4 Big Trap Bar Deadlifts Benefits to Maximize Gains

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 1, 2022

The trap bar deadlift is a variation of the standard deadlift with an altered grip width and resistance dispersion due to the usage of a hex barbell as opposed to the standard straight olympic barbell.

This results in a significantly different training stimulus than what would normally be experienced with other variations of the traditional deadlift exercise, making the trap bar deadlift not only a safer alternative but also one that places significantly more emphasis on certain muscle groups.

In less specific terms, the trap bar deadlift is a full body compound exercise that makes use of a rather unique form of free weight exercise equipment in order to maximize the safety and upper body training potential that can be achieved by the exerciser.

What is the Trap Bar Deadlift?

The trap bar deadlift is known as a closed kinetic chain exercise of moderate to high intensity, generally performed in the repetition ranges of 3 to 8 per set, and with an expected rate of perceived exertion between 6 and 10, depending on the exerciser’s training experience and workout programming.

trap bar deadlift

This is achieved by the exerciser loading an amount of weight appropriate for their strength level onto a hexagonal barbell and stepping within the center of said barbell, with their hands in a neutral grip at either side and all other relevant form cues being followed appropriately.

If performed in the correct manner, the trap bar deadlift is capable of surpassing even the traditional deadlift in terms of specific muscle activation effectiveness - all with the added benefit of a reduced risk of injury, and a higher maximal weight load due to the improved grip the exerciser will have from their hand positioning.

What Muscles Does the Trap Bar Deadlift Work?

The trap bar deadlift is capable of activating practically every muscle group in the body to some extent, though it primarily utilizes a few key pull type muscle groups in order to produce the majority of the force required in each repetition.

These are subsequently referred to as the primary mover muscles, with secondary mover muscle groups and stabilizer muscle groups all performing the functions that are indicated by their name accordingly.

Primary Mover Muscles

The primary mover muscles responsible for most of the force behind a repetition of the trap bar deadlift is that of the latissimus dorsi across the lower and mid back, the trapezius muscles atop the shoulders, the gluteus muscle group that makes up the buttocks and the quadriceps femoris at the front of the upper leg.

These muscles are all activated to a large capacity throughout the entirety of the exercise - though in a shifting manner wherein one muscle takes precedence over the other during certain portions of the trap bar deadlift’s form, with all being activated equally only during the first initial pull at the start of a set.

Secondary Mover Muscles

Though not activated to the extent or as often as the primary mover muscles, the secondary mover muscles of the biceps brachii, the deltoids that make up the shoulders, the erector spinae, the hip abductors and adductors that govern the hip hinge motion and the forearms are all activated to an appreciable extent as well.

The secondary mover muscles will generally receive some form of training stimulus, though not to the extent of the primary mover muscles, and as such will generally develop a level of muscular hypertrophy and dynamic strength conditioning that may be improved upon with further volume targeting such muscle groups.

Stabilizer Muscles

Activated only in the capacity of stabilization, either of the exerciser’s own body or of the weight itself - stabilizer muscles are contracted in primarily an isometric capacity, moving in a dynamic manner for only the span of a moment if at all.

Thus, stabilizer muscles will generally not develop in size or dynamic strength - though some evidence in clinical research shows that muscle groups normally used as stabilizer muscles will grow more effective in much the same capacity, becoming better as stabilizer muscle groups in a manner similar to primary and secondary mover muscles during exercise.

These are primarily the calves, the various core stabilizer muscles located around the lower back and abdomen, as well as the erector spinae, of which are also activated in a dynamic manner throughout certain portions of the repetition.

How is the Trap Bar Deadlift Performed?

To begin performing the trap bar deadlift, the exerciser will first position themselves within the enclosure of a hex barbell loaded with an amount of weight appropriate for their strength level - except in the case of novice level exercisers, whom are better off performing the exercise with little to no weight so as to ingrain proper form into their muscle memory.

trap bar deadlift muscles

The exerciser will spread their feet approximately hip width apart, with the knees and toes aligned and pointing in an outward angle so as to prevent them from collapsing inwards, and the hands gripping both handles in a neutral hand positioning.

Once positioned appropriately, the exerciser will then brace their core and ensure their spinal column is curved in a neutral manner prior to pushing downwards through their legs - of which should have the intended result of raising the exerciser’s torso, straightening their hips and pulling the hex barbell upwards.

Once reaching near lockout position in regards to their knees, the exerciser will then allow their shoulders to fall backwards into a more comfortable and natural position prior to allowing the weight of the hex barbell to pull them back to the starting form.

In the event that subsequent repetitions are required in order to complete the set, the exerciser will simply repeat the motion without setting the barbell on the floor once more.

Otherwise, this motion completes a set of trap bar deadlifts.

What are the Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift?

Like all other forms of resistance exercise, the trap bar deadlift is capable of inducing a wide variety of benefits that can directly influence the function and daily life of the exerciser - with certain positive effects like improved cardiovascular functioning and strengthened mind-body coordination all being a direct result of exercise itself.

However, certain benefits and advantages not found in other exercises can be found as general characteristics of the trap bar deadlift, placing it in a unique position to provide such positive effects in a manner that is otherwise difficult to achieve for the exerciser.

1. Improved Injury Prevention

Due to the particular angle and method of which the spinal column, shoulder joint and knees are loaded by the hexagonal barbell used during a trap bar deadlift - there is a measurably lower occurrence of injuries throughout the exercise, provided that proper form and an appropriate amount of weight is utilized.

This is especially so in comparison to the traditional deadlift, of which is notorious for causing lower back and hip injuries when performed at higher levels of resistance or with even minor deviations away from proper form mechanics.

A reduced incidence or risk of injury is also a direct consequence of the way the weight is distributed and positioned around the exerciser, with the barbell and thus the source of resistance surrounding the exerciser in all directions as opposed to in front of them.

The manner of which the weight is positioned will greatly reduce subsequent pressure, mechanical tension and shear force on the majority of joints involved during the exercise, with the largest risk factor being in the knees during the initiation of a set.

2. Improved Trapezius Activation

Though the traditional deadlift and its subsequent variations are all capable of activating the trapezius muscle to a significant extent, it is in the trap bar deadlift that the aforementioned muscle group is truly activated.

This is primarily due to the neutral hand position of the trap bar deadlift, and the fact that the arms are positioned practically perpendicular to the torso - allowing for unparalleled trapezius muscle activation, both dynamically and isometrically throughout the entirety of the repetition.

Thus, for exercisers seeking out a more trapezius muscle group focused alternative to the traditional deadlift or rack pull, the trap bar deadlift may act as the perfect substitute exercise, more than fulfilling the role of either exercise.

3. Reduced Spinal Loading

Though technically part of the reduced risk of injury previously mentioned in this section of the article, there is a distinctly reduced level of spinal column pressure associated with the trap bar deadlift in comparison to other exercises that place a similar level of exertion on the exerciser and their connective tissues.

A reduced level of spinal loading is because of the more neutral angle at which the exerciser is positioned as they perform the exercise with proper form mechanics, requiring significantly less thoracic and lumbar spine extension and hip adduction than other variations of the deadlift exercise.

This is especially the case in individuals with other than average bodily proportions or reduced flexibility of the ankles, knees, hips, or lower back - all of which may benefit from the more natural form cues of the trap bar deadlift.

4. Ease of Mechanics

Though the trap bar deadlift is still somewhat more complex in terms of difficulty in comparison to other resistance exercises like the biceps curl, it is still distinctly easier to learn than the traditional deadlift - especially when taking natural anthropometry and biomechanics into account, both of which may be at odds with the rather strict form of the standard deadlift movement.

As such, not only is the trap bar deadlift a more suitable variation of the deadlift for individuals of lesser free weight exercise experience, but also for those with out of the average bodily proportions, or those with poor flexibility or athletes that have recovered from previous injuries of the connective tissues.

Is the Trap Bar Deadlift Better than the Barbell Deadlift?

The standard barbell deadlift and the trap bar deadlift are each capable of possessing advantages over the other that may make one more suitable in certain circumstances than the alternative, with the trap bar deadlift being more suitable for usage with individuals of novice to intermediate free weight exercise experience or those wishing to reduce the total pressure placed on their lumbar and thoracic spinal column portions.

barbell deadlift movement

In terms of exercise intensity and relative training results, the trap bar deadlift is practically the same to the barbell deadlift in every aspect - though with the caveat of distinctly more trapezius muscle group activation, thus making the trap bar deadlift more suitable in that particular case.

By extension of this, the total amount of weight and thus the total amount of maximal loading that the trap bar deadlift is capable of supporting is distinctly higher than what one would be capable of performing with a standard barbell deadlift, as the grip position and the particular form mechanics of the trap bar deadlift allow for more weight to be moved otherwise.

Who Can Benefit from Performing Trap Bar Deadlifts?

The trap bar deadlift is capable of being performed by practically anyone of healthy function and with a basic understanding of free weight compound resistance mechanics - though certain groups of people may receive more benefit from focusing on the trap bar deadlift than others.

The largest and by far most common of these is that of athletes and other individuals wishing to greatly increase their full body power and strength potential with a reduced risk of injury, as would be the case with the traditional barbell deadlift.

In connection to this is regular every day gym goers or novice free weight exercisers wishing to improve their traditional deadlift capabilities, as regular performance of the trap bar deadlift can have a direct carry-over to its standard barbell counterpart.

And finally, there is the case of individuals wishing to still reap the benefits of performing a deadlift variation exercise without placing too significant a loading stress on their various connective tissues - especially in the nature of shear force, as would be produced by the angle of resistance involved in a deadlift or rack pull.

Regardless of whether the exerciser belongs to any of these groups, it is important for them to first ensure that they are utilizing proper form and have received the approval of a licensed exercise or medical professional prior to performing the trap bar deadlift in any significant capacity - as the risk of injury or overtraining is significant, even with the distinctly improved safety characterized by the exercise.

References

1. Lockie, Robert & Lazar, Adrina. (2017). Exercise Technique: Applying the Hexagonal Bar to Strength and Power Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 39. 1. 10.1519/ SSC.0000000000000327.

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

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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