INTRODUCTION: TRAP BAR DEADLIFT VS CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFT
One of the most common variations of the traditional barbell deadlift is the trap bar deadlift (aka hex bar deadlift).
By standing inside the bar, the weight is closer to your center of gravity, putting you in a more advantageous position to lift the weight.
As a result, you can generally lift more weight on the trap bar compared to the conventional barbell deadlift.
The bar also allows you to maintain a more upright posture, which places less strain on the low back.
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Okay, let’s get started.
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT FORM
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT BENEFITS
- There is a shorter distance between the weight and your axis of rotation (your hips) thus, you are in a more advantageous position to lift the weight
- Less stress on the lower back compared to traditional deadlifts due to the more upright position
- Increased power generation when compared to other deadlift variations (One study shows that it maximizes power output compared to other deadlifts)
- Significantly easier to learn compared to straight bar deadlifts
- Decreases the risk of hyper-extending your back at the top of the movement
- Improves grip strength from a relatively safe position
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT MUSCLES WORKED
So what muscles does the trap bar deadlift work? As a hip-hinge exercise, the trap bar is one of the best compound exercises you can perform.
Here are all the muscle groups it works.
- Low Back / Erector Spinae muscles
- Upper Back
THE PROPER TRAP BAR DEADLIFT TECHNIQUE
Here’s a step-by-step rundown of how to do this exercise with proper form.
- Obtain a trap bar and load it with the desired weight
- Step into the trap bar and assume a shoulder-width stance with your toes pointing forward
- Ensure that you are standing in the center of trap bar
- From this position squeeze your glutes and begin to lower yourself by bending at the hips first and then the knees
- Grab the handles of the trap bar and ensure that your spine is as neutral/flat as possible
- Keep your arms completely straight and look forward, approximately 6 feet in front of you
- If you are in the correct position, you should feel a gentle stretch along your hamstrings
- Take a deep breath, and hold it in. Begin the pull by driving your feet into the ground until your hips and knees are fully extended
- Squeeze your glutes to stand completely upright
- Do not let the angle of your back change throughout the movement
- Reverse the movement the exact same way you came up, by breaking at the hips first and then at the knees
ALLOWING YOUR SPINE TO ROUND
Never let your spinal alignment change throughout the movement. This is how back injuries occur.
The deadlift works your back muscles by forcing them to remain in isometric contraction. This means you are resisting motion, and thus strengthening these muscles.
If you cannot maintain this position, you are likely using too much weight.
Lower the weight and work on technique.
LETTING YOUR KNEES CAVE INWARDS
This places too much strain on both the hips and the knees. Your knees should remain aligned with your toes, or even slightly outside of your toes.
HIPS RISING TOO QUICKLY
When looking from the side, your hips and your chest should rise at the same time.
If you notice that your butt is shooting up into the air before the bar leaves the ground, then you need to lower the weight and work on your technique.
- Try starting with your hips a little higher, and
- Focus on driving your feet into the ground and leading with your chest and upper body
By the way, the Trap Bar DL is just one of several compound exercises you should be doing
To see a list of all the best exercises, be sure to check out our E-book that goes over all of the best compound exercises for each body part!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Are Trap Bar Deadlifts Easier?
Yes, the trap bar deadlift is easier than straight bar deadlifts.
The weight is perfectly situated at your center of gravity which places you in an advantageous position to lift the weight.
It is not unusual to be able to lift ~20% more weight on a trap bar than on a straight bar.
Are Trap Bar Deadlifts Safer?
Trap bar deadlifts have the potential to be safer than the straight bar deadlift.
That’s because your lumbar spine can remain in a more favorable position at all times.
In addition, the neutral grip places less stress on your biceps muscles (an unfortunate injury that can happen when using a mixed grip).
With that said, you can still injure yourself if you arenâ€™t paying attention to proper technique with either form of the deadlift. Also, don’t let your ego get in the way.
The risk of injury increases as you use heavier loads on this exercise.
Does Trap Bar Deadlift Work Your Back?
Yes, the trap bar deadlift trains your back muscles through an isometric contraction. Any deadlift variation requires you to maintain your back in a flat neutral position at all times.
In order to maintain this posture, your back muscles must remain contracted to resist any motion.
However, you can decrease the amount of work your back does by changing your starting position. The more upright you keep your back, the less stress is placed on it.
Does Trap Bar Deadlift Work The Traps?
That would be a nice play on words. The trap bar does indirectly work your traps.
If you want direct trap work – try Power Cleans. We have an entire post on How to Power Clean Correctly & Safely.
Should I Use High Or Low Handles?
There are two ways you can do the trap bar deadlift. With the handles facing upward (high handle) or you can turn the bar upside down and have the handles facing down (low handle).
The low handle position increases the range of motion of the exercise, making it more difficult, and improving your overall strength from the floor.
The high handle position decreases the range of motion and allows for the more upright torso position.
I recommend that you use the high handle position primarily to maximize all the benefits of the trap bar deadlift, and then using the low handle when you want a little bit of a different stimulus.
Can Trap Deadlifts Replace Squats?
You will often hear people arguing about the pros and cons of trap bar deadlifts vs squats.
This is because you can get a lot of quad activation doing trap bars depending on your starting position.
But in my honest opinion, no, trap bar deadlifts cannot replace the squat. The benefits of squats are obtained from putting your knees into deep flexion, a position that cannot be achieved through deadlifts.
Can I Do Trap Bar Deadlifts With Dumbbells?
You can, but to get the most benefit out of this exercise, you will need some heavy dumbbells to recreate the same effect.
Just place the dumbbells on top of some weight plates to mimic the starting position.
Another great exercise to train the hip hinge pattern with dumbbells is the Romanian Deadlift.
Can I Do Trap Bar Deadlifts Without A Trap Bar?
Not really. In this case, just perform a Conventional Deadlift or a Sumo Deadlift.
What Sets and Reps Should I Do On The Trap Bar Deadlift?
The trap bar deadlift is a great compound exercise that responds well to all sets and rep schemes.
A great place to start is 3 sets of 7-12 repetitions, and also 4 sets of 4-6 repetitions.
What Weight Should I Use In The Trap Bar Deadlift?
Some people find that they can lift at least 110% of the weight that they can normally lift on the regular deadlift with a straight bar.
But as always, start slow and focus on perfect form before finding your max strength.
HOW CAN I INTEGRATE THE TRAP BAR DEADLIFT INTO MY WORKOUT?
Check out The WCT Best Workout Template For Busy Professionals to find a simple way to add the trap bar and other great exercises into your routine.
Or you can get our free workout template below!
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT ALTERNATIVES TO TARGET THE POSTERIOR CHAIN
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.