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!
- Deadlift Muscles Worked: What to Expect. Healthline. 2018-10-16. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Back Muscles. www.cedars-sinai.edu. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Leg: Anatomy and Function of Bones and Muscles, Plus Diagram. Healthline. 2018-06-18. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- ACE Exam Prep Blog. acefitness.org. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Why your core muscles matter. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Hip Anatomy, Pictures, Function, Problems & Treatment. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Paoli, Antonio; Gentil, Paulo; Moro, Tatiana; Marcolin, Giuseppe; Bianco, Antonino (2017-12-22). “Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength”. Frontiers in Physiology. 8. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105. ISSN 1664-042X. PMC PMCPMC5744434 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 29312007.
- Nuzzo, Jim (2017-09-07). Strength training improves the nervous system’s ability to drive muscles. Motor Impairment. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Conference on: Nutrition and health: cell to community
- Free weights or machines? Choose what’s right for you. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2019-03-16.
- Biomechanics of Safe Lifting. ergo.human.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2019-03-16.