The trap bar deadlift is an excellent strength-building exercise with several advantages. It is a beginner-friendly compound lift that helps build fitness for other movements, feels more natural than other lifts, and has a low injury risk. The downsides of the trap bar deadlift are that it activates fewer muscles than regular deadlifts and squats and does not use the activated muscles as fully as other lifts.
Trap Bar Deadlift: Pros
Before you decide whether or not to add trap bar deadlifts to your routine, let’s examine the pros and cons of lifting weight with the hex bar. The trap bar deadlift may be perfect for your needs, or you may choose to focus instead on the conventional deadlift and squat. Read on for an in-depth analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of trap bar deadlifts.
Lift More Weight
The unique shape of the hex bar puts the weight in line with your body, rather than in front or behind your body (as deadlifts and hack squats do). This feels more natural for many lifters and allows them to lift heavier weight with the trap bar than a straight bar deadlift. Moving bigger weights presents a new challenge for your muscles, fueling progression in the gym and building mass.
The trap bar allows you to lift using a neutral grip where your palms face inward at your sides. This position is more comfortable for most lifters than the mixed grip associated with the barbell deadlift. Because the trap bar grip is natural and does not place as much stress on your arms and hands, you may experience improved grip security with the trap bar. If you are distracted by an uncomfortable grip during regular deadlifts, the hex bar may be your answer.
Reduced Risk of Injury
Because the trap bar puts the weight in line with your body, creating a natural biomechanical movement, trap bar deadlifts decrease your chance of injury. Far less stress is placed on your lower back than during a conventional deadlift. Trap bar deadlifts also excel over back squats because they reduce the stress on your shoulders and knees. As a bonus, the neutral grip of the trap bar does not put you at risk of bicep injury the way a conventional deadlift mixed grip does.
- Trap bar deadlifts carry less risk of lower back and bicep injury than traditional deadlifts.
- There is less strain placed on shoulders and knees during a trap bar lift than during a back squat.
- Trap bar lifts are great if you are recovering from a lifting injury or are prone to back pain.
If you have experienced a weightlifting injury or commonly battle lower back pain, consult a doctor before lifting. If it is safe to lift, a trap bar deadlift is much less likely to aggravate or cause injuries than traditional Olympic barbell lifts.
Helps Increase Deadlift and Squat
If you’re stuck on a plateau with your other big lifts, the trap bar can be a useful tool to train you to move heavier weights. The trap bar deadlift targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and grip strength. By building these muscles through cross-training with the trap bar, you can help speed progression. You’re very likely to experience an improvement in other lifts if you blend trap bar deadlifts into your lifting routine.
Simple for Beginners
Deadlifts and squats are complex exercises that can feel unnatural at first. Learning how to perform these lifts correctly takes patience, strength, and focus. This can be off-putting to some new lifters. Because the trap bar deadlift is more natural, it can introduce beginning lifters to the fundamentals of good form. After lifting with the hex bar, you’ll be more prepared to move to other lifts.
Trap Bar Deadlift: Cons
Although the trap bar deadlift provides a lot of benefits, it’s not without its drawbacks. If you are considering replacing deadlifts or squats with trap bar lifts, consider your options closely. Remember, no lift is perfect, and every exercise has its cons.
Fewer Muscles Activated
Because the positioning of trap bar deadlifts is in line with the body, it doesn’t activate as many muscles as other lifts. Traditional deadlifts cause your lower back and biceps to work, while the trap bar does very little to activate these muscles.
- A traditional deadlift activates the lower back and biceps, while the trap bar does not.
- Back squats use core and stabilizer muscles that the trap bar ignores.
Back squats are often compared to trap bar deadlifts because the two exercises have a similar motion. However, the act of balancing a bar over your shoulders in a regular squat uses your core to maintain good form and makes your stabilizer muscles work to balance the weight. The trap bar doesn’t provide these benefits, making it a more limited workout. This is also why we don’t recommend replacing squats with the trap bar deadlift.
Shorter Range of Motion
Although standard deadlifts, squats, and trap bar deadlifts all use the muscles in the legs, trap bar deadlifts don’t target those muscles as completely. This is due to a shorter range of motion. The starting position for trap bar deadlifts usually begins with your thighs above parallel. This engages the muscles less fully than squats, which are performed by squatting down until your thighs are parallel to the floor before standing.
- Squats typically require the lifter to bring their thighs parallel to the ground, then work to move the weight up.
- Trap bar deadlifts typically start with thighs above parallel.
- The shorter range of motion in trap bar lifts leads to less complete muscle activation.
The back squat works muscles more effectively than the trap bar lift. Because of the increased range of motion provided by a deep squat, you’ll more fully activate your glutes, quads, and hip flexors while squatting.
Less Improvement For Your Hips and Glutes
Straight bar lifts, such as the traditional deadlift, focus on a hip lockout to fully activate your glutes. With the bar in front of you during a deadlift, you can lock out your hips while the bar itself stops your hips from moving too far forward. When lifting with a trap bar, there is no bar to guide you during a hip lockout. This can lead to not using your hips and glutes fully or extending too far, which risks injury.
When lifting with a straight bar, there are a multitude of grips and stances you can use. You can perform a standard deadlift with a variety of grips or try out the sumo deadlift. This allows you to work your muscles in different ways. The same goes for squats since back squats, front squats, overhead squats, and Zercher squats can all be performed with a straight bar. The hex bar doesn’t offer as much versatility, limiting your ability to perform lifts that offer unique challenges to your muscles.
Not One-Size Fits All
The trap bar is not friendly to every body type. Because the grips are at a set width, they can be awkward or hard-to-reach for shorter lifters. Lifters with longer arms may have difficulty achieving a good starting position on their trap bar deadlifts due to the fixed grip position. The traditional straight bar allows for various grips so that you can tailor your lifts to your body type.
Should You Do Trap Bar Deadlifts?
After reviewing the upsides and downsides of trap bar deadlifts, what’s the verdict? Do the pros outweigh the cons? In general, there are a lot of positives to the trap bar deadlift, and we believe it should be added to nearly every lifter’s routine if they have access to a hex bar. But, there are some additional factors to consider.
Do Trap Bar Deadlifts if:
- You have experienced injury performing deadlifts or squats and want to see if a change in routine will avoid injury.
- You are looking to add an accessory leg exercise to boost your performance in other compound lifts.
- You are a beginner lifter and deadlifts or squats are difficult to perform with good form. Use the trap bar to train so you can incorporate those lifts later.
Avoid Trap Bar Deadlifts if:
- You struggle with hip lockout and need to build glute and hip strength.
- Your height or arm length makes performing trap bar deadlifts uncomfortable.
- You are looking to replace squats and deadlifts to make your workout “easier”.
Although lifting heavy weight with a trap bar can be addictive, it’s essential not to replace your other lower body workouts with this exercise. If you are using trap bar deadlifts to avoid or rehabilitate an injury, look at the trap bar as a tool that can improve your strength so you can mix in other lower body lifts at a later date. The trap bar lift is a fantastic deadlift variation that allows you to use a natural grip and comfortable biomechanics to lift more weight and avoid injury. However, it is not a flawless exercise and should only make up a portion of your compound lift training.