The trap bar deadlift is a total-body pulling movement that can be utilized across various sports to develop leg strength, lower body power, and improve your general fitness. Both veteran athletes and newcomers to the gym alike can benefit from training the trap bar deadlift due to its wide applicability.
While the trap bar deadlift — also referred to as the hex deadlift or diamond bar deadlift — is most often seen as a means of increasing strength, the exercise can also be a valuable tool if your goal is putting on extra muscle.
In this article we’ll discuss the trap bar deadlift, why it is suitable for trainees of all levels, and how to incorporate it into your program.
- How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Muscles Worked by the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Who Should Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift Sets and Reps
- Trap Bar Deadlift Variations
- Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
The unique design of the trap bar allows you to align the weight closer to your center of mass. By standing within the frame instead of behind a standard barbell, you can increase your leverage and assume a more upright posture.
Step 1 — Set Up and Brace
Start by assuming a hip-width stance with your toes pointed forward. Your feet should be directly aligned with the handles. Hinge down to grab the barbell and allow your knees to track forward as needed. Grip the bar hard, squeeze your shoulder blades down and back, and take a deep belly breath to establish tension.
Coach’s Tip: Your shoulders should be directly above the handles.
Step 2 — Push Through the Floor
Break the barbell from the floor by pushing straight downward with your legs. Avoid letting your hips rise faster than your shoulders. Stand up fully with the bar and pause. At the top of the movement, your shoulders should be down, your pelvis neutral, and the load dispersed evenly throughout your body.
Coach’s Tip: Initiate the movement by contracting your quads rather than your glutes or hamstrings.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
The versatility of the trap bar deadlift makes it useful for more than just powerlifters and bodybuilders. Below are six benefits that you can expect when integrating the trap bar deadlift into a training program.
Entry-Level Deadlift Practice
Beginners looking to increase lower body strength and pulling performance can use the trap bar deadlift as their main deadlift movement. Having a more “natural” and upright posture can help limit stress on the lumbar spine and teach solid pulling mechanics that will help you if you transition to barbell deadlifts later on.
Increased Lower Body Strength
The trap bar deadlift is a great exercise to develop foundational pulling strength and the muscle mass necessary to deadlift (and even squat) heavier loads. It can be used in conjunction with other lower body strength movements (back squats, front squats, conventional deadlifts, or sumo deadlifts) to maximize pulling strength.
Supplemental Weightlifting Training
The trap bar deadlift can be a valuable training exercise for some Olympic weightlifters who lack general strength and/or are looking to increase general total body strength. The trap bar deadlift should not replace clean and snatch deadlifts/pulls, but can be used as a supplemental lift in most volume and strength cycles.
Decreased Lumbar Stress
Most hinge movements place a high amount of stress and tension on the musculature of the spine and hips. However, compared to other types of pulls, the trap bar deadlift tends to be more friendly for the lower back because of the adjustment to leverage and posture. This may make it ideal for you if you’re recuperating from an injury or are new to lifting weights.
Increased Leg and Glute Hypertrophy
The trap bar deadlift (in addition to developing the hamstrings and back) can also be used to add quality muscle mass to the quadriceps and glutes, especially at angles above parallel (which can be helpful for lifters with sticking points or weakness in certain ranges). Due to the more upright torso positioning of the trap bar deadlift, the quadriceps and glutes are emphasized to a higher degree.
Ability to Overload
If you’re an experienced gymgoer or competitive strength athlete, you can use the trap bar deadlift as a way to tactically overload your nervous system with extra-heavy weights. Using supramaximal loads from time to time can help you gain experience and confidence that you’ll need the next time you go for a squat or deadlift personal record.
Muscles Worked by the Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift targets many of the same muscle groups as sumo deadlifts, clean deadlifts, and even conventional barbell deadlifts. While the movement is similar to most pulling exercises, the trap bar deadlift does have some have distinct muscular demands.
The trap bar deadlift effectively targets the glutes which are a key muscle group in overall athletic performance, lower body strength, and power. Your hips are typically set in an advantageous position in the trap bar deadlift, allowing your glutes to strongly contract on each rep.
The trap bar deadlift works the hamstrings, however, to a slightly lower degree than a Romanian deadlift or the conventional deadlifts. Due to the increased knee flexion, the hamstrings are not stressed as much, however are still a primary muscle group.
The trap bar deadlift is a deadlift variation that does target the quadriceps to a higher degree (as well as in the sumo deadlift). Due to the increased knee flexion in the set up, the quads are stressed throughout the lift more than a conventional or stiff-legged deadlift. In having more knee flexion, a lifter is often able to keep a more upright torso positioning, minimizing strain on the hamstrings and lower back (in comparison to the conventional deadlift).
All forms of hinge target the lower back, however the trap bar deadlift does go a bit easier than a barbell pull. If you’re looking to develop your lower back muscles, the trap bar may not be the ideal candidate.
Traps and Upper Back
Similar to most deadlifts, the trap bar deadlift can build serious strength and muscle mass in the trapezius and back muscles. Due to having a more upright torso, you may find that the trap bar deadlift emphasizes your middle and upper back better than other types of deadlifts.
Who Should Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
Trap bar deadlifts are a total body compound exercise that has broad applicability across all strength, power, and fitness activities. Additionally, the trap bar deadlift is a great deadlift variation for beginners and high-level lifters alike.
If you’re into training for strongman, the trap bar deadlift can be a fantastic accessory movement. In addition to helping your deadlift performance, the trap bar technique mimics that of heavy carries, which are commonly found in strongman competitions and training programs.
Although powerlifters compete with the barbell and must make a barbell deadlift their main training focus, the trap bar can be a viable accessory movement. If you practice powerlifting, the trap bar can help you overload the top half of your pull and also add quality training volume if you need to kick your workload up.
The trap bar deadlift, at times, can be used to supplement the clean pull/positional strength necessary for creating leg drive in the clean. While this is not as specific to the clean and jerk as a clean deadlift or clean pull, a trap bar deadlift can be done in base phases to increase pulling volume, vary training stimulus, and allow for some variation within training.
CrossFit and Fitness Athletes
Competitive fitness and CrossFit athletes can benefit from the trap bar deadlift for many of the same reasons as other populations. In addition, the trap bar deadlift can help to add variety to a training program as pulls from the floor are very common in functional fitness competitions. By implementing the trap bar deadlift into your functional fitness program as an accessory, you can work on underused muscle groups and increase your pulling capacity.
The trap bar is a valuable training exercise for all levels of fitness. Similar to the above groups, the benefits of the trap bar deadlift vary based on training goals, abilities, and mobility/flexibility restrictions.
With that said, the trap bar is a foundational movement pattern that can be taught and trained before progressing to more technical pulls like the sumo deadlift. If you want to work on your posterior chain in a safe and accessible way, the trap bar deadlift is the perfect choice.
Trap Bar Deadlift Sets and Reps
If you are looking to increase lower body strength, deadlift performance, and athletic performance, the trap bar is your movement. It is a great deadlift variation to reduce injury risks while also improving strength and performance.
Below are three sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the trap bar deadlift specific to the training goal. Note, that the below guidelines are simply here to offer coaches and athletes loose recommendations for programming.
To Improve Strength and Technique
The trap bar deadlift can be used for beginner lifters who may lack postural awareness for more advanced movements like sumo and conventional deadlifts. It is important to note that due to the limited range of motion and the more natural upright position in the trap bar deadlift set up, the trap bar deadlift can be a valuable asset in the educational process for newer lifters.
Start by programming 3 – 4 sets of 8 – 10 repetitions with light to moderate loads, at a controlled speed (focusing on proper eccentric/lowering of the weight), resting as needed.
To Build Muscle
The trap bar deadlift is a great way to add overall hypertrophy to the lower body, back, and torso due to the high amounts of loading that can be utilized. If you want to gain lower body mass but aren’t concerned with powerlifting performance, the trap bar makes for a great go-to.
Start by programming 3 – 5 sets of 6 – 10 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads, or 2 4 sets of 12 – 15 repetitions with moderate loads to near failure, keeping rest periods below 90 seconds.
To Increase Strength
The best use of the trap bar deadlift is arguably for strength development. The exercise is easy to learn, easy to load, and is a great way to adjust the deadlift pattern to emphasize the quads a bit more than standard barbell pulling.
Generally speaking, athletes can lift slightly more weight than they would for a standard deadlift, making this a great way to overload a lifter’s neural systems and boost confidence with less stress placed on the lower back.
Start by performing 3 – 5 sets of 3 – 5 repetitions with a decently heavy weight, resting as needed.
Trap Bar Deadlift Variations
While the trap bar deadlift is a great exercise on its own merit, there are plenty of other options and tweaks available for coaches and athletes alike to further increase their strength development and performance.
Deficit Trap Bar Deadlift
The deficit trap bar deadlift is done by standing on a pair of weight plates or a small riser box. By performing your deadlifts from a deficit, you elongate your range of motion for added gains, particularly in the quads and hips. Deficit pulls can also help develop power off the floor.
Jumping Trap Bar Deadlift
Jumping deadlifts with a trap bar can be a great way of getting some bonus plyometric work into your program. Although you must use significantly lighter weights, standard trap bar pulls with a slight jump at the top can help synchronize your lower body mechanics and make you more explosive.
Trap Bar Deadlift with Accommodating Resistance
Adding accommodating resistance by way of bands or chains can slightly vary the training benefits of the trap bar deadlift. For some lifters, this can be done to increase the rate of force production (when lighter loads are used and speed is of the highest priority).
For other lifters, this can be a way to increase overall force development as a lifter must engage more motor units as they move through the movement.
Tempo Trap Bar Deadlifts
Tempo training can be done with the trap bar deadlift and is a way to increase time under tension, enhance positional awareness, and add a training stimulus that doesn’t involve additional loading. This can be helpful for refining your technique, positional strength, and coordination to boot.
Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives
If you are looking to improve lower body strength, athletic performance, and deadlift capacity yet are unable to do trap bar deadlifts, feel free to swap the below trap bar deadlift alternatives into your training program.
The sumo deadlift is a good alternative to the trap bar deadlift due to the hip and knee angles in the setup and pull. While you’ll clearly have a wider stance in the sumo deadlift, the quadriceps and glutes work to a higher degree than in a conventional deadlift — a common factor also present with the trap bar.
If you are looking to increase muscle coordination, activate new muscle fibers, and challenge movement patterning on a more unilateral basis, the dumbbell deadlift can be a good alternative to the trap bar deadlift.
Often with barbell or trap bar deadlifts, a lifter may have asymmetries in pulling strength or coordination, which can produce the barbell or trap bar to rotate or twist the lifter as they descend or ascend. Having a separate weight in each hand limits the tendency to list to one side.
The clean deadlift is a deadlift variation done primarily in Olympic weightlifting training, specifically to prepare an athlete’s positional pulling strength for the clean. In the clean deadlift, the athlete tends to have the hips start slightly lower than a conventional deadlift, similar to the trap bar deadlift. In doing so, like the trap bar deadlift, the clean deadlift can increase glute, hamstring, and quadriceps strength.
When looking to build lower body strength, improve pulling performance, and enhance athletic performance, look no further than the trap bar deadlift. The trap bar deadlift not only is a great exercise for athletes, but it is one of the best pulling variations out there for entry-level training for beginners and regular to advanced gymgoers alike.
Using the trap bar deadlift in strength and hypertrophy programs is a wonderful way to improve performance, however, you may still have some questions on programming or how to tweak the movement to suit your needs. Below are two common questions regarding the trap bar deadlift.
Does a trap bar deadlift work the quadriceps or hamstrings more?
The trap bar deadlift is somewhat of a hybrid movement, one that trains both the knee and hip extension. Unlike the conventional deadlift, you are much more upright in the trap bar deadlift, which means you’ll use more quads than in a regular deadlift.
How can you decrease back pain in the trap bar deadlift?
If you’re experiencing pain during a movement, your best practice is to consult a medical professional. That said, making sure your spine is properly aligned can be effective in facilitating safe and effective movement under load. Be sure that your lumbar spine is straight and rigid. Focus on finishing the lift by contracting your glutes, rather than extending your spine or leaning back.
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