Axle Deadlift – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, and Benefits

The deadlift is one of the most effective strength and muscle producing movements in all of strength, power, and fitness sports. Throughout deadlift training, there are a plethora of variations and bar options that coaches and athletes can choose from to effectively develop a stronger deadlift.

The axle deadlift is a variation that entails a lifter to perform a regular deadlift with an axle bar, which is much larger in diameter than a standard Olympic barbell. In this article, we will discuss how to perform an axle deadlift, proper setup and pulling technique, and discuss the benefits of integrating it within training programs.

Muscles Worked

The axle deadlift targets many of the same muscle groups as the regular deadlift, however does emphasize a few muscle groups to a greater extent. The below list of exercises include muscles worked by performing the axle deadlift.

  • Latissimus Dorsi (upper and middle back)
  • Hamstrings
  • Erectors (lower back)
  • Forearms and Grip
  • Traps
  • Quadriceps
  • Biceps

Axle Deadlift Exercise Demo

The axle deadlift can be done using conventional or sumo deadlift technique. The main difference between regular deadlifts and the axle deadlift is the usage of the axle bar, also known as the fat bar. The axle bar has a much wider diameter than the standard Olympic barbell. In the below video, the axle deadlift is demonstrated using the axle bar.

4 Benefits of the Axle Deadlift

Below are four (4) benefits of the axle deadlift, also known as the fat bar deadlift. The below benefits are inherent to using an axle barbell during the deadlift, which forces a lifter to grasp and control a much wider diameter barbell.

Set-Up Strength

When performing a deadlift without an axle bar, a lifter may allow slack in their set up due to various reasons. Grip on the barbell (or rather slack in the arms and back) can be a common fault that they are able to get away with in sub-maximal pulls. The axle barbell is much more unforgiving in this, as the lifter often cannot take a full grip around the bar which in turn forces them to find tension and set the back prior to the pull. By using a larger diameter axle barbell for the deadlift, a lifter must increase forearm, arm, and back tension from the floor to limit the bar rolling out of the hands at the start of the  pull.

Grip Strength

The axle deadlift can increase grip and forearm strength due to the lifter having to grasp a thicker diameter of a barbell. Due to this, the lifter’s forearm muscles and grip strength must adapt, which can often limit the amount of loading one can due early on in axle training. As a lifter progresses, he/she should be able to have stronger, more forceful muscle contractions in the grip/forearms which can increase neural drive to the rest of the body and enhance pulling performance (both with an axle bar and a standard Olympic bar).

Back Tension

Increasing back tension in the setup and throughout the pulling phases of a conventional or sumo deadlift can enhance overall performance and minimize injury. Often, a greater bar diameter will inhibit a lifter’s ability to train with heavier loads which can allow them to solidify proper back tension and pulling technique (flat back).

Improved Bar Path

When using a standard Olympic barbell, a lifter may be able to grip the barbell well enough even though it may be out of the ideal bar path. With the axle bar, a lifter cannot typically get a full grip around the barbell, making it imperative that the bar stays trapped to the body and the lifter not yank or let it slide out down through the palms (which often causes the shoulders to round forward and can lead to the back not staying in a contracted, neutral position). By using the axle bar, a lifter will force themselves to gain greater grip strength and bar patterning during the pull and limit the amount of horizontal displacement and/or other body compensations due to a larger grip diameter or weak pulling strength.

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