Which is better for building muscle and strength: the trap bar deadlift or the traditional barbell deadlift?
And if you only train trap bar deadlifts – are you missing out?
While the two exercises and the muscles they work are similar, there are still some differences. In this post, I’ll go over thirteen benefits of trap bar deadlifts compared to conventional deadlifts.
1. You Can Lift Heavier Weights
Most people find that they can deadlift heavier loads with a trap bar – also known as hex bar – compared to a straight barbell. After getting used to it, the difference usually amounts to something like 5–10% heavier weight with the trap bar.
This is when using the low handles, which are at the same height as a normal barbell. You can lift even more when using the high handles.
Being able to lift heavier weight doesn’t always mean that an exercise is superior to another. But when it happens because of a more advantageous center of gravity and better muscle work distribution between joints, it probably is. Both of these are the case in the trap bar deadlift compared to the traditional deadlift.
2. Less Stress on Your Lumbar Spine
The traditional deadlift places a heavy emphasis on your posterior chain, especially your lower back, because the barbell is in front of your body. This makes the conventional barbell deadlift a great exercise for strengthening your lumbar spine, but it can put brakes on your lower body training if you are currently dealing with low back pain. The trap bar deadlift moves some of the load away from your back and hips and instead onto your legs.1
The trap bar also allows for a more upright torso position when lifting, leading to even less strain on your lumbar spine. This can make the trap bar deadlift a safer alternative if you have issues with low back pain.
3. Easy To Lift With Good Form
For some people, learning the conventional straight bar deadlift is a breeze. For others, their body proportions make it way more difficult. In this situation, the trap bar deadlift is a great alternative. The neutral grip and the design that places the center of gravity in line with your feet instead of in front of your body puts you in a better position to lift with proper form and makes it easier for you to keep a neutral spine.
For beginners, the trap bar deadlift is often easier to learn than the straight bar deadlift. Most beginners can actually start training in their first session instead of practicing the technique for weeks.
4. Your Quad Muscles Are Worked More
Compared to the conventional deadlift, the trap bar deadlift work your leg muscles more. And especially your quadriceps.2 This makes the trap bar deadlift a good option for general leg development if you can’t or don’t want to train barbell squats, for instance.
5. One Lower Body Exercise To Rule Them All
If you could only train one single lower body exercise, the trap bar deadlift wouldn’t be a bad choice. This is because it works most of the large muscle groups of your lower body while still training your lower back.
Sure – you probably won’t maximize your muscle growth in either your legs, glutes, or back by only using a single exercise, but you would get a lot of bang for your buck. If your goal isn’t to maximize your lower body strength or muscle but rather to get as good a return on your training investment as possible, trap bar deadlifts remain an excellent option for training a lot of muscle with only one exercise.
6. Adjustable Between High and Low Handles
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the trap bar is that you can choose between using the high or low handles.
- The high handles makes it easier for a beginner or a tall person to get into a good starting position. Some people might begin their deadlift training using the high handles and later progress to the low handles, while others might train with the high handles their whole training career.
- The low handles are placed at the same height as the center of the weight plates, just like on a traditional straight barbell. This forces you to get into a lower starting position and thus leads to a greater range of motion. The low handles are a great alternative for shorter people, or people flexible enough to still maintain a good starting position.
7. Greater Power Output
If power development is your training goal, the trap bar deadlift might be a better choice than the conventional deadlift.
One research study had participants proficient in the deadlift test their strength and power in conventional and trap bar deadlifts. Besides lifting 11 kg (6%) heavier loads with the trap bar, they also accelerated the weight faster and produced 28% more power.3
8. Good For Higher Vertical Jump
Weightlifting exercises such as the high pull have been used for decades to increase vertical jumping ability. One drawback of these exercises is that they can require much technical practice to learn. In comparison, simply doing vertical jumps while holding a weight in your hands is technically simple and easy to learn.
One research study had participants train either:
- Hang high pull with a straight bar
- Loaded jump squats with a trap bar
Both groups used loads optimized for power output.
After 10 weeks of training, both groups had improved their vertical jump (CMJ) to a similar degree, with a slight benefit to the trap bar group in the squat jump.4
9. No Hyperextending Your Lumbar Spine at The Top
A common mistake in the traditional deadlift is to hyperextend the spine at the top. This means that you lean backward in an attempt to inch the barbell a little higher in the top. This is especially common in powerlifting competitions where you need to fully lock out a weight to get it approved.
Hyperextension in the top of a deadlift, however, might increase your risk of injury to your back and should probably be avoided for the most part. With a hexagonal bar (a trap bar), hyperextension in the top is less likely as you don’t need to pull the bar up against your thighs, and this risk is thus avoided.
10. Your Grip Strength Won’t Be As Limiting
Grip strength can be an issue in the regular deadlift. Most people have to use either a mixed grip, hook grip, or lifting straps to hold on to the bar. The neutral grip handles of the trap bar mean that the bar is no longer trying to roll out of your hands, and as a result, your grip strength will no longer be as much of a limiting factor. This means that you can train your back and leg muscles harder before your grip gives out.
Read more: How to Grip the Bar When You’re Deadlifting
11. No More Scraped Shins
Some people wear their barbell-scraped shins as a badge of honor. Others would rather keep their shins (and leggings) intact, and therefore want to avoid repeatedly pulling a knurled barbell against them every deadlift workout.
If your shins are in the way in the straight bar deadlift and you want to save them from the scraping, the trap bar is a great alternative.
12. No Mixed Grip Imbalances
Because of the neutral position of the handles, any risk of mixed grip imbalances from the traditional straight bar deadlift is eliminated. Of course, you could work around this by using lifting straps for your conventional barbell deadlifts, but then you would miss out on all your grip training.
13. Less Risk of a Bicep Tear
Bicep tears during deadlifts are uncommon, but when it happens, it is usually the result of lifting heavy weight with a mixed grip. Since trap bar deadlifts are done with a neutral grip, the risk of a bicep tear is probably greatly reduced.
To reduce the risk of bicep tears even further, make sure to hold onto the bar with straight arms. No bent elbows!
Are Trap Bar Deadlifts Better Than Straight Bar Deadlifts?
It depends on your goal. Trap bar deadlifts work your leg muscles more than conventional deadlifts, but the latter work your lower back more. If you’re only going to do one lower body exercise, the trap bar deadlift offers slightly more complete lower body training than the conventional deadlift.
However, if you also train the squat, you are already getting plenty of training for your quad muscles, and the extra posterior focus of the conventional deadlift might be advantageous.
If you compete in powerlifting, you probably want to do at least some conventional straight bar deadlift training leading up to a competition. But if you much prefer the trap bar deadlift, you can probably use it for much of your deadlift training in your off-season.
The trap bar has many benefits and is a wonderful training tool to have at your disposal. Ultimately, which deadlift variant you should train comes down to your personal goals and preferences. Hopefully, this article gave you food for thought in determining which variant is better for you.
And remember: things don’t have to be black and white – you can switch between the two every training cycle if you wish.
- How to Deadlift: Technique, Training, and Gaining
- Trap Bar Deadlift With Low Handles: Muscles Worked & Technique
- How to Get Stronger, Part 1: The Beginner
- J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):2000-9. A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2016 May;30(5):1183-8. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells.
- Sports (Basel). 2017 Dec; 5(4): 82. Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jan;33(1):17-24. Comparison of the Hang High Pull and Loaded Jump Squat for the Development of Vertical Jump and Isometric Force-Time Characteristics.