The trap bar, also known as the hex bar, may be one of the best tools that you’re not using. Or, you’re only using it for deadlifts. But the neutral-grip handles and unique positioning make the trap bar a gym rat’s best friend. It can be pressed, rowed, carried, and squatted for ache-free gains. Also, if you’ve been heaving a barbell year after year, the trap bar may serve as a much-welcomed break from the mundane.
Below are sixteen of the best trap bar exercises that will help increase strength and bolster muscle gain. Besides outlining these basic tried-and-true movements like carries, you’ll also learn about more advanced variations to try, like elevated split squats and staggered-stance deadlifts.
Best Trap Bar Exercises
- Trap Bar Bent-Over Row
- Trap Bar Tall-Kneeling Shoulder Press
- Trap Bar Floor Press
- Trap Bar Suitcase Carry
- Trap Bar Elevated Split Squat
- Trap Bar Figure-8 Carry
- Trap Bar Staggered-Stance Deadlift
- Trap Bar Push-Up
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Trap Bar Shrug
- Trap Bar Jump Squat
- Elevated Trap Bar Squat
- Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
- Trap Bar Inverted Row
- Trap Bar Rack Pull
- Trap Bar Single-Leg Deadlift
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The trap bar bent over row is easier on your lower back since the handles are elevated. That means you don’t have to hinge over as far to support the weight. With this move, you’ll be using wider, neutral-grip handles.
This positioning lets you challenge your traps, forearms, biceps, and lats with more weight than you can typically use with a standard barbell. That’s because lifters are usually stronger while using a neutral grip.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Bent-Over Row
- It takes stress off your lower back, and the neutral grip is easier on your elbows.
- It is also a great accessory exercise for deadlifts, chin-ups, and pull-ups due to the grip demands and hinge position.
- Challenges your rowing muscles from a different angle than standard barbell row.
How to Do the Trap Bar Bent-Over Row
Hinge down and grab either side of the trap bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Row the trap bar until the back of the bar almost touches your glutes. Angle your elbows at about 45 degrees throughout the movement. Hold the top position of the row for a beat. Slowly lower the weight back down. Repeat.
Not every lifter has the mobility and stability required to do barbell overhead presses. Enter the tall-kneeling shoulder press. The neutral grip is easier on your wrist and elbows, whereas barbells can cause wrist hyperextension.
Benefits of the Tall-Kneeling Trap Bar Shoulder Press
- If there is any instability with your pressing technique, you will receive instant feedback because the tall-kneeling position will force you out of position.
- The neutral grip makes the lift easier on your upper body joints.
- A tall-kneeling position strengthens core stability and improves hip mobility.
How to Do the Tall-Kneeling Shoulder Press
Set up the trap bar in the squat rack. Get into a strong tall-kneeling position. Set the pins above shoulder height. Grip the high or low bar handles with your wrists in neutral and grip tight. Press with control until your elbows are locked out. Pause for a second. Slowly lower back down to the pins. Reset and repeat.
Think of this movement as a hybrid of the regular floor press and the neutral-grip dumbbell press. Pressing from the floor limits the range of motion (ROM), allowing the lifter to move more weight and prevents your shoulders from being overly exerted.
The neutral prip creates a more stable pressing environment, as your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are all stacked over one another for a strong base.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Floor Press
- This move puts less stress on your upper body joints and gives you the ability to add more resistance than the dumbbell variation.
- If shoulder pain is an issue, this variation allows you to still train the pressing movement in a (possible) pain-free range of motion.
- Because of minimal lower body involvement and reduced ROM, this variation helps improve your lockout strength.
How to Do the Trap Bar Floor Press
Set up the trap bar on the squat rack with flat handles down and the D handles up. Lie on the floor. Grab the flat handles. Unrack the trap bar with your wrists neutral. Slowly lower until your upper arms touch the floor. Press back up until lockout.
Suitcase carries are a great grip and core builder, as you walk with a load in just one hand. It also has real benefits to everyday life. Think about how often you need to carry a ton of groceries with one hand (because your coffee is in the other). Be warned, using the trap bar makes this move more difficult, as the weight is more off-center.
The plus is that you can load a lot more weight onto a trap bar. But make sure you can control the weight before loading up a ridiculous amount.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Suitcase Carry
- The trap bar allows you to load this move heavier than the dumbbell variation.
- It strengthens your grip and addresses imbalances between sides.
- Improving grip strength has a direct carryover to your deadlift and chin-up performance.
How to Do the Trap Bar Suitcase Carry
Stand the trap bar up on its side for an easier start. Load the plate onto both ends. Grab the center of the bar with a firm grip. Lift the trap bar. Keep your shoulders down and level with each other. Walk slowly while keeping your upright posture. Once you have walked your prescribed distance or time, put the trap bar down. Rest it on the side of your leg. Hold with one hand as you turn around. Swap sides and repeat.
Split squats are a great way to isolate your legs for more muscle, as they work one side at a time and force a longer range of motion. You can load this move with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or even a barbell.
However, using the trap bar forces the lifter to keep constant tension on their legs as they can’t physically lock their knees out (the back of the trap bar will bang against their thighs). This constant tension creates more muscular stress, and that’s what will lead to more muscle mass over time.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Elevated Split Squat
- It reinforces good technique. A lot of lifters keep an upright torso, which makes the elevated split squat difficult. But if you don’t lean forward, your back thigh will butt into the trap bar way too early.
- The trap bar forces you to maintain constant tension because you’ll find you cannot lock out the movement as the back thigh runs into the trap bar, limiting the range of motion slightly.
How to Do the Trap Bar Elevated Split Squat
Set your back foot flat on a bench and the other foot inside the trap bar with D handles up. Squat down with a forward lean. Grip the D handles. Squat up until the back bar runs into your thigh. Slowly lower down. Stop before the weight plates touch the floor. Squat up. Repeat for reps.
Why use a figure-eight pattern during your carry? It allows you to cover more distance with less space required in a crowded gym. As a bonus, the figure-eight motion requires core stability and coordination.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Figure-8 Carry
- This variation allows you to perform a carry in a small space and not get in anyone’s way.
- Dumbbells limit your weight but not so with the trap bar. You have a much higher loading potential to further your grip and conditioning gains.
- Strengthens shoulder stability and helps improve posture.
How to Do the Trap Bar Figure-8 Carry
Assume your deadlift stance. Pick the weight up. Resist the urge to hurry as you start your walk. Move in a figure-eight pattern. Keep your chest up and shoulders down. When you’re done, come to a full stop. Lower the weight with control.
You might know the trap bar staggered-stance deadlift as the B-stance deadlift. Whatever you call it, this move is performed with one leg behind you offering support. Your front leg bears most of the load to help combat imbalances between sides.
This is a great exercise for lifters who struggle to perform single-leg exercises with good form. That’s because the staggered stance will be easier on your lower back than bilateral trap bar deadlifts due to the widened base of support.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Staggered-Stance Deadlift
- Staggering your stance targets strength imbalances between sides.
- Widening your base of support makes this move easier on your lower back than bilateral deadlifts.
- Practicing this lift can help improve your balance if you struggle with traditional single-leg exercises.
How to Do the Trap Bar Staggered-Stance Deadlift
Set up the same as you do for a trap bar deadlift, but step one leg slightly back as a kickstand. Heel-toe the back foot out slightly. Find your balance. With your shoulders down and your chest up, hinge down. Grip the trap bar. Stand up. Lock out your front leg’s glute. Hinge down with your front leg, using your back leg as support. Reset and repeat.
With or without equipment, push-ups are powerful upper body strength-builders. Using a trap bar as a push-up handle is solid push-up variation. Being raised off the ground gives you a bigger ROM for increased muscle-building potential.
The trap bar will help you perform your push-ups with a neutral grip. This positioning is easier on your wrists. Plus, if you secure bumper plates onto the sleeves, the instability of the trap bar rolling forwards and backward gives you instant feedback on form. You’ll recruit more stabilizer muscles and be forced to slow down your push-up, which results in more time under tension — again, a great muscle-builder.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Push-Up
- Assuming a neutral grip during your push-up will be easier on your wrists, elbows, and shoulder joints.
- The extra range of motion from using handles increases your potential for hypertrophy.
- If you up the ante by adding bumper plates to the bar, the stability challenge to prevent the trap bar from rolling back and forth results in more muscle-building potential.
How to Do the Trap Bar Push Up
Place the trap bar on the ground with the handles facing up. Grip the handles. Assume a push-up position. Under control, lower down into a push-up with your elbows at a 45-degree angle. Stop once you feel a stretch in your chest. Pause for a moment. Push up until lockout. Reset and repeat.
The trap bar deadlift is often frowned upon in powerlifting circles — is it a squat? Is it a deadlift? If it’s both, does it even count, bro?
But if you’re not competing or have a history of lower back pain, this can be a great variation. As the weight is in line with your center of gravity — instead of pulling the bar when it’s out in front of you — there are less shearing forces on your lower back. Plus, the neutral grip puts less stress on your upper body joints. Another bonus? When you’re lifting using the D handles, the shorter ROM generally allows you to lift more weight.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Even though you can lift more weight, there will likely be less stress on your lower back because your hips and spine are more in line with the load.
- The trap bar deadlift is easier to set up and perform than a barbell deadlift, making it a great exercise for beginners.
- Due to the more upright torso positioning, the quadriceps and glutes are emphasized to a higher degree.
How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
Step inside the trap bar. Set your feet in your preferred position. Keep your shoulders down and your chest up. Hinge down and grab the handles. Keeping your chest up, squeeze your armpits together. Drive your feet through the floor. Hinge back up. Squeeze your glutes at lockout. Hinge back down with control until the weights touch the floor. Reset and repeat.
You’ll typically perform this move for either strength or muscle mass. As such, it will cater to a lot of different fitness goals. This exercise strengthens the muscles that support your head position, which in turn reinforces upright posture and steady form during heavy lifts.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Shrug
- Useful for lifters at all levels, this move is straightforward and a relatively easy exercise to learn.
- You can load this shrug variation a lot heavier than you can when using dumbbells or a barbell.
- Strengthening your neck and upper traps helps to support upright posture.
How to Do the Trap Bar Shrug
Step inside the trap bar. Squat down to pick up the weight. Pull your shoulders down and push your chest up. Keep your chin tucked. Shrug your upper traps towards your ears as high as possible. Pause briefly. Slowly lower down to the starting position. Reset and repeat for reps.
The trap bar jump squat is generally safer than the barbell variation because the load is off your spine, particularly when you land. You also don’t have to worry about the bar falling off of you, potentially sparing your wrists and shoulders some stress.
This lower-body plyometric move will help you build some serious leg strength and power. Use approximately 20 percent of your body weight to provide enough stimulus without loading too heavily for the move to be effective. Remember that the goal here is power and quickness, and not absolute strength.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Jump Squat
- This variation is safer than the barbell jump squat because your spine isn’t loaded directly.
- The trap bar jump squat builds lower body power and explosiveness.
- You’ll improve your ability to jump and land safely while boosting your overall athleticism.
How to Do the Trap Bar Jump Squat
Load about 20 percent of your body weight on the trap bar. Squat down and grip the D handles. Keep your shoulders away from your ears. Press your chest up. Jump explosively so that your feet leave the ground. Land softly on your toes with a bend in your knees. Lower back into a squat. Repeat for reps.
People who hate on trap bar squats usually will critique the limited ROM of the exercise, even though it allows you to lift more weight. But that doesn’t mean that you need to forsake the trap bar squat if you want a fuller ROM.
You can overcome this limited ROM — and the haters — by performing elevated trap bar squats. You’ll stand on a small, elevated surface or weight plates and use the low bar handles. These adjustments allow more knee flexion, putting more emphasis on your quads.
Benefits of the Elevated Trap Bar Squat
- This squat variation puts less compressive forces on your spine, which makes it a great alternative if barbell squats hurt your back.
- The elevated trap bar squat builds leg and grip strength all at the same time.
- By assuming an elevated position, you’ll increase the range of motion — and muscle-building potential — of regular trap bar squats.
How to Do the Elevated Trap Bar Squat
Put the weight plate inside the trap bar. Step onto the plate. Keep your shoulders down. Squat down and grip the handles. With a neutral spine, push your feet through the floor to stand up. Finish with your glutes. Lower down with control. Rest and repeat.
Traditional Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) are great for your hamstrings and glutes, but can be rough on your lower back. If you have a history of lower back issues or are just looking for variety, trap bars RDLs are a potentially back-saving alternative.
You perform a deadlift to pick the weight up, but with your reps, you stop the weight around shin level instead of touching the ground. Although the trap bar version may elicit less hamstring engagement than barbell RDLs, it’s easier on the lower back. That’s because you’re standing in the middle of the center of gravity, rather than the bar being out in front of you.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
- Performing your RDLs with a trap bar allows you to load heavier dumbbell and kettlebell versions.
- This variation is easier on your lower back than the barbell variation.
- Using a neutral grip is easier on your wrist and elbow joints.
How to Do the Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
Step inside the trap bar. Hinge at your hips to pick the bar up. Begin with an upright posture. Slowly push your hips back until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. If your hamstrings are especially flexible, focus on pushing your hips far back. Stop when the trap bar travels just below your knees or around your shins. Hinge back to standing. Squeeze your glutes to lock out the lift. Reset and repeat for reps.
Inverted rows hit your upper back and lats in a really big way. Performing an inverted row variation with a trap bar gives you the advantage of using a neutral grip. This positioning is easier on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
Because you’ll be using a less compromising grip position, you’ll likely be able to do more reps without your grip giving out prematurely. This means more muscle and strength potential for you.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Inverted Row
- Using a neutral grip with the trap bar gives you a stronger position to pull from, potentially allowing you to do more reps.
- The trap bar neutral handles are easier on your wrists, elbows, and shoulder joints.
- You can customize this row variation by altering your foot and knee position to accommodate various levels of strength.
How to Do the Trap Bar Inverted Row
Set up the empty trap bar in a squat rack with the D handles facing down. Make sure it is properly secure. Take a firm grip on the D handles. Position your body in a straight line from head to toe. You might plant your feet and bend your knees. Or you might keep your legs straight with your heels on the ground. Either way, keep your hips and shoulders aligned with a rigid torso. Pull towards the trap bar, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle. Pause briefly in the contracted position. Lower under control until full extension. Reset and repeat.
Barbell rack pulls help you improve lockout strength and work around hip mobility limitations and back pain. The trap bar rack pulls keep the weight more in line with your center of gravity because you’ll be standing in the center of the bar.
The neutral grip will take is easier on your joints, so you can potentially move even more weight. The trap bar’s wider grip places more emphasis on upper back strength if having a strong yoke is your thing.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Rack Pull
- The neutral grip is easier on your joints and allows you to do more reps and/or lift heavier loads before your grip gives out.
- This is a great variation to train around lower back discomfort because there are fewer shearing forces on your spine.
- Performing rack pulls with a trap bar will put more emphasis on your upper traps for a bigger back.
How to Do the Trap Bar Rack Pull
Set up the trap bar so the handles are just below your knees in a power rack. Stand inside of the trap bar with your preferred stance. Hinge down to grip the handles. Squeeze your armpits together. Take a deep breath in and brace your core. Stand up, finishing with your glutes. Lower down to the rack with control. Reset and repeat.
Single-leg deadlifts are difficult to perform, but the benefits are many. That includes better balance and reducing strength imbalances. For many lifters, balance is a limiting factor in lifts like this. But the trap bar variation helps reduce that issue.
With the weight more in line with your center of gravity, balance becomes less of an issue. That makes this easier to perform, which gives you the ability to use more weight. This is a win-win for your hamstring and glute gains.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Single-Leg Deadlift
- This move helps to reduce strength imbalances between sides.
- Because the load is more in line with your center of gravity, balance is less of an issue than the barbell version.
- Performing this move with the trap bar allows you to load heavier than dumbbell and kettlebell variations.
How to Do the Trap Bar Single-Leg Deadlift
Stand inside the trap bar. Hinge down and grab the handles. Hinge back up. Place your non-working leg back and out of the way of the trap bar. Hinge down until the plates touch the floor. Come back to standing. Reset and repeat.
Benefits of Training With the Trap Bar
Trap bars usually have two pairs of handles — one pair projects upwards from the bar in a squared D shape and one pair that’s level with the bar. The bar can be flipped over to make either pair available. And the sleeves (where the weight goes) on either side are at right angles to the handles.
The trap bar’s hex design allows you to step inside the bar — some say that the way the bar “traps” you is the origin of its name — and the design aligns the weight with your center of gravity. This makes a great tool for beginning lifters to learn the deadlift and those who have had low back injuries in the past. Here are a few other important benefits of using the trap bar.
It’s Easier on the Lower Back
There is less shear force on the spine because the axis of rotation (lower back/hips) is more in line with the load. This makes it easier on the lower back, especially if you have a history of lower back pain. If you are an athlete or lifter who wants to focus on strength with a reduced chance of getting a lifting injury, doing some of your lifts with a trap bar is a good option.
Reduces the Strain on the Wrist And Elbows
Gripping the barbell with an overhand, underhand, or mixed grip is tough for lifters with a history of elbow or biceps issues. The neutral grip on the trap bar reduces the strain on the biceps compared to a mixed grip on a barbell, and it’s easier on the forearms and elbows relative to a pronated or supinated grip.
Lift More Weight
Working with the trap bar will give you reduced strain on your upper body joints and low back because of the neutral grips and because you’re lifting inside the bar. Because of this lessened strain, you’ll likely be able to move a lot more weight relative to what you can do with a barbell. So if you’re trying to get your body stronger, toss in some trap bar training to give yourself variety and the ability to move more weight.
More Trap Bar Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best trap bar exercises to strengthen your entire body, you can also check out these other training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
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