent excess/unwanted spinal movement at the top.
Nowadays many trap bars are made to be rackable, so you can even perform rack pulls, reverse band deadlift movements, etc., as well. Also with the rackable (specifically open style) trap bars, you can even perform Giant Cambered Bar Style Squats!
Several cool upper-body trap bar options include Neutral Grip Presses (these can be very cool, but the lack of stability at the top/bottom of the movement will be a problem for many lifters joint wise), bent-over rows, and of coarse “Trap” work.
Trap bars are wonderful for shrugs! The muscular attachments of the trapezius muscle dictate that you are meant to “shrug” towards the back of your head (not your ears, as you see many fitness influencers do). What is cool about the trap bar is that since it aligns your arms at a slight angle away from your body, this will more directly align with the pull of a majority of the diagonal trap muscle fibers. This means the upper trap muscle fibers are in optimal position to directly fight the resistance (provided by the trap bar, weights you put on said trap bar, and gravity).
With a straight bar during shrugs, you are required to have more internal or external motion at the shoulder, which can be a problem for many lifters (even if they choose to grab wider). A trap bar works better since it will put most people in a better position away from both end range internal or external rotation at the shoulder (many call this position “neutral”).
With heavy dumbbells during a shrug movement, your arms will end up hugging your sides – which will restrict the shrugging motion (unless you all your elbows to bend). Trap bars don’t have this problem – your arms will stay angled out away from your sides regardless of how heavy you go.
Even if you decide to never “deadlift” with a trap bar, the versatility of the other movements you can perform with it will cause most lifters to want to buy one!
Reason #2: The Trap Bar Can Be Used for Deadlift and Deadlift-Type Movements
As stated earlier, the trap bar allows you to perform a multitude of deadlift type movements. In all honesty, the only deadliftish movement that you can’t perform with a trap bar is sumo (but that isn’t too big a deal for most lifters).
In regards to deadlifting with a trap bar and knee positioning, you have more options with where to hold them. There is no straight preventing your shins from sliding forward, so you can either be more “quarter-squatty” or utilize a more “straight-bar deadlift” position when performing a trap bar deadlift.
For a “quarter-squatty,” “heavypantspull” (coined by Starting Strength/Barbell Logic coach Dr. Jonathan Sullivan), “dead-squat” style of trap bar deadlift, you are able to utilize your quads more at the bottom of the pull and maintain a much more vertical back angle. This makes the lift resemble more a squat than a deadlift, even though the bar is in your hands. This can be helpful for some lifters psyche if they just want the feeling of having heavy weight in their hands while performing a lift that many would consider a deadlift (since your pulling it from the floor).
Depending on perspective and goal of the exercise, a “quarter-squatty” deadlift is not necessarily a “good” choice for an exercise, but some people like loading up and lifting heavy things regardless of whatever it is they want to specifically strengthen internally. Think of the“Car Deadlift” as you see in many strongman competitions. You don’t perform a car deadlift for health reasons. You perform it to say that you can “Deadlift a car!” And since a trap bar can somewhat mimic that, that’s the reason many will choose to do it.
Another aspect of the knees forward/more vertical back style of the trap bar deadlift is that for many, this will make something that “looks” like a barbell deadlift much easier to learn. This can be a great thing, especially for elderly people, who want to be able in the simplest sense to gain confidence in their ability to dead lift a weight off the ground. A barbell deadlift can be harder for many to learn, and the trap bar many just be what they need to give them some confidence.
A more skilled lifter may choose to disregard the knees forward trap bar style of deadlift and go with something that more closely resembles the body positioning they would have if they were using a straight bar (this will be a more hip-dominant style of pull). This can be a strategic option for a seasoned lifter.
In a proper straight bar deadlift, the bar will be positioned over the middle of your foot from heel-to-toe with the bar maintaining contact with your shins. The barbell has to stay in front of your legs with minimal forward knee travel, “butt back” positioning to maintain adequate hip dominance, and set spinal extension. Using a trap bar to mimic a proper straight bar deadlift, an invisible line connecting the middle of your grip (your middle fingers) can be drawn and it too will be positioned over the middle of your foot from heel-to-toe. The invisible line will also maintain contact with your shins at the bottom.
So far, everything seems to be about the same for both straight bar and trap bar. With the trap bar, you won’t have to worry about the bar scraping your shins. Also, since you will be in a neutral grip, this will take stress off many lifters shoulders (and perhaps biceps, depending on the trap bars width).
At the top of the movement there are some important things to note, however. With a straight barbell at the deadlift lockout, the barbell is against your things in a very stable position. With the trap bar at the top of the lift, the imaginary line going through both of your middle fingers will be centered inside of your thigh (not in front and against it as with the straight barbell). This means there is a slight moment arm change specific to your hip, knee, spine, shoulder, scapular joints and integrative relationships at the top (a moment arm change means that there is also a change in the resistance specific to each joint involved).
Also, since the trap bar is floating at the top, there is less stability for the muscles around your trunk, which means you must be more mindful to prevent excessive movement at the top so as not to tweak anything low back related.
I say this because even if you try to mimic as much as possible your trap bar deadlift form to a proper straight bar deadlift form, both lifts will still have slight yet important differences, essentially making them two different styles of deadlifts when all variables are taken into consideration (shoulder/scapular relationships, low handle/high handle, etc.).
Reason #3: The Trap Bar Takes Stress Off the Biceps
For many lifters with specific joint issues in the shoulder/scapular region, a trap bar can be a good choice since it will put the region of the body stated in more neutral positioning. Many lifters can better tolerate deadlifts if their shoulders are given some slack in regards to extreme ends of external and internal rotation ranges.
Also, the neutral positioning of the trap bar can be a big plus grip wise. Many lifters will use what is called a mixed grip (one hand over/ one hand under) with a straight bar when they get heavy enough. This can sometimes be a problem since the hand you grab under with changes the length of your lat muscle relative to the other side, which in term will change the tension of the lat muscle overall. Since your lat muscle connects to the low back area at the thoracolumbar fascia, the tension pulling on your low back on this side will be slightly different than on the other, which may not be good for some people.
The neutral grip position of the trap bar doesn’t have this problem to deal with (as long as you grab evenly). Also, the main reason lifters used a mixed grip with a straight bar is solely so they can use more weight. The neutral grip of the trap bar is a strong position to be in grip wise (similar to mixed grip), so more weight is likewise easier to manage.
To reiterate, the neutral grip of the trap bar allows you to manage more weight grip wise, allows symmetrical tension in the low back region, and feels much more comfortable for many lifters with shoulder/scapula issues.
Reason #4: The Trap Bar Provides A Different Stimulus Than A Barbell
Similar to points made above, a trap bar deadlift is different than a straight bar deadlift, even when you are trying to mimic the physics as much as possible. And for many people, this is more than fine. “Life” isn’t always practiced with a barbell, so having the option in your gym to lift with something fun, new, and different like a trap bar can be a good thing for you. Practicing with the instability the trap bar provides at the top of a deadlift motion can be a novel experience and slight skill you may wish to cope with. It may even cause some lifters to be more mindful of what is going on with the trunk musculature when they switch back to pulling with a straight bar.
This may be just the stimulus someone needs to better learn how to control the inertial effects of the trap bar mass itself – to be more mindful at the top and not allow your acceleration of the trap bar to cause rotational momentum that could potentially move your spine and low back stuff in positions/alignments that the joints may not be able to tolerate.
Trap Bar Deadlift Complete Guide – Muscles Trained, Benefits, Instructions, and Variations
Trap Bar Deadlift Guide
The trap bar deadlift, also known as the hex bar deadlift is a variation of the conventional barbell deadlift but instead, it’s performed with a “trap” or “hex” bar which allows you to step inside the bar to deadlift to perform the movement. Now, unlike your standard deadlift, the trap bar offers some safety benefits and it’s an amazing movement if you’re not fond of barbell deadlifts.
For those of you not as familiar with the deadlift; it’s an extreme power movement which works every muscle in the posterior chain or “backside of the body”. The posterior chain consists of all the rear muscles of the body like hamstrings, glutes, back, traps etc, and the deadlift targets all of the “backside” muscles from top to bottom which is why it’s so effective for developing maximum strength and muscle mass.
Deadlifts are one of the main big lifts in powerlifting and Strongman competition but bodybuilders can really benefit from the movement because of the mass and strength building superiority over other compound lifts.
Now, let’s discuss the trap bar deadlift in full so you can start making massive gains!…
So like mentioned previously, the trap bar deadlift (And any variation of the deadlift) works the entire posterior chain of muscles or the backside of the body. But it also works for some additional muscle groups as well. It’s a complete movement and although it’s pretty taxing on the body, the development you’ll gain from it is unmatched.
The muscles trained include (1):
- Back Muscles (Teres Major/Minor, lats, and traps)
- Legs (Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves)
- Rear Deltoids
1. Back Muscles
Having a strong back is essential for many functions like walking, standing erect, bending over, lifting and not to mention, it’s an impressive group of muscles when fully developed. The back extends from just above the buttocks to the neck and is comprised of several muscles; which means it takes a lot of hard training and time to develop a powerful back. (2)
The deadlift hits the back muscles like no other and besides leg involvement; the back is largely engaged to successfully erect the torso during the movement.
The back is a primary muscle targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
Legs are the strongest and largest group of muscles in the human body. Their function is essential for everyday movements like walking, running, jumping, and bending so it’s imperative to have a strong base.
The quads, hamstrings, and glutes are highly responsible for explosive movements like jumping, sprinting and lifting heavy loads. Athletes, powerlifters, and Strongmen rely on leg strength more than any other muscle group to perform at elite levels.
The legs are a primary muscle targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
Now, you can have a strong back but without powerful legs, you’re not getting heavy weight off the ground, plain and simple. (3)
A strong and developed core is a like a secondary support system (Second to lower body) for heavy lifts and it’s most important functions are twisting, preventing back injury/pain, stabilization and might we say… looking good with a shirt off! (4)
Lower back pain often results from a weak core and many people will notice that when they strengthen their entire midsection, the pain decreases significantly. Well, trap bar deadlifts (Or any deadlift) do an amazing job at building a functional and strong core, so it’s a good idea to implement them for that reason alone. (5)
The core is a secondary group of muscles targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
Crunches and sit-ups may be useful for some people but there’s no comparison to compound power movements for maximum core development.
Hip muscles are important for spinal support, stabilization, and flexion while performing a deadlift type movement. It’s important to develop the hip muscles by utilizing movements which allow sufficient hip flexion through an unrestricted range of motion. (6)
For example, squats and deadlifts allow the hips to move through their natural range of motion to bend down and stand back up when performing a repetition. This movement activates the hip flexors and therefore works the associated muscles.
The hips are a secondary muscle targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
5. Rear Deltoids
Many people overlook the rear delts (You can’t see them) but to get shoulders as round as bowling balls, they need to be trained with as much attention as front and side delts. Since the deadlift engages the upper back during the lifting portion of the movement, the rear delts do get stimulated as well.
Now, how much they get stimulated is unsure but they do get targeted through the movement. The rear delts aren’t particularly known for being a targeted muscle during a deadlift but it makes sense due to the mechanics of the movement.
The rear deltoids are a secondary muscle targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
Dumbbell curls are the first exercise many people think of when it comes to developing big biceps. But the truth is heavy movements during back training hit the biceps muscles pretty hard and heavy. Biceps are heavily engaged during deadlifts so focus on these lifts to build the mass and strength of your bicep heads.
The biceps are a secondary muscle targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
Forearms are a tricky and stubborn muscle to develop but you can’t do it with wrist curls alone. You need to perform static holds and/or regularly train with heavy weights to really build Popeye-like forearms and your grip strength will improve drastically as a result.
The forearms are a secondary muscle targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
If your grip is weak then you can forget about heavy deadlifts or any similar movements.
The benefits of performing the trap bar deadlift are very attractive for any athlete looking for strength and function. You see, efficiency is key to getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to athletic competition. (7)
So one movement that can do it all is a godsend to humanity… that is, the deadlift of course!
Here are 4 benefits of the trap bar deadlift:
1-Huge Strength Gains
The trap bar deadlift is incredibly effective for anyone looking for the most strength gains possible through a weight training routine. It’s a relatively simple exercise to perform as long as your form is good it’s one of few movements where you can max out on strength.
Now, because it’s a full body movement, it can be very stressful on the body but “you can’t have a blessing without a burden”. The nervous system plays a big part in adapting to physiological stresses but consistent training will stimulate the nervous system, which conditions you for an increased and progressive resistance load. (8)
The great thing is you can increase your resistance by a few pounds each week by using either 2.5 or 5-pound plates; which will improve your neural adaptation and therefore increase your strength on a consistent basis. The more advanced you are in training, the more you should be looking to get stronger to keep the gains coming!
So, muscles grow when they are placed under stress stimulus due to progressively heavier resistance loads. The great thing about deadlifts is that they stress a large chain of muscles (Posterior chain) so all must adapt to this stress by growing larger in size to accommodate the stimulus. (9)
For bodybuilders and anyone looking to take their physique to the next level; heavy trap bar deadlifts will get you there, and more efficiently.
The goal of most lifters is to put on quality muscles mass and build a better physique. Well, you have to train consistent with lots of volume and utilize moderate to heavy resistance loads and the trap bar deadlift is the perfect exercise to make these improvements.
Remember… the stronger you are, the bigger you can get!
3-Maximal Resistance Loads
As with any type of deadlift, you can lift a lot of weight on the bar. This is one exercise where you can safely load the bar at maximum poundages and pull until you’re blue in the face. Now, of course, you must have proper form and a strong base but you can generally test your maximum strength on this lift and still be fine afterward.
…There aren’t too many compound movements where this is possible.
So on your heavy days make sure you’re creating a real challenge for the muscles and body. It will create the good stress you need to grow bigger muscles and allow you to keep pushing more weight.
4-Athletic Performance Carryover
The reason athletes weight train is so that they can perform better in their respective sport, and utilizing movements which place the body under the largest resistance loads will make you the strongest version of yourself.
Now, it doesn’t mean isolation exercises are bad but they generally work one muscle at a time and don’t stimulate the nervous system as efficiently as deadlifts for instance. Athletes must perform movements which increase strength and as a result performance drastically improves.
The eccentric (Negative) portion of the trap bar deadlift is an excellent simulation athletic type movements performed in sports because usually athletes are either jumping, running or lifting with explosive power.
5-Decreased Lumbar Spine Stress
So this is possibly the greatest benefit of the trap bar deadlift. Conventional deadlifts require you to perform part of the movement away from your center of mass which places extra stress on the lumbar spine.
But trap bar deadlifts allow you to perform the movement in a more upright position using your legs and core closer to your center of gravity. So the chances of injury or pain are significantly reduced due to less strain of placing the lumbar spine under heavy loads in compromised positions.
How to Properly Perform a Trap Bar Deadlift
Having proper technique (Or form) is crucial for effectively performing the trap bar deadlift while preventing injury. But many people neglect proper form during heavy compound movements which results in preventable mishaps like pulled muscles and tears.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to properly and safely perform a trap bar deadlift.
- Place feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart inside the bar.
- Bend down while keeping your back straight and knees bent just enough to grab the handles on the hex bar.
- Keep your core tight and knees in line with your heels.
- Make sure your chest is up while keeping shoulders back and down to initiate scapular retraction.
- Now, drive the weight up with your legs through your mid-foot while contracting your glutes to assist with the movement.
- Engage your posterior chain of muscles from the calves all the way to the traps and thrust your pelvis/hips forward to finish the movement in an upright posture.
- Keep everything tight for the negative portion.
Trap Bar Workout Tips and Recommendations (Sets, Reps, and Weight)
Of course, your level of training experience will determine the number of sets, reps, and weight you can perform with the trap bar deadlift. So we’ll provide you with a few options for beginner, intermediate and advanced training. These sample workouts will build both strength and muscle mass for each experience level.
Of course, this is only a recommendation based on performing the deadlift safely and effectively.
Watch: How To Do Trap Bar Deadlifts Correctly:
Lifters who are newer to lifting should start with around 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions of an exercise to practice good form and prevent injury. Your muscles, bones, and joints need to progressively adjust to this new stimulus; which means steady and slow wins the race.
So pick a weight that’s around 70% of your 1-rep max to training with for a few weeks until you get stronger. Then after a few weeks, you can increase the weight by 5-10 pounds per week and gauge your progress from there. Now, twice a week to start is sufficient since deadlifts are an intense movement but as you advance in your training, you can include more days.
Warm-up with a weight that’s around 40-50% of your one-rep max for two sets before jumping into your working sets.
Sets and Reps
- Perform 3 sets of 12 reps for the first two weeks
Do not go to failure for the first few weeks of training as to not place unnecessary stress on the body before you’ve adapted to initial resistance loads.
When it comes to intermediate lifters, more experimental training can be implemented. So, you can play around a little more with sets, reps, and weight.
Warm-up for a few sets and then get into your working sets at around 70-80% of your one-rep max. Now, as an intermediate lifter you can add an extra day in your routine but if it’s too much volume for you, add a few extra sets and/or more resistance instead.
Sets and Reps
- Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps for the first few weeks.
If you’re advanced, then you likely know your own strengths by now so no need for a full explanation. But make sure you’re not training really heavy more than once or twice per week. On heavy days you can train with 80-90% of your one-rep max and 70-80% for moderate resistance days.
Sets and Reps for Heavy Day
- Perform 5 sets of 5-8 reps.
Sets and Reps for Moderate Resistance Days
- Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps
Who Can Benefit from Trap Bar Deadlifts?
Anyone who has a healthy physical structure can perform trap bar deadlifts but any athletes or gym-goer looking to drastically improve their strength and performance will see the most benefit due to increased performance and muscle size.
Are There Alternatives to the Trap Bar Deadlift?
Yes, in fact, there are two simple yet extremely effective alternatives to the trap bar deadlift…
The dumbbell deadlift is probably the closest you can get to a trap bar deadlift. It’s almost the same movement except since the dumbbells are free weights; they require a little more stabilization to perform the movement. (10)
But they are still a fantastic alternative to the conventional deadlift. Now, you won’t be able to lift as much weight but due to the need to stabilize the dumbbells, the dumbbell deadlift has its own unique benefits.
Since you’re holding the dumbbells close to your center of gravity, you also reduce the risk of injury or pain just like the positioning of the trap bar deadlift. (11)
You’ll want to choose lighter dumbbells at first because the balance required to hold the weights and do the deadlift at the same time requires a brief learning period for proper performance. You can perform the same amount of sets and reps as described above. Dumbells are a very effective alternative to the hex bar for performing deadlifts.
2-The Sumo Deadlift
The Sumo deadlift is another movement where you keep the weight close to your center of gravity. You’re simply taking a Sumo wrestler position and deadlifting the barbell and it’s very effective for taller guys as well because of the wide stance.
The Sumo deadlift also takes a lot of pressure off the lumbar spine compared to the conventional deadlift and this is why it’s become so much more popular as of recently. In fact, many fitness gurus advocate replacing the standard deadlift with the Sumo version and you should definitely give it a try.
How About Trap Bar Deadlift Variations?
There are in fact some pretty awesome trap bar deadlift variations…. It’s a true blessing for us to have so many variations for the deadlift because we can make gains and never become bored. Plus, some lifts are created as a safer alternative and they are amazing for decreasing the number of injuries we see so frequently. Now, you can experiment with different variations if you really know what you’re doing but for now, just stick with the known ones for safety reasons.
1-Trap Bar Deadlift Jump
The trap bar deadlift jump sounds interesting and fun… because it is! And it’s a great functional exercise for athletes especially. It’s actually like a deadlift version of the squat jump but with a trap bar.
Now, the trap bar deadlift jump is more effective for sports performance than building strength or muscle mass since you’re only using about 25-35% of your one-rep max to perform the movement. Anything heavier and you’re asking for pain and injuries.
How to perform the movement:
Choose a really lightweight and warm-up with trap bar deadlifts (No jumping). Then perform another set with 20% of your one-rep max weight of trap bar jumps. You should then be ok to perform your working sets with a little more weight on the bar.
Proper form is still important for the jump version of the trap bar deadlift which means your back should also stay straight while the core is tight and knees slightly bent.
- Start off in the same position you would for a normal trap bar deadlift.
- Dip down slightly to get momentum and drive through your mid-foot and tiptoes to jump up off the ground.
- Absorb the impact on the way down by bending your knees and getting back into the starting position.
- Repeat until reps are complete.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
This is a perfect set/rep range for a beginner because it’s not too much volume but it’s enough to allow you to make progress. Once you’re more advanced you can increase the sets and resistance but you don’t want to place too much stress on your joints too quickly.
2-Eccentric Isometric Trap Bar Deadlifts
Many lifters neglect the eccentric (Negative) portion of an exercise but they could possibly be leaving gains on the table by rushing through their repetitions. The eccentric isometric trap bar deadlift is the perfect opportunity to start focusing on the controlled negative and isometric strength. (12)
How to perform the movement:
You’ll need to lighten up on the weight if you want to make it through a set of eccentric isometric trap bar deadlifts because you’ll be performing a static hold at the bottom portion of the movement. So, experiment with a weight which you can hold at the bottom of the controlled negative repetition.
- Perform the concentric (Positive) portion of the movement like normal.
- Then slowly lower your body down for the eccentric (Negative) portion (About 3 seconds).
- Hold the bar off just above the ground for 3 seconds.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Legs respond well to moderate rep ranges so this set and rep range is an ideal starting point. The isometric portion of the movement will add extra time under tension which is necessary for muscle growth and strength.
3-Band/Chain (Accommodating resistance) Trap Bar Deadlifts
Naturally, we’re our weakest during the bottom third portion (The hole) of a deadlift type movement. Our strength curve is just designed this way but using bands/chains actually improves strength in this area due to the challenging resistance at the bottom of the deadlift.
When bands are attached to the hex bar, they are applying more force against the direction we are pulling than the plates on the bar alone. This provides constant tension through the bottom phase of the deadlift because the band has to stretch mostly during this portion.
Therefore the top portion of the eccentric phase becomes easier after the band has loosened and stretched.
The trap bar deadlift with bands and chains are performed the same way as you would a regular trap bar deadlift but the resistance will be more challenging at the bottom part of the movement while providing plenty of added resistance at the top portion as well.
We hope you’ve learned everything you need to know about the trap bar deadlift! It’s a variation of the conventional deadlift which has just as much to offer with additional benefits; like being easier on the spine and protecting the lower back from pain and injuries.
The trap bar deadlift is a very effective movement which most people neglect but hey… if you want to leave gains on the table then that’s your call!
For many lifters, it’s just not worth the potential for injury with a conventional deadlift and sometimes making a change is a good thing (Especially in this case). Now, before you protest, no one said you have to give up standard deadlifts, but these trap bar deadlifts are one heck of a compound movement which you should be incorporating into your workout routine if you want to make some impressive gains!
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