The debate between the trap bar deadlift and the barbell (conventional in this case) deadlift continues, as I break down the benefits and purpose of both based upon the goals, sport, and previous history of a lifter/individual. By assessing the needs and sport and/or fitness demands of a lifter, coaches and athletes can best determine what deadlift variation (trap bar or barbell deadlift) is best suited for their optimal performance and injury prevention.
[Read our ultimate guide to the trap bar deadlift!]
Here are some general benefits of many pulling movements (from the floor), especially the trap bar deadlift and the barbell conventional deadlift.
- Increase hip, hamstring, and back strength
- Enhance muscles development of the posterior chain (PC)
- Improved PC strength and development can be better transitioning into power, speed, and explosive athletic movements.
Here is an overview of that muscles can be developed by conventional and trap bar deadlifts (in no specific order).
- Hamstrings (to a lesser extent during the trap bar deadlift)
- Erectors (to a lesser extent during the trap bar deadlift)
- Grip and Arms
- Quadriceps (to a lesser extent during the conventional deadlift)
The Barbell Deadlift Demo
While the barbell deadlift can be referring to ANY deadlift variation done with a barbell (sumo, conventional, Zercher, etc), I will be referring to the conventional deadlift here, as this is often the most widely embrace movement.
The above demo video describes how to perform the barbell deadlift (conventional) by elite deadlifter/powerlifter, Ed Coan.
The Trap Bar Deadlift Demo
In an earlier article we discussed the trap bar deadlift (also called the trap bar squat?!). Below is the demo video on how to perform the trap bar deadlift by Mark Bell.
Which One Should You Do?
Below are some general guidelines for various sport athletes, goals, and individuals.
With many individuals training to become leaner, healthier, and function better throughout daily life, I wanted to address this demographic first as I often skip over and go right into athletics.
For general fitness, diversifying one’s strength, muscle hypertrophy, endurance, and neuromuscular system/movement patterns is key. Therefore, I highly suggest lifters embrace each, being sure to take the time to develop both movement patterns. When starting out, the trap bar deadlift may be a less intensive way of performing deadlifts, however learning to properly hinge at the hip with a rigid spine, engage and develop the hamstrings, and properly pattern the conventional deadlift is key as well. Therefore, including movements such as Romanian deadlifts and/or light, technical driven conventional deadlifts can be a great way to integrate oneself into heavier pulls.
Both pulling movements have their benefits (listed above) at increasing muscle mass, strength, and neural activity. Unfortunately, both movements have low application to the specific patterning in the snatch and clean & jerk.
Many lifters perform snatch/clean pulls rather than deadlifts, as these movements shadow the specific angles, bar velocities, and techniques necessary for heavy cleans and snatches in one’s training. Performing trap bar and/or conventional deadlifts in a training program can increase loading volume and stress placed upon the spine and surrounding muscle tissues, and is often suggested to program conservatively, especially is the lifter is performing snatch and clean pulls on a regular basis (for the sake of loading and training volume on the body).
[Here’s why conventional deadlifts aren’t the same as clean pulls!]
The conventional (or sumo) deadlift is a specific task for powerlifters, and should be highly emphasized in training to develop proper technical mastery, bar velocities and mechanics, and strength. With that said, many top level powerlifters diversify their pulling programs by including any and all variations they can think of. Wide grips, fat grips, chains, bands, off blocks, from racks; the list goes on.
I do feel that the inclusion of the trap bar can increase overall performance, as it can be a systematic way to supramaximal load a lifter (often lifters can lift more weight relatively than the conventional deadlift). The conventional (or sumo, depends on their deadlifting choice) should be trained regardless to maximally increase muscle mass an injury resilience.
Competitive athletes must have the ability to showcase strength in a magnitude of movements and ranges. Unlike powerlifters, strongmen and strongwomen must display their pulling capacities in a wide array of movements (car pulling/deadlifting, axle deadlifts, log deadlifts, rack pulls, stones, etc).
For such reasons, I truly feel that both of these movements can be used equally, in addition to other deadlift variations, as the goal of most athletes is to increase universal pulling strength, not necessarily strength in one specific pulling movement (as often seen in powerlifting).
CrossFit and Competitive Fitness Athletes
The amount of pulling movements within most WODs and competitions can be staggering at times. Deadlifts, clean and jerks, snatches, kettlebell swings, etc. Add in high intensity time domains, loading, and training volume, and you have one hell of a training stress.
I firmly believe that many of these athletes would benefit from performing trap bar deadlifts over barbell (conventional) deadlifts in supplemental training, as this will increase strength of the glutes, hamstrings, and middle/upper back while allowing the lumbar muscles to not get overly taxed. Additionally, increasing specificity with one’s supplemental training program could allow for other movements, such as Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and even barbell glute bridges all to increase muscular hypertrophy and activation in lesser used, generally weaker/disconnected muscle groups.
That said, barbell deadlifts do hold a place in training, especially since they are often seen in competitive workouts and events.
Lifters with Previous Injuries (Lumbar Spine)
Before starting any physical training program, be sure to check with your doctor first, and seek out local help for proper rehabilitation and re-patterning following a spinal injury.
The trap bar deadlift offers us a pulling variation that can target many of the similar muscle groups as the conventional, however has been shown to decrease the amount of spinal loading and stress on the lumbar vertebrae, specifically due to the increase back/torso angle due to increased knee flexion.
While this is not to say that lifters are invincible on the trap bar deadlift, they do stand slightly higher chance of injury resilience by not placing themselves in vulnerable positions. That said, lifters need to address weaknesses and properly re-pattern the conventional deadlift or even Romanian deadlift to increase the strength in the glutes, hamstrings, and yes, the lower back muscles.
Hopefully this helps clarify your previous comments and questions regarding which deadlift is bet suited for specific goals, previous injuries, and sports. Please comment below with any other topics and/questions, and we can discuss further. In closing, deadlifting is not harmful, but rather poor form, overzealous programming, and lack of respect for heavy weights is. Train smart, have a plan, and have fun.
Featured Image: @mikejdewar in Instagram