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.
And today I’m going to explain how to use a trap bar (otherwise known as a hex bar) to increase your deadlift max over the course of the next few weeks.
Today’s tip is not a variation in technique nor 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 bar which just sits in the corner of most gyms, unused by the masses.
The next time you go to work on your deadlifts, I want you to dig this bad boy out.
Respecting The Hex
Most gym-goers are a bit scared of the trap bar, given it’s odd 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 on a regular basis.
You see, a trap bar deadlift has been shown to increase your max by 10%!
(So if you deadlift 200kg, you can see a boost of about 20kg.)
Those results are nothing to be sniffed at, right?
The next time you see this thing tucked away gathering dust in the gym cupboard, I expect you’ll stare at the gym staff with the same disgusted expression as if they’d just shit in your shaker.
- 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.
- Video 1: Barbell Deadlift demo
- Video 2: Trap Bar Deadlift demo
Trap Bar Deadlift Vs Regular Deadlift
As mentioned above, using a trap bar can yield as much as a 10% increase in your deadlift.
These were the findings of a recent study from Robert Gordon University. (1)
So you may be wondering:
“How can a switch in bar result in such a big increase?”
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 itself (grip position and weight load spread).
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. This gives you slightly more power coming out of the bottom position.
As if the Everest-like view from the top of a heavy deadlift isn’t already spectacular enough!
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.
Regular deadlifts remain the king of strength exercises, and should continue to be your ‘go to’ choice.
It’s an 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 rip that son of a bitch from the floor or descend 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.
It remains the ultimate barometer 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 pointing out the calorie count of every food you eat.
Think back to my recent post where I showed you box squats generate more power than barbell squats.
In that article, 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 strength when you hit sticking points (much like you’d use stiff leg deadlifts and/or sumo deadlifts to shake up your routine).
Bring trap bar deadlifts into the mix whenever you hit a plateau, and it will get your results moving in the right direction.
About as awesome as the tank vs helicopter battle from Rambo 3.
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.