The deadlift is an exercise which should sit right at the top of your exercise program.
Many would argue that it’s the single most important compound lift of them all.
It also has the unique asset of being the only exercise which sees us go full He-Man, as we line up in front of the bar making a deal with the heavens that we’re either going to pull it or go straight to hell trying.
I’ve seen guys distort their faces until they resemble a bust sofa, and women shriek like they’ve just been told their best friend has started selling Herbalife products, all in the name of getting that bar from floor to hip.
Why do we do it?
Because the view from the top of a heavy deadlift is spectacular.
By gym comparison, the only thing I can compare it to is scaling the summit of Everest.
You see, you don’t just do deadlifts. You conquer them.
It’s the ultimate exercise for finding out just how far you have come, and releasing all of those underlying anger issues that would otherwise see you deliver a flying headbutt to that motherfucker at your work who keeps telling you the calorie count of every food that goes near your mouth.
So now that you’ve got an idea of my unhealthy obsession with deadlifts, how would you like a tip that will increase your deadlift max?
Of course! Right?
That would be more awesome than the tank vs helicopter battle from Rambo 3.
But today’s tip is not a variation in technique or grip positioning (both of these will be featured in upcoming articles, so get on my email list at the end of today’s piece), instead it focuses on a long-forgotten piece of equipment:
The trap bar.
The funny-looking hexagonal shaped thing which often just sits in the corner of most gyms, unused by the masses.
The next time you go to the gym, I want you to dig it out.
Respect The Hex
As I wrote in a recent article for Personal Trainer Magazine:
“If you like deadlifting with heavy weights, you will fall in love with trap bar deadlifts.”
Because once you break this bad boy out during a session, you’ll never want to put it away.
In fact, the next time you see it gathering dust in the corner, you’ll look at the gym staff like they just shit in your shaker.
Most gym-lovers are a bit scared of the trap bar, given it’s unusual shape and the fact nobody else seems to use it, but you needn’t be afraid.
It’s actually a really great piece of kit, and most of my clients use it.
You see, a trap bar deadlift has been shown to increase your max by 10%.
- Quick note: If you are new to deadlifting, check out my video guide on How To Deadlift For Beginners. Yes, I took the time to make a YouTube vid. Go me.
Also known as a hex bar due to its hexagonal shape, this great piece of kit allows you to place your hands in a neutral position and center the weight across your entire body, as opposed to pulling something that’s in front of you, like you would with a regular deadlift.
In doing so, you can generate more force.
Check out the differences:
- Video 1: Barbell Deadlift demo
- Video 2: Trap Bar Deadlift demo
Trap Bar Deadlift Vs Regular Deadlift
A recent study from Robert Gordon University discovered that using a hex bar resulted in a 10% increase on the deadlift. (1)
10% is a lot when we’re talking about what is typically your heaviest lift in the gym.
To put this into perspective, think an extra 5kg for every 50kg you can currently lift.
So, if your current max is 200kg, you can expect to reach nearer the 220kg mark by incorporating the trap bar deadlift into your training routine.
That’s the kind of increase which is as satisfying as saving money on supplements, right?
Why The Trap Bar Deadlift Works So Well
So you may be wondering:
“How can a switch in bar result in such a big increase then?”
Well, there’s no voodoo at work here. The increase is the result of the two very small changes which are forced upon you by the bar (grip position and weight load spread).
By centering gravity and neutral hand positioning, there are a couple of extra factors which will come into play.
First up, you will always find it easier to pull heavy objects when your hands are in a neutral-grip. It’s basic human physiology.
And by centering the gravity of the lift, your quadriceps become a much bigger player in the exercise. As the weight is much closer to the central line of your body, quad involvement is automatically increased.
Interestingly, it was also discovered that using a hex bar places less stress on the lower back.
Again, this is to do with the fact that we have a better distribution of the weight across our entire body, as opposed to pulling from in front.
A New King?
Does that mean you should remove barbell deadlifts from your routine and focus on trap bar deadlifts instead?
Hang on a minute, cowboy.
Think back to my recent post where I showed you that box squats will generate more power than regular barbell squats.
In that post, I explained that you shouldn’t remove regular squats from your training plan, because while box squats do allow you to go heavier in weight, regular squats will hit a ton of muscles that box squats miss.
The same can be said for trap bar deadlifts vs regular deadlifts.
The regular barbell deadlift should continue to be the main form of deadlift in your training routine, this is simply another tool you can use in your quest to boost your overall deadlift strength (much like you’d use stiff leg deadlifts and/or sumo deadlifts).
Bring trap bar deadlifts into the mix whenever you hit a stumbling block, and it will get your results moving in the right direction.
And that’s a great thing!
If you want some tips on the technique of a trap bar deadlift, here’s a great guide from Rob King.
- Swinton, P. A., et al. A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):2000-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73f87.