Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
March 29, 2022

The trap bar deadlift is a variation of the traditional deadlift that moves its primary muscle group of focus to the quadriceps femoris as opposed to the posterior chain - something it achieves by altering the position of the exerciser and their subsequent form.

However, due to a lack of a hex barbell or because of certain training goals, the trap bar deadlift may need to be substituted in the programming of some workout programs, with the subsequent replacement exercise needing to meet the criteria required of the exerciser.

It is quite fortunate then that a few alternative exercises similar in intensity and training stimulus to the trap bar deadlift exist, the majority of which do not present the same drawbacks normally associated with the regular performance of the trap bar deadlift itself. 

Why Does the Trap Bar Deadlift Need to be Alternated Out?

Among one of the primary reasons why the trap bar deadlift is alternated out in a workout routine is the fact that the exerciser does not have a trap barbell available to them - an issue easily rectified with the use of another deadlift variation instead.

A more complex reason why the trap bar deadlift may require substitution is the shorter range of motion it employs in comparison to other exercises of a similar nature, a drawback that also results in the trap bar deadlift recruiting less muscle groups than other highly intense compound exercises such as the back squat or traditional deadlift.

As a direct consequence of this reduced range of motion, the trap bar deadlift is also less conforming in regards to the exerciser’s own individual biomechanics, resulting in a less comfortable stance for certain individuals and their bodily proportions.

Characteristics of a Good Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative Exercise

While quite a few exercises possess a similar level of intensity as the trap bar deadlift or otherwise activate much the same set of muscle groups as well, certain other characteristics of the trap bar deadlift must be met by its substitute exercise so as to retain its function within a training program.

The first and most important of these is the significantly low risk of injury involved in the performance of the trap bar deadlift, something that it shares with a scarce few other compound exercises of its class due to the positioning that these other exercises place the exerciser in.

By extension of this, the alternative exercise must also be capable of imparting a similar level of intensity (approximately 7-9 RPE) to the muscle groups of the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, forearms and the various muscles of the lower back.

Despite the specificity of these requirements for a good alternative exercise, several exercises more than fit the criteria, though they all come with their own set of pros and cons and as such it is up to the exerciser to select one that best fits their training program and circumstances.

Why the Traditional Deadlift May be a Poor Substitute for the Trap Bar Deadlift - and Why it Could be a Good One

A primary characteristic of the trap bar deadlift and one of the reasons it is utilized instead of the traditional barbell deadlift is the altered mechanics of its form and the subsequently different muscle group activation pattern that is found therein.

barbell deadlift movement

Due to the more neutral angle of the resistance and the fact that the weight is placed around the exerciser instead of in front of them, less of the posterior chain is recruited into the exercise, with the quadriceps femoris and the trapezius taking a far larger percentage of the training stimulus than they would in the traditional deadlift.

In addition to the altered mechanics found in the trap bar deadlift, the traditional deadlift is also considered somewhat less safe and more prone to causing lower back injuries because of the position of the barbell relative to the exerciser’s spine, placing it in a precarious position that may result in injury if improper form is used.

How to Program for Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives

All possible alternative exercises to the trap bar deadlift come with their own unique pros and cons, but generally share the same activated muscle groups as a direct characteristic of being considered an alternative exercise.

Keeping this in mind, we can thereby learn how to modify the exerciser’s workout program by replicating the usage and place of the trap bar deadlift in most common training routines.

Being an intense free weight compound exercise with a closed kinetic chain and a rather wide swathe of muscle groups used throughout each repetition, the trap bar deadlift is clearly meant to take a center place in whatever workout session it is added into.

As such, any alternative exercise meant to replace the trap bar deadlift must also be of sufficient intensity and importance - wherein it is usually performed at the beginning of the workout session while the exerciser is at their most energetic.

The trap bar deadlift is usually placed in the pull day or back muscle day of most common bodybuilding or powerlifting routines, and as such whatever alternative exercise that is used to replace it must also fit the criteria of a back muscle training or pull movement type exercise as well.

The Deadlift

Widely considered the king of free weight exercises, the deadlift is one possible alternative to the trap bar deadlift with a somewhat altered form but nonetheless nearly the same set of muscle groups activated throughout the repetition.

barbell deadlift movement

Pros of the Deadlift as a Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative

A major benefit of the deadlift that is not present in the trap bar deadlift is its significantly increased activation of the gluteus muscle group and the hamstring muscle group, two members of the lower posterior chain that are pushed to the back seat during the trap bar deadlift.

In addition to this, exercisers with particularly long arms may find the deadlift to be somewhat more comfortable than the trap bar deadlift as a consequence of their unique bodily proportions.

In concern to similarities, the deadlift not only shares a nearly identical muscle group activation pattern but also a significant amount of form mechanics that make the loading and fatigue of its performance nearly identical to that of the trap bar deadlift.

Alongside a more easily found type of equipment, such similarities and benefits make the deadlift not only a suitable alternative for exercisers needing a close cousin of the trap bar deadlift but also those seeking a more convenient and readily available one.

Cons of the Deadlift as a Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative

Among one of the drawbacks found in the deadlift as a trap bar deadlift alternative is its increased strain placed on the lumbar section of the spinal cord, as well as the increased pressure placed on the knees - all of which may result in injury or strain if the exercise is performed with improper form.

In addition to this significantly increased risk of injury is also a somewhat more difficult range of motion, of which is lengthened due to the angle of the barbell in comparison to the exerciser themselves.

Though this increased range of motion may result in superior time under tension and therefore improved training stimulus, it can also result in a subsequent breakdown in proper form as the muscles are fatigued prematurely over time.

This factor, alongside the less natural angle of the traditional deadlift, will result in the exerciser being unable to move as much weight as they normally would in the trap bar deadlift, lowering the resistance of the exercise in most circumstances.

Barbell Hack Squats

Quite similar to the trap bar deadlift save in equipment used and the position of the barbell itself, the barbell hack squat puts the weight directly beneath the exerciser so as to maximize posterior chain and quadriceps femoris muscular activation in a manner even more intense than the trap bar deadlift itself.

barbell hack squat

Pros of Barbell Hack Squats as a Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative

Apart from the significantly more intense lower body and back training stimulus provided by this particular exercise, the barbell hack squat is distinctly safer for individuals wishing to avoid lower back injuries, as the loading of the weight evenly distributes the load across all the joints of the body, especially in comparison to other heavy compound lifts.

This also applies to individuals of poor flexibility, as the particular form mechanics involved in the barbell hack squat equate to the exerciser squatting in a position that allows for individuals of poor flexibility to still retain their balance while in the concentric portion of the repetition.

Such benefits of the barbell hack squat as a trap bar deadlift alternative make it among one of the best possible choices for individuals with a history of injuries relating to the trap bar deadlift and its kinetics, allowing the exerciser to retain a similar level of training intensity without as much risk of harm.

Cons of Barbell Hack Squats as a Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative

Though the barbell hack squat excells in terms of posterior chain activation and training, it distinctly lacks any sort of significant training stimulus in the deltoids, arm muscle groups and rhomboid muscles, all of which are vital to ordinary strength training and normally activated to a great extent during the trap bar deadlift.

This generally equates to the barbell hack squat being a poor substitute for exercisers who normally program the trap bar deadlift as an exercise for their full body workout sessions, and as such substituting with the barbell hack squat will require that an additional exercise also be added in order to complete the muscle group activation set.

Front Squats

A variation of the traditional barbell squat that places far more emphasis on the activation and training of the quadriceps femoris muscle group, the front squat is an excellent alternative to the trap bar deadlift for exercisers seeking to primarily retain the lower body benefits of the exercise without involving the back or upper body.

barbell front squat

Pros of Front Squats as a Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative

The front squats are second to none in terms of alternative exercises to the trap bar deadlift, though this comes at the expense of the upper body’s muscle groups being activated.

The positive to this lack of upper body and back muscle group activation is a distinctly lower risk of lower back injuries, as the angle of the weight loads the body in such a manner that the spinal column does not experience excess pressure or tension throughout the exercise.

As such, exercisers with a history of lower back injuries or those wishing to substitute only the lower body benefits of the trap bar deadlift may instead use the front squat to great benefit.

Cons of Front Squats as a Trap Bar Deadlift Alternative

Despite the relatively low risk of injury present in the front squat, it can occasionally result in knee strain in the case of the exerciser utilizing improper form, something that is otherwise not present in the trap bar deadlift due to the neutral angle at which the weight is distributed.

Alongside this, the positioning of said weight will also greatly limit the amount of resistance the exerciser is capable of using during the exercise, of which may be quite detrimental to the muscular hypertrophy and strength development of advanced athletes whom require high levels of resistance to grow.

References

1. Lake J, Duncan F, Jackson M, Naworynsky D. Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance. Sports (Basel). 2017 Oct 24;5(4):82. doi: 10.3390/sports5040082. PMID: 29910442; PMCID: PMC5969032.

2. Andersen V, Fimland MS, Mo DA, Iversen VM, Vederhus T, Rockland Hellebø LR, Nordaune KI, Saeterbakken AH. Electromyographic Comparison of Barbell Deadlift, Hex Bar Deadlift, and Hip Thrust Exercises: A Cross-Over Study. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Mar;32(3):587-593. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001826. PMID: 28151780.

3. Delgado J, Drinkwater EJ, Banyard HG, Haff GG, Nosaka K. Comparison Between Back Squat, Romanian Deadlift, and Barbell Hip Thrust for Leg and Hip Muscle Activities During Hip Extension. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Oct;33(10):2595-2601. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003290. PMID: 31356511.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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