8 Joint-Friendly Trap Bar Exercises for Mass

8 Joint-Friendly Trap Bar Exercises for Mass

Why you should use the trap bar

Versatility. In addition to deadlifts and farmer carries, the trap bar (or hex bar) offers a wide array of lesser-known exercises to combat the monotony of your stale workouts.  
Spare your joints. With the weight distributed evenly around your center of mass, the trap bar makes it easier (and safer) to get into optimal positions. Thus, minimizing any of the unwanted joint stress often associated with the straight barbell.
Increase loading potential. You can load more weight onto the trap bar than many conventional exercises performed with dumbbells and kettlebells.
Maximize strength potential. With higher loading comes greater strength gains. For example, the common limiting factor during the deadlift is the lower back. With low back involvement minimized during trap bar deadlifts, and most of the emphasis placed onto the quads given the squat-like movement pattern, it’s not uncommon for lifters to pull more weight with the hex bar over the straight bar (1).

Let’s get to the exercises.

1. Floor Press

The major benefit of the trap bar floor press is it’s easier to set up than the dumbbell variation, which is usually limited unless you have someone handing you the weights.

What’s more, the neutral grip of the handles offers a similar benefit to the Swiss bar, in that it places your shoulders into an externally rotated position. This, in combination with the reduced range of motion, makes for a great shoulder-friendly press variation.

Your grip will also be challenged to a greater extent with the trap bar given the load distribution.

2. RDL

You may have heard bloody shins are an unavoidable consequence of the Romanian deadlift (RDL). While keeping the weight close to your center of mass is important from an injury-preventative standpoint, it doesn’t mean you should use the bar as a cheese grater. Instead, ditch the CrossFit high socks and replace them with the trap bar.

With the handles at your sides, it’s way easier to get into your starting position since it encourages you to reach down as opposed to forward. This is a result of standing inside the weight (with the hex bar), as opposed to behind it (with the straight bar).

3. Overhead Pin Press

Most people don’t have any business overhead pressing with a barbell, given the demanding mobility prerequisites. This half-kneeling variation makes it easier (from a mobility perspective) to press overhead as opposed to a bilateral standing position.

Moreover, the shoulder-saving benefits of the floor press are echoed here given the neutral (palms in) grip of the trap bar.

To add icing to the cake (or salt to the wound depending on how you look at it), pressing from a full stop greatly reduces momentum. This ensures you’re pressing through a full range of motion by providing depth indication and, as a result, increases the intensity of the lift.

4. Pendlay Row

The trap bar Pendlay row is an awesome joint-friendly back-builder to add to your arsenal. It’s similar to the pin press, in that you start and finish each rep from a full stop. Here, the weight is rested either on the floor or a power rack.

The bent over row is commonly associated as a mid-back lift. But when performed in a hinged position, offers an isometric contraction in the lower back as well. This, in effect, can be a limiting factor if you have pre-existing back issues.

Rowing from a full stop (like the Pendlay row) alleviates some of the stress from the lower backsince it’s not constantly under load.

To take it a step further and minimize low back involvement even more, you can perform the same lift by elevating the weight onto spotter arms.

5. Trap Bar Push-Up

Shoulder and wrist pain are occasionally associated with push-ups. Not always, but occasionally. Similar to the floor press, the neutral grip of the trap bar reduces elbow flare(a common contributor to shoulder pain during push-ups). Plus, gripping the handles of the trap bar eliminates the need to extend your wrists and adds an element of grip work into the equation.

You can perform push-ups with the high handles for added range of motion or flip it over and use the low handles for a reduced range of motion. Both are great options depending on your goals.

If you’re like most people and have banged up shoulders from benching all the time, incorporating more push-ups into your routine may be wise. See here for 10 more pec-popping push-up variations.

6. Inverted Row with Trap Bar

Generalizations and broad stroke suggestions rarely work in the gym, but if there’s one thing most people should do more of it’s horizontal rowing exercises. And the inverted row ranks high among the best of ‘em.

Typically, you would perform inverted rows with a straight barbell. The only caveat is you’re limited to either an overhand or underhand grip.

Conversely, the trap bar allows you to row with a neutral (palms in) grip. As noted with the pressing variations, a neutral grip row tends to feel better on the shoulders. Plus, you’ll feel a great contraction in your mid traps and lats.

7. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

After you’ve tried trap bar split squats, you’ll wonder why it’s taken you so long to add themto your training. It’s such a natural fit and allows for higher loading potential than dumbbells. Plus, it just looks badass.

8. Rack Pull to Shrug

Have the trap bar set up on a couple of spotter arms at roughly knee-height. Gripping the low handles firmly in the center with a neutral spine and braced core, deadlift” the weight off the rack explosively and shrug as you extend your hips in one motion. Push your hips back and lower the weight back down to it’s starting position.

This is a killer posterior-chain lift as it incorporates the glutes, hammies, and low back while hammering the upper traps. Go heavy and maintain optimal form.


1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21659894/
Dan North is a personal trainer and strength-and-conditioning specialist in Toronto. He writes for several fitness publications and keeps up with his own blog.