Think about your gym. Is there a six-sided barbell that is collecting dust because no one knows what it is or what to do with it?
A trap bar, also referred to as a hex bar, is a six-sided barbell that is used by stepping into the center, grabbing the handles, and performing a surprising number of exercises including rows, presses, and deadlifts.
Speaking of deadlifts, if you have been using conventional barbells and dumbbells to perform them, you might want to try switching up to the trap bar. Let’s take a look at trap bar benefits, how it compares to the conventional barbell, and a step-by-step breakdown of how to use one.
TRAP BAR VS. CONVENTIONAL BARBELL
While both are excellent and effective fitness tools, there are a few key differences between the trap bar and the barbell:
Shape:The most obvious difference between the two is the shape. A conventional barbell is one solid and straight piece of metal with an alternating pattern of grated and smooth metal. The trap bar is a metal hexagon with rough edges on the handles to ensure a better grip.
Activation:Continuing with the point above, due to the unique shape of the bars, muscle activation will change. For example, when it comes to the deadlift, the conventional barbell places emphasis in the hamstrings and lower back. This is because the weight is in the front of the body. A trap bar holds the weight at your sides, allowing it to be aligned with your center. You’ll notice less pull on your lower back.
Safety:Depending on your history with sports injuries, surgeries, and lower back strains, using a trap bar could be safer for you. As we’ll expand on below, the trap bar places the weight with your center of gravity. You’re not being pulled to the front as you are with a normal barbell. While it may not seem like much, the additional weight on the front of your body can aggravate old conditions or create new problems, especially if you have tight muscles or your frame doesn’t allow for a traditional deadlift stance.
BENEFITS OF THE TRAP BAR FOR DEADLIFTING
While conventional barbell deadlifts are beneficial as a muscle builder, strength booster, and performance enhancer, they may not be ideal for some people. Let’s review the benefits of the trap bar deadlift and why you might want to give it a try during your next workout.
FASTER TO LEARN THAN CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFTING
For those who have never deadlifted before, using a trap bar before a conventional barbell may be the way to go. Since it keeps your form in check, a trap bar deadlift is far easier to learn than a conventional deadlift.
Most newcomers to deadlifting have yet to develop the mobility and form that is needed to execute a perfect barbell deadlift. But by beginning with the trap bar deadlift, you can safely learn perfect form, build up the muscles involved in the exercise, and increase your mobility before advancing on to a traditional deadlift.
EASIER ON THE LOWER BACK
As we alluded to above, the trap bar deadlift alleviates a lot of the pressure on the lower back that can be caused by a conventional barbell. While a traditional deadlift is okay for most people, there is a good percentage of the population that has prior injuries, past surgeries, and a build that doesn’t work well with the front-facing barbell.
The trap bar aligns the weight with the center of your body, eliminating most if not all of the pressure on your lower back.
If you have prior back issues, then you may want to consider using a back brace in combination with a trap bar.
If you’ve been in the gym for more than a day, you’ve seen those guys that launch their hips forward at the top of the deadlift. Yes, glute activation is a requirement of a proper deadlift, but throwing your back into hyperextension when you are holding hundreds of pounds is a recipe for trouble.
By using a trap bar, you can keep your deadlifting form in check. If you were to try to aggressively swing your hips forward, you’d throw yourself off balance. A trap bar deadlift keeps you safe from unnecessary hyperextension.
The shape of your back is key during a deadlift. You shouldn’t look like a question mark. When you’re deadlifting with a conventional barbell and little weight, it’s easy to maintain that straight back form. As you begin to load up those plates, you may notice that your form slips and you allow your back to start bending in order to achieve the lockout. Again, this is going to boost your risk for injury.
Due to the centered weight displacement on the trap bar, you’ll be able to maintain that straight back form even as you start using more weight. This has a lot to do with the fact that some of the weight load is placed on the quadriceps as opposed to being focusing exclusively on the hamstrings and lower back.
LIFT MORE WEIGHT
Studies show that a trap bar allows you to pull more weight than a conventional barbell. This has important implications for lifters who want to increase their strength or muscle mass. If you’re able to pull more weight safely, you can increase your overall strength and develop impressive lower body musculature. (1)
If you want to increase your grip strength along with total body strength, consider using Alpha Grips. They can easily fit on the hands of a trap bar, ensuring a tougher and stronger grip.
HOW TO PERFORM A TRAP BAR DEADLIFT
Similar to the conventional deadlift, the trap bar deadlift activates the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and abdominals. One notable difference is that the trap bar places more focus on the quadriceps. Here’s how to perform a trap bar deadlift:
- Step into the center of the bar
- Your feet should be aligned with where you put the weight
- Kick your hips back and keep your chest up as you kneel down and secure a firm grip on the handles
- Before standing up, check your form: you should have a flat back with shoulders down, your core needs to be engaged, and your leg muscles should be contracted
- Now stand up, beginning with the knees
- Drive the hips forward as you activate the glutes
- Pause at the top then slowly lower the bar
DO YOU USE A TRAP BAR OR A CONVENTIONAL BARBELL WHEN YOU DEADLIFT?
Do you have a preference? If you used both, did you notice a difference in muscle activation? Have a workout video of yourself performing trap bar deadlifts? Tag us on Instagram so we can share it!
- Swinton PA, Stewart A, Agouris I, Keogh JW, Lloyd R. A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):2000-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73f87.