What Is A Trap Bar? And Why Use It?

If you’ve ever wondered what a trap bar is, when to use it and how it differs from a normal deadlift, we’ve got you covered, all you need to do is read on.

From evolveyou-team | Apr 22, 2024

What is a trap bar?

A trap bar, also known as a hex bar, looks like a large hexagon that you can stand in the middle of when lifting. Compared to a normal deadlift where you lift the weight standing behind the bar, a trap bar allows you to lift the weight from around your body. This difference in position can make the lift easier for some people as well helping you to utilise different muscles from the normal deadlift. 

What are the differences between a normal barbell deadlift and a trap bar deadlift? 

The main difference between a trap bar and a barbell deadlift comes down to how you lift the weight and in turn what and how they engage your muscles. A traditional barbell deadlift engages the posterior chain (muscles on the backside of your body) more heavily, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Whereas a trap bar deadlift engages a more even mix of anterior (front side) and posterior muscles due to you using a more upright position.

Reasons why you might want to use a trap bar instead of a barbell for your deadlift:

1. Safety and Comfort: Because of the trap bar's design, it allows for a more neutral spine position during the lift, which can reduce stress on the lower back. This makes it a safer and more comfortable option for people, especially those with lower back concerns or those new to weightlifting.

2. Quadriceps Engagement: If your goal is to focus on strengthening your quadriceps (the large muscles in front of your thighs), the trap bar might be a better choice. The upright position during a trap bar deadlift engages the quads more than a conventional barbell deadlift.

3. Vertical Jump and Sprint Performance: Some research suggests that trap bar deadlifts can be more beneficial for improving vertical jump and sprint performance, because the movement pattern is more similar to these activities.

4. Easier Learning Curve: Beginners might find it easier to learn deadlifts using a trap bar. The movement is more straightforward, requiring less hip and hamstring mobility than a traditional deadlift.

Maddie De Jesus-Walker

Understanding what your goals are

It’s important to understand that both the trap bar deadlift and normal deadlifts are very effective compound movements that are great for working out your whole body. When it comes to choosing one over the other, it just depends on what your goals are. Let's delve a little deeper into when you might choose one over the other:

1. Overall Strength Development: If your goal is overall strength development, both the trap bar and barbell deadlift can be effective tools. The choice between the two might depend more on your comfort and personal preference.

2. Targeting the Posterior Chain: If you're specifically looking to target the muscles along the back of your body, like the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, then the barbell deadlift is a better choice. The bent-over position used in a barbell deadlift engages these muscles more heavily. (That’s why in all our lower body focused programs like Pump and Strong: Lower Body, you’ll see more of the barbell deadlift and its variations. 

3. Quadriceps and Core Strengthening: Conversely, if you want to focus more on your quadriceps (front of thighs) and maintain a more upright torso, a trap bar deadlift is a solid choice. The design of the trap bar encourages a more squat-like form, which tends to engage the quads and core more.

4. Joint Health and Comfort: If you have any concerns with lower back health or general joint comfort, a trap bar deadlift may be preferable. Its design allows for a more neutral spine and joint position, reducing strain.

5. Athletic Performance: If you're an athlete looking to improve performance in sports that require jumping or sprinting, the trap bar deadlift can be beneficial. The movement pattern is more similar to these activities, and the balance between anterior and posterior muscle engagement can contribute to more well-rounded athletic performance.

So now you know a bit more about when to use a trap, let’s understand how to perform a trap bar deadlift:

  1. Start by stepping into the centre of the trap bar. Your feet should be positioned roughly shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend at the knees and hips to lower your body and grip the handles. Make sure your hands are aligned with your shoulders, and your palms are facing towards your body.
  3. Before you lift, flatten your back, lift your chest, and look forward. This position will help maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift.
  4. Push through your feet and extend your hips and knees at the same time to lift the bar off the ground. Your torso and hips should rise at the same time, keeping the bar close to your body, arms straight. 
  5. Keep lifting until you're standing straight with the trap bar. Your shoulders should be back, your chest out, and your core engaged.
  6. To return the bar to the ground, push your hips back, bend your knees, and carefully lower the trap bar down while maintaining a flat back. It's crucial not to rush this step; lowering the weight with control is just as important as lifting it.

The bottom line

Both the normal barbell deadlift and the trap bar deadlift are very effective exercises for both building strength and developing your muscles. However as we’ve seen there are some key differences. The barbell deadlift might be better for people who want to work on the muscles along the back of their body, while the trap bar deadlift could be a good option for either those who want a more balanced, whole-body workout, beginners or for those with lower back problems. 

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all exercise, so choose what works best for you. That’s why in your EvolveYou workouts we will always give you the option of swapping out any exercise you don’t feel comfortable with. However, don't be scared of the trap bar—it's just another tool that can help you get stronger! 

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Alice Fontecilla
Alice Fontecilla is a qualified personal trainer and sports massage therapist with over 7 years of experience in the world of health and fitness. She also holds a Gestalt counselling certificate as she believes true health stems from a harmonious mind, body and soul.

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