Most people probably have a strong feeling in one direction or the other about the deadlift. Some love it, some hate it, and others still love to hate the exercise.
However, you’d be hard-pressed to say there isn’t a deadlift variation out there that tickles your fancy. Maybe you prefer sumo pulling in lieu of conventional reps, or you like to work with a snatch grip or even a kettlebell. In the event you’ve overlooked the trap bar deadlift, you might want to look again.
Commonly regarded as a beginner’s exercise, the trap bar deadlift isn’t just a teaching tool. If you have access to the implement, there are some surprising benefits to putting it back into your workout rotation. Here five big ones:
Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- It’s a Great Beginner Movement
- Provides Leg and Back Stimulation
- Good for Sports Performance
- Offers a New Stimulus
- It’s Highly Functional
There’s no getting around the fact that learning to deadlift properly is hard. The movement, which combines a hip hinge with hip extension, looks innocuous enough at a glance. You simply bend over and pick the thing up, right?
Well, refining and understanding that movement pattern in the first place is easier said than done. If you want to learn to deadlift but find the barbell cumbersome, consider starting with the trap bar instead.
The design of the trap bar enables you to have a more upright torso, place your hands in a more natural position for lifting from the ground, and lets you utilize the power of your legs. These factors in unison tend to make trap bar deadlifts an effective teaching tool for new gymgoers who are taking their first steps on their fitness journeys.
While all deadlifts fall under this category, many pulls place a serious amount of stress onto your posterior chain and leave your legs (specifically, your quadriceps) out to dry.
The technique of the trap bar deadlift balances the lifting demand between your legs and back. Not only does this broad allocation of tension help you lift more weight, it also ensures that you’re working a larger amount of your lower body at once. This helps guarantee that you’re covering your bases during a brief (but intense) workout.
Whether you roll on the mats, run on the track, or train for real-world scenarios, resistance training belongs in your exercise regime. So too, then, does a lower body pulling movement like the trap bar deadlift.
Any deadlift variant will do the job, but the trap bar brings with it some specific perks for sports and physical performance that make it worth your while.
The stance and posture of the trap bar deadlift closely mirror the universal “athletic position” — feet spread and stable, toes mostly forward, knees and hips slightly bent, and upper back engaged.
This posture is as relevant on the football field as it is when you want to test your vertical jump. Trap bar pulls are also easier to learn than their barbell-based cousins, which lets you get some quality work in without cutting into your sport practice time.
For strength athletes like powerlifters (or anyone following a dedicated, pre-written program), it’s easy to feel bound to the barbell — and for good reason. Barring that, you should (almost) always enjoy your workouts, and introducing some occasional novelty is a huge part of that.
Despite their technical differences, the trap bar deadlift and barbell deadlift are far more similar than they are different. This means that you can usually substitute them in if you’re looking to spice up your workouts without going back to the drawing board.
Note, though, that this may not be appropriate if you’re in the midst of sport-specific training, such as preparation for a powerlifting competition or weightlifting meet. If you’re going to put the trap bar pull on the mic, make sure it won’t affect your short-term goals in a negative way.
“Functional fitness” is among the most-repeated buzzwords in the industry. It shouldn’t be the only guiding principle that dictates your approach to exercise, but there’s certainly merit in making sure what you do in the weight room benefits you outside of it.
Lifting something off the ground may be the closest thing to a universal human endeavor, but barbell-based deadlifts don’t exactly mimic how you’d pick up a crate or a few bags of groceries.
Since the handles of the trap bar deadlift are at your sides, the exercise is more in-tune with how you’d align yourself to lift something in the real world. You’ve probably been advised at one point or another to “lift with your legs” instead of just your back. The trap bar deadlift forces you to do just that.
How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
Bend over, lift the thing, put it down again. Repeat as needed.
In seriousness, the technique of the trap bar deadlift is deceptively complex. It’s easy to learn, but hard to master. If you want to get the most out of the exercise, you should know how to perform your reps with picture-perfect technique.
Step 1 — Address the Bar
You perform trap bar deadlifts from inside the contraption. So, your first step is to get in there. Set a trap frame on the floor (or load it up with plates) and step inside. Your feet should be directly in the middle of the frame, about hip-width apart. The handles should be directly to the sides of your legs.
Coach’s Tip: You can point your feet perfectly forward or angle them out slightly if it’s more comfortable for you.
Step 2 — Set Your Posture
Once you’re inside the frame, sink straight downward with your arms relaxed at your sides until you can grasp the handles. Your back should be mostly flat, and your chest higher than your hips. Your knees can come forward slightly, but don’t sink into a deep squat.
From there, take a deep belly breath and contract your core to brace your spine. Grip the handles tightly and you’re good to go.
Coach’s Tip: The starting position of the trap bar pull should resemble how you’d look at about halfway out of a squat.
Step 3 — Push Into the Floor
Contrary to popular belief, the deadlift is a “push” exercise. Once you’ve established your posture and braced your midline, begin the rep by pushing straight down into the floor with your legs. You should feel tension across your quads and lower back in equal measure.
Push through the floor until you reach a standing position with your hips under your shoulders, your arms hanging low, and your shoulders relaxed.
Coach’s Tip: Don’t shrug or intentionally thrust your hips forward as you lift. Stand up as you normally would.
Step 4 — Reset
Once you’ve stood up firmly with the trap bar in your hands, you’re ready to go into another rep. If you want to induce some extra eccentric tension, you can reverse the motion and return the frame to the floor in the same manner you lifted it.
However, you’re also free to let the frame fall down, since the deadlift doesn’t have a mandatory lowering portion. Just remember to keep your hands on the bar to guide it down safely.
Coach’s Tip: Controlling the weight on the way down is harder than letting it go, and may limit the amount you can lift.
Muscles Worked by the Trap Bar Deadlift
The deadlift is sometimes regarded as the “King of All Exercises,” a moniker which goes far beyond the fact that you can lift the most weight with it.
One of the most beneficial and challenging aspects of any deadlift involves how much of your musculature it calls to action. The trap bar deadlift will, quite literally, challenge you from head to toe. However, these muscles are the major players that make the magic happen:
Your gluteal muscles perform a majority of the work in the trap bar deadlift. Since the exercise has you start in a partial squatting position, your gluteus maximus is primed to contract strongly to finish each and every rep.
Plain and simple, you can’t deadlift effectively without having (or growing) strong glutes.
The upright posture of the trap bar deadlift actually places less of a demand on your hamstrings than a barbell deadlift would, because your hip and knee joints are both bent.
You can think of your hammies as a rubber band that attaches to both joints. When there’s slack at both ends, they don’t have a whole lot to do. That said, your hamstrings still contract to stabilize your knee and hip, particularly if you lower the trap bar deadlift down slowly. Stability is just as important as strength.
Your lumbar spine is a great teacher — it is more than happy to let you know if you’re performing a lower body exercise properly or not. While your erector spinae muscles do bear a tremendous amount of load as they attempt to lock your spine in place while you lift, you shouldn’t necessarily feel your lower back burning during the trap bar deadlift.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding back pain during or after exercise, consult with your physician.
Working with a trap bar is one of the few ways you can really get your quads into the game during a deadlift. When you lift a barbell, your knees have to be — and remain — out of the bar’s path. Which is to say, they can’t bend very much.
However, the trap bar pull lets you set up for more quad power. In fact, your quads are almost entirely responsible for getting the frame off the ground. They start the whole party, and you’ll feel it right away.
Abdominals and Obliques
If you have a weak link in the middle of your kinetic chain, you’ll notice a power leak right away and your trap bar simply won’t budge. This makes strong core activation a necessary facet of the trap bar pull.
Trap Those Gains
If you always walk right past the trap bar frame on your way to the barbell, you may be hurting its feelings and leaving some gains on the table at the same time.
The trap bar deadlift has a lot more going for it than just being a good way to learn to lift in the first place. From convenience to leg activation to sport transferability, there’s a reason most commercial gyms will have at least one on their floors. Maybe it’s time you give the trap frame a second chance, or take it for a spin for the first time.
Featured Image: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock