The trap bar deadlift is a total body pulling movement that can be used across sports to develop strength, power, and general fitness. Athletes and newcomers alike can benefit from learning and training the trap bar deadlift due to the wide variety of training variations and benefits the trap bar deadlift offers.
In this trap bar deadlift exercise guide we will discuss:
- Trap Bar Deadlift Form and Technique
- Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Muscles Worked by Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Trap Bar Deadlift Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
- Trap Bar Deadlift Variations and Alternatives
- and more…
What Is a Trap Bar Deadlift?
The trap bar deadlift is a deadlift variation that is done using a specialized bar. The specific designs may differ based on the manufacture, however the general layout allows a lifter to stand within a closed frame with plates loaded to the ends of the barbell. In doing so, the lifter can assume a more upright pulling movement.
Trap Bar Deadlift – Muscles Worked
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 distinct muscular demands, which are discussed below.
The trap bar deadlift effectively targets the glutes (gluteus medius and maximus), key muscle groups in overall athletic performance, lower body strength, and power. Due to the hip flexion, the glutes are loaded at high amounts (like most deadlifts) and can be used to increase glute strength, hypertrophy, and functioning.
The trap bar deadlift works the hamstrings, however to a slightly lower degree than a Romanian Deadlift and/or the conventional deadlift variations. Due to the increase knee flexion (increase quadricep involvement…see below) the hamstrings are not stressed as much, however are still a primary muscle group.
The trap bar deadlift is a deadlift variation the 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).
Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
Nearly all deadlifts target the erectors (lower back muscles), however the trap bar deadlift does decrease the amount of loading placed on the erectors due to the increased back angle (more upright torso, due to greater knee flexion). This can be helpful for lifters who may have lower back concerns or are looking to not overstress the erectors yet still get in enough pulling volume for muscle growth and strength development.
Trapezius and Back Muscles
Similar to most deadlifts, the trap bar deadlift can build serious strength and muscle mass to the trapezius and back muscles. Due to the increased back angle (torso in a more upright position), lifters may find a greater emphasis on middle and upper back development and less strain on the lower back muscles.
5 Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
Below are five benefits that coaches and athletes can expect when they integrate the trap bar deadlift within a training program.
Increased Pulling Strength
The trap bar deadlift is a great exercise to develop foundational pulling strength and muscle mass necessary to deadlift (and even squat) heavier loads. It can be used in conjunction with the other main lower body strength movements (back squats, front squats, conventional deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts) to maximize pulling strength.
Application to Weightlifting Movements
As discussed in the below section, 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
Deadlifting places high amounts of loading on the hamstrings, hips, back, and erectors (lower back), however the trap bar deadlift can be used to minimize lower back stress (compared to the conventional and sumo deadlifts). This is helpful for beginner lifters who may not have developed proper lower back strength and control or individuals who are prone to lower back injuries.
Quadriceps and Glute Strength
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 emphasised to a higher degree.
More advanced athletes/lifters can use the trap bar deadlift to overload the central nervous system and/or allow an athlete to gain experience and confidence attacking and handling heavier loads (than they normally could lift with a conventional/sumo deadlift). This can be helpful to peak maximal strength levels in more developed lifters as well as can help to overload the nervous system in response to near-maximal loads being lifted in greater volumes.
Who Should Do Trap Bar Deadlifts?
The below section breaks down the benefits of the trap bar deadlift based on an lifter’s/athlete’s sport goals and abilities.
Trap Bar Deadlifts for Powerlifters
The trap bar deadlift is a great deadlift variation and/or accessory lift to increase pulling strength and decrease strain placed upon the lower back (due to the increase torso angle). Additionally, lifters who lack leg drive and or are looking to overload the top half of a movement can use the trap bar deadlift (as the range of motion is slightly less at the hip joint than a conventional deadlift) to supramaximally load a movement and add quality training volume and new stimulus.
Trap Bar Deadlifts for Strongman Athletes
Similar to the benefits for powerlifters, strongman athletes can benefit from the inclusion of trap bar deadlifts into their training program for overall strength and loading. In addition to deadlifting performance, the trap bar deadlift mimics heavy farmers carry lifts, which can easily be done using a trap bar and simply walking (in the event a lifter does not have proper farmer walk handles).
Trap Bar Deadlifts for Weightlifters
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. Lastly, I personally find it to be a helpful training exercise for lifters who may lack proper torso positioning and leg drive in the clean, in which the trap bar deadlift can be used to build a better pulling foundation.
Trap Bar Deadlifts for CrossFit/Competitive Fitness Athletes
Competitive fitness and CrossFit athletes can benefit from the trap bar deadlift for many of the same reasons as the athletes above. In addition, the trap bar deadlift can help to add variety to a training program as these types of athletes almost always are pulling in a conventional fashion (deadlifts, cleans, snatches, swings, etc). By implementing the trap bar deadlift into strength and accessory blocks, you can develop underused muscle groups and increase pulling capacities.
Trap Bar Deadlifts for Formal Sports Athletes
Trap bar deadlifts are a great movement to produce strength, hypertrophy, and sport specific patterning (it mimics jump set up, the athletic stance, and power position); similar to many of the benefits discussed above. Additionally, the lower back is often stressed less (due to the increase torso angle), which may be an area of concern for in-season athletes or athletes who are more prone to lower back injury.
Trap Bar Deadlifts for General Fitness
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 varying based on training goals, abilities, and mobility/flexibility restrictions. With that said, the trap bar is foundational movement pattern that can be taught and trained before progressing to more back and hamstring depending movements like sumo and conventional deadlift if proper form and/or low back injury is a concern.
Trap Bar Deadlift Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
Below are four 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 coach and athletes loose recommendations for programming.
Movement Integrity – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
The trap bar deadlift can be used for beginner lifters who may lack the postural awareness for more advanced movements like sumo and conventional deadlifts. 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 (it can also be a good way to add quality muscle in the development stages instead of losing valuable training time to teaching more complicated lifts. Rather, you can begin to build muscles as soon as possible and then work more technique driven lifts afterwards).
- 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
Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
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 moves. With the trap bar deadlift, you are often able to lift heavier loads than you would with any other deadlift variation, therefore using it as a way to increase training volume (when programmed accordingly).
- 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 45-90 seconds
Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
The trap bar deadlift can be used to increase leg drive and upper back/trapezius, and grip strength; all of which can enhance overall pulling strength. Generally speaking, athletes can lift slightly more weight than they would for a standard deadlift (conventional or sumo), making this a great way to overload a lifter’s neural systems and boost confidence with less stress place on the lower back (due to a more upright torso angle).
- 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions with heavy loading, resting as needed
Muscle Endurance- Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
High rep training can increase muscle endurance and improve a lifter’s resistance to metabolic build-up and acidity due to high intensity training. Athletes who rely on muscular endurance, such as cyclists, runners, and even fitness competitors may benefit from performing high rep base trap bar deadlift to better resist lower body and middle/upper back fatigue.
- 2-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions with light to moderate loads, keeping rest periods under 30-45 seconds
Trap Bar Deadlift Variations
Below are four trap bar variations that coaches and athletes can do to increase sports specificity, boost strength and power, and increase movement integrity in the trap bar deadlift.
Deficit Trap Bar Deadlift
The deficit trap bar deadlift is done by having a lifter stand on a pair of plates or a short box (1-3 inches). By performing trap bar deadlifts on a deficit, you increasing the knees for a deeper starting position (deep knee and hip angles). The deeper angles create a higher demand on the quadriceps, glutes, and the hamstrings. In addition, this can be helpful to those lifters who lack back/leg strength off the floor in a deadlift.
Jumping Trap Bar Deadlift
The jumping trap bar is a plyometric alternative to the trap bar deadlift that can increase the rate of force production and power output of a lifter/athlete. Simply have the lifter assume a trap bar deadlift setup, and when ready, stand up aggressively and end with a hard jump, land in the same place, and repeat).
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 fibers as they i 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 to a lifter. This can be helpful for a wide variety of reasons (like increasing technical awareness, positional strength, and muscle coordination, just to name a few).
For example, a coach may want a lifter to lower (eccentric phase) the trap bar deadlift at a pace of two seconds, then pausing for two seconds on the ground, in a contracted state (isometric), and then explode upwards as fast as possible (and resetting at the top of the lift for 2 seconds before beginning the next eccentric phase); for a total of 8 repetitions. The workout would then read, Tempo (22X2) trap bar deadlift deadlift x 8 reps
Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives
Below are three trap bar deadlift alternatives that often can be used interchangeably within training to add quality muscle loading and stimulus to an athlete while still allowing for variety in one’s programming.
The sumo deadlift is a good alternative to the trap bar deadlift due to the hip and knee angles that a lifter assumes in the set up and pull. While a lifter clearly has a wider stance in the sumo deadlift, the quadriceps and glutes work to a higher degree than a conventional deadlift (much like in the trap bar deadlift). Additionally, a lifter must maintain a strong and rigid upper back and torso as the angle of the spine in the trap bar and teh sumo deadlift are more vertical than a conventional deadlift.
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 of coordination, which can produce the barbell or trap bar to rotate or twist the lifter as he/she descend or ascends. Not only is this dangerous to spinal health, is also suggests muscle coordination/movement and/or muscular development (asymmetrical) issues.
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, however almost similar to the trap bar deadlift. In doing so, like the trap bar deadlift, the clean deadlift can increase glute, hamstring, and quadriceps strength specific to the sport movement. It is for this reason that the trap bar deadlift and the clean deadlift can be seen as very similar pulling movements for Olympic weightlifters.
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