4 Trap Bar Exercises That Aren’t Deadlifts

What, you thought the trap bar was just for deadlifts?

The trap bar was originally invented by Al Gerared in the late 1980’s as an easier way to do shoulder shrugs. Hence the name trap from the muscle trapezius. And who doesn’t like training traps, the biceps of the upper back?

But now it’s used for much more.

Trap Bar Benefits

Trap bars today usually have two pairs of handles: one pair projects upwards in a squared D shape from the bar and one pair that’s level with the bar. The bar can be flipped over to make either pair available.

And the stubs (where the weight goes) on either side are at right angles to the handles.

The hex design of the trap bar allows you to step inside the bar — some say the way the bar “traps” you is the origin of its name — and the design aligns the weight with your center of gravity.

This has a few benefits for the experienced and novice lifter alike, such as:

  • Less shear force of the spine because the axis of rotation (lower back/hips) is almost in-line with the load.
  • The neutral grip reduces the strain on the biceps when compared to a mixed grip on a barbell, and it’s easier on the forearms and elbows relative to a pronated or supinated grip.

This is a great tool to have and it can be a godsend for the older lifter who has a few miles on the odometer.

However, if you’re using the trap bar for just squats and deadlifts, you’re selling this versatile piece of equipment short.

Please consider putting these moves in your routine for variety, safer lifting, and strength gains.

[Related: Trap bar vs barbell deadlift, which is better for your goals?]

1. Trap Bar Bent Over Row

Try instead of: Barbell bent over row and the Pendlay row.

Why do it? It takes stress off your lower back and the neutral grip is easier on your elbows. It’s also a great accessory exercise for deadlifts, chin ups, and pull ups.

Sets and reps: This exercise is best used for hypertrophy. Use 3-5 sets, 6-12 reps.

Form tips: Set up in a hinge position like you would for the deadlift. Keep your shoulders away from your ears, chest up and a straight back.

2. Tall Kneeling Shoulder Press

Try instead of: Military press and other barbell shoulder press variations.

Why do it? For a change of pace. The neutral grip is easier on the wrists, elbow and shoulders. It’s also easier for the typical barbell press to cause wrist hyperextension when the weight gets heavy. If there is anything off with your pressing technique, you’ll receive instant feedback because of the tall kneeling position. You’ve been warned.

Sets and reps: The tall kneeling position engages the core area because of the reduced stability. Keep the weight on the lighter side and do reps of between 6-12.

Form tips: Set up in the squat rack and get into a strong tall kneeling position before starting.  Lift with control because of the stability demands.

3. Trap Bar Floor Press

Try instead of: Barbell and dumbbell floor press variations.

Why do this? The floor press is easier on the shoulders as the floor stops them going into excess external rotation. Combined with the neutral grip, it’s easier on the entire upper body. Plus, you can load this up more than the typical dumbbell floor press, which is great for strength and hypertrophy.  

Sets and reps: For strength, keep the sets high (4-5) and the reps low (3-6); for muscle, keep the sets low (2-3) and the reps high (6-12).

Form tips: Again, set this up in the squat rack. The D handles make this more of a challenge, so lift with the flat handles to begin with.

4. Suitcase carries

Try instead of: Dumbbell suitcase carries and trap bar carries.

Why do this? Definitely for a change of pace and for adding some variety with your carries. You’re not limited with the weight you use, unlike dumbbells that only go so high, and it’s easier to balance than a barbell.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 40 yards on each side

Form tips: Stand the trap bar up on its side for an easier start, finish and for switching sides. Keep your shoulders down, level with each other and keep your chest up.

Wrapping up

When your body needs a break from the barbell training due to injury or fatigue, the trap bar can b a great option. It adds variety and gives the lower back a break while still reaping the benefits heavy lifting.

And don’t forget to throw in some shrugs to make your traps happy.

Featured image via Dr. Joel Seedman on YouTube.

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

Leave a Comment