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Trap Bar Deadlift: Everything You Need to Know (2019)

Ever seen someone doing a trap bar deadlift in the gym and wondered why? The barbell deadlift is pretty much the ultimate move for building muscle strength and size, so why would anyone want to change it? You shouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken after all.

Do you need answers? You’re in the right place!

We’re about to explain everything you need to know, starting with what a trap bar is and how to do a trap bar deadlift. Then, stick with us as we compare the trap bar vs barbell deadlift and explain which deadlift style is best for you.  

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What is a Trap Bar?

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The Trap Bar, also known as a Hex Bar, was invented in the mid-80s by competitive powerlifter Al Gerard as a way to train around his lower back injury. Check out this article from Physical Culture Study if you want to know more about the history of the Hex Bar Deadlift.

The Trap Bar is a weight training barbell made up of multiple bars that are bent into a hexagon shape in the middle. The hexagon shape is horizontal to the floor and big enough for a person to stand in.  

The majority of trap bars have two sets of handles on either side, one higher set perpendicular to the bar and another level with the hexagon. 

You can turn the bar over depending which handles you want to use, usually depending on your height. Finally, the bar has stub bars either side of the hexagon to hold weight plates – which brings us nicely to the trap bar deadlift!

How to Do A Trap Bar Deadlift:

Trap bar deadlift starting position image

  • Stand in the centre of the hexagon with your legs hip-width apart and your back well fixed, but slightly bent.
  • Bend your legs so that you bring your thighs close to a horizontal position (this position will vary for different people, depending on the flexibility of your ankles and your body proportions. For example, if you have longer arms and thighs, your thighs will be slightly higher than horizontal). 
  • Make sure that your arms are fully extended and grasp the handles – carefully centre your grip.

Trap bar deadlift holding position image

  • Inhale, and contract core muscles and lift the bar by straightening your legs.
  • Once you reach the top of the move, exhale (but keep your muscles contracted!) and hold the extension of the body for 2 seconds before placing the Trap Bar back on the floor.

It’s really important that you don’t let your back round during this exercise as this can cause lower back injuries like a slipped disc. To avoid this, contract your core – see how to contract your core here

Trap Bar Deadlift from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Trap Bar Deadlift VS Barbell Deadlift

Unsure of whether you should consider choosing the trap bar over the barbell when deadlifting? We’ve compared the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift to help you can determine which is best for you. 

Trap Bar Deadlift VS Barbell Deadlift: Similarities

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In terms of the move itself, the trap bar version of the deadlift (sometimes called a hex bar deadlift) and the barbell deadlift are alike in the sense that they both require you to pick a heavy weight up off the floor using a similar range of motion.

The muscles worked during a deadlift using the trap bar are similar to those of the barbell deadlift (we may refer to this as the regular deadlift, too). Both of these movements work all of the important muscle groups in the body.

Both styles of deadlift activate the main muscle groups in a similar way, but there are some slight differences when it comes to the degree to which they work certain muscles – more on that shortly! 

Generally speaking though, both styles of deadlift are a really effective total-body workout for building overall muscle strength and size. 

Trap Bar Deadlift VS Barbell Deadlift: Differences

What Difference Does the Hex Bar Shape Make? 

hex bar and barbell difference image

When comparing the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift, there are obvious differences between the shape of a trap bar compared to that of a barbell. The barbell is a long straight bar, whilst the trap bar has a hexagon shape in the middle, hence its nickname ‘the hex bar’.  

Because of the different shapes of the bars, there are some differences between the two types of deadlift for the movement itself. You probably already know, but for a deadlift using a barbell, you stand behind the bar, grip it, and lift it.  

As we explained under ‘how to do a trap bar deadlift', you stand in the centre of the hex bar, grip the handles, and lift it. This difference in movement may not seem much, but it has some pretty important implications for the differences between the two, as well as the trap bar deadlift benefits.

Strain on Your Lower Back

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Standing in the hex bar, as opposed to holding the weight of a barbell in front of you, reduces the stress of the deadlift on your back. Barbell deadlifts put a lot of strain on your spine because of the way you have to bend your body forward to pick up the weight in front of you. Standing in the hexagon gives you a centred position which decreases the lean of your torso. 

Because the angle of the chest during the trap bar version of the deadlift is more upright than the angle of the chest during the barbell deadlift, using the trap bar reduces spinal loading. 

Having a centred position helps your balance and limits the intensity of the lift on your lumbar muscles. Because of this, the most significant of the trap bar deadlift benefits is that it’s safer for your lower back whether you have an existing injury or if you want to prevent one.

Difference in The Muscles Emphasised 

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The hex bar deadlift muscles worked are similar to the muscles worked by the barbell deadlift, both work all of the muscle groups to some degree, but there are differences in the main muscles emphasised when comparing the two. 

Both are basically a hinge movement, but the barbell deadlift has higher peak spine and hip moments, whereas the trap bar has a higher peak knee moment. 

Therefore, the main muscles worked by the regular deadlift are the lumbar muscles, glutes, lats, and the teres major (the shoulder blade). The muscles worked during a deadlift using a trap bar are more associated with quad activation, and as the name suggests, it’s a good exercise for working the traps too!

Can The Trap Bar Deadlift Replace Squats?

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The differences in the degree of muscles trained when comparing the trap bar vs barbell deadlift are mainly the result of the trap bar reducing strain on your lower back. The hex bar was designed to relieve the intensity of the deadlift on the lower back by shifting more of the effort onto the quads. 

Because of this, the trap bar deadlift benefits are not limited to it being a safer alternative to the regular deadlift for lower back injuries, it’s also a great movement for a thigh specific workout. 

The increased stress on the quads means that the trap bar version of the deadlift can be used to replace squats. Keep reading for whether you should consider replacing squats with deadlifts using trap bars…

Lift More with A Hex Bar

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When comparing the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift, multiple academic studies have found that the trap bar generates greater peak force, peak velocity, and power than a regular deadlift. 

Studies from California State University and the University of Chichester found that participants could lift significantly heavier loads during a trap bar lift than they could with a barbell. The studies explained that this is because when stood inside the hex bar, the body is in a better position for lifting because the weight is closer to your centre of gravity. 

Both of these studies found that not only could participants lift more weight with a trap bar, but they could lift faster, and hold the weight for longer, too. You can check out the science behind these findings here.

This leads us to another one of the trap bar deadlift benefits – it’s a high-benefit, low-cost workout. Basically, compared to a regular deadlift, you can lift more weight, so gain more strength and improve your overall performance, and have a lower risk of injury.

Difference in Grip

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There is also a difference in the type of grip used to lift the heavy weight. For a barbell version of the deadlift, most people use a mixed grip. The mixed grip stops the bar from rolling during the lift, which allows you to lift more weight than you would be able to with the double overhand grip.

In this sense, using the mixed grip for barbell deadlifts lets you get stronger, faster! But many lifters are cautious that the mixed grip will lead to imbalanced muscle strength or a bicep tear. To see how the hex bar prevents these deadlift drawbacks, stick with us and we’ll explain under ‘why you should favour the trap bar deadlift’. 

Whilst the deadlift will develop your grip strength, as you start to lift heavier weights, you’ll need some extra help. Check out these exercises that will help you with your grip strength

 

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So, Which Deadlift Style Is Best?

Now we’ve seen the battle between the two popular deadlift methods unfold, it’s time for us to answer that burning question, “which deadlift style is best?”. 

Truthfully, there is no definitive answer to whether one is better than the other. In all honesty, it depends on what you want to get out of the workout!

Why You Should Do Trap Bar Deadlifts: 

If You Have Lower Back Pain

It’s unsurprising that the most relevant of the trap bar benefits – the reduced strain on the lower back - has popped up a few times in this article, given that’s exactly why it was invented in the first place. 

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If you suffer from lower back pain after a few regular deadlifts, or you have an injury that you don’t fancy making any worse, trap bar deadlifts are the back-friendly alternative to traditional deadlifts and squats that you need to try!

To Switch Up Your Workout

Using a hex bar works all of the same muscle groups as a regular deadlift but has an added emphasis on the quads. Better yet, standing in the hex bar rather than loading weight on to your shoulders for a squat, means you’re less likely to round your back during the movement. Because of this, the trap bar lift has an advantage over squats for preventing back and shoulder injuries, as well as reducing strain on existing injuries, too.

Because trap bar deadlifts work similar muscles to squats, you can interchange the two to stop your lower body workout getting repetitive – this is probably our favourite of the hex bar deadlift benefits because we love to switch up our workout routine!

If You’re A Beginner 

hex bar deadlift starting position image

The trap bar is a great place to start for beginners. Whereas the form for a barbell deadlift can be quite difficult to get the hang of at first, the trap bar lift is less technical and so it’s easier to get right. 

If you’re new to weight-training, starting with a hex bar will help you to get used to the deadlifting form and basic movement.  

When you first perform a deadlift using a barbell, it's normal that your shins will get in the way while you get used to keeping the bar in front of your legs. This can cause you to lose your balance or unknowingly curve your back, which can really damage your spine. The shape of the hex bar means that you can avoid this.

The trap bar and barbell deadlift are both brilliant weight-training exercises for building muscle strength, but the trap bar is a safer option to start with.

To Avoid A Mixed Grip

If you’re concerned about muscle imbalance or tearing a bicep because of a mixed grip, grab a hex bar. 

Because the body naturally twists slightly as you lift with the mixed grip, your weight to shift off-centre which can cause imbalances in your biceps, lats, traps, and lower back. This is a slight issue but can easily be minimised by not using the mixed grip every time you deadlift, or by changing your hand placement so that you do not always have the same hand pronated and the same hand supinated every time.

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A less easily resolved issue associated with the mixed grip is the likelihood of tearing a bicep. Occasionally, lifters tear the bicep of the supinated arm when deadlifting with a mixed grip.  

This risk can be avoided by using the double overhand grip for a barbell deadlift, but this can be painful and restrictive in terms of how much you can lift – enter, the trap bar deadlift…

As the bar can’t roll on the trap bar, you can take a neutral grip. The neutral grip is just as secure as the mixed grip is for the barbell deadlift, without throwing your weight of balance or risking tearing a bicep. 

When You Should Stick to The Barbell Deadlift:

To Train Your Back and Hamstrings 

Whilst one of the hex bar deadlift benefits is that it takes some of the load off your back and your hamstrings onto your thighs, this means that it isn’t as effective at working these muscles. If you want to build the strength of your back and hamstring muscles, stick to the barbell. 

If You’ve Already Done Your Squats 

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If squats are already a firm favourite in your workout, a barbell version of the deadlift will be more beneficial addition to your routine. Because the trap bar deadlift muscles worked are so similar to those worked by squats, there’s not much need to train both within the same programme.

To Build Your Quads

Deadlifts using the trap bar work your quads more than barbell deadlifts but squats still trump them both when it comes to targeting the muscles in your lower body. 

We definitely don’t recommend that you fully replace squats with the trap bar deadlift if your aim is to work on the size and strength of the muscles in your legs, but mixing up the two will stop you from getting bored of your training and will lead to results!

To Train for A Competition

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If you’re deadlifting to train for a competition, it's important to note that unlike the barbell version of the deadlift, the hex bar is not used as part of powerlifting competitions. 

So, if you’re training for one of these competitions, its best to train the move you’re going to perform when you compete. It makes sense really – the best way to perfect the barbell deadlift is to train it regularly! 

Summary

In terms of the important stuff, there are more similarities than there are differences when it comes to the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift. However, that doesn’t mean that the two are interchangeable. Both types of deadlift have their own individual pros and cons which mean that the answer to the ‘best’ deadlift is pretty subjective. Instead of asking “which deadlift style is best?”, start asking “which deadlift is best for me”. 

Are you new to deadlifting? Or, do you want to relieve stress on your back, without skipping deadlifts? Grab a trap bar. 

If you’re training for a competition, or if you want to target your back muscles and hamstrings—and have no lower back pain or injuries—then picking up a barbell will be more effective.

If your goals are more general, mix up the two for the best of both worlds.

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Written by Abbie Watkins

Fitness Enthusiast & Blogger

Abbie is a work-hard, play-hard qualified personal trainer and fitness blogger. She loves a scenic run and a good upbeat exercise class. You can usually find her on the front row of a spin class on a Saturday morning.