The Deadlift Variation for Maximizing Strength and Hypertrophy
Considering the number of muscles engaged, the deadlift has to be regarded as one of the most effective resistance exercises for developing full-body strength.
There are many functional deadlift variations that can be utilized to develop specific muscle groups and components of fitness.
One such variation is the trap bar deadlift which uses a hexagonal-shaped barbell rather than a straight bar that is used in the conventional or sumo deadlift.
This article will cover the muscles worked and the technique required to execute the trap bar deadlift before moving onto review the benefits of the exercise.
Trap Bar Deadlift Technique
While this exercise is a deadlift variation, be aware that the trap bar actually places the body in a slightly different position than the conventional deadlift which changes the mechanics of the movement (1).
To effectively perform the trap bar deadlift, use the following 4-step guide.
1) Setting Up
Start by standing in the trap bar, assume a hip-width stance and keep the toes pointed forward.
While a hip-width stance is recommended, physical attributes will dictate your stance. Some lifters with long limbs may find that a wider stance is required to allow them to take up the correct position.
Rather than simply reaching down to the bar, drop down by pushing the hips back while keeping the chest lifted as this will prevent any movement occurring through the spine.
If the correct position is assumed, the shins should be perpendicular to the floor, the back neutrally aligned and the shoulders directly over the bar.
Before initiating the lift, with the bar still in contact with the floor, grip the bar hard, lift the chest, pull the shoulder blades together and actively squeeze the core ab muscles.
The purpose of this is to protect the body from injury and to facilitate an efficient lift. If appropriate bracing is not applied, it is possible that form will breakdown thus increasing the risk of injury.
3) The Drive
To lift the bar from the floor, avoiding thinking about picking the bar off the floor and instead focus on driving the feet through the floor.
Sometimes those who view the deadlift as simply picking the bar from the floor round their spine instead of maintaining a neutral position which can increase the risk of injury.
Therefore, concentrate on the feeling of the knees and hips extending as the feet are firmly driven into the floor.
4) Finish Strong
As you reach the top of the exercise, remember to squeeze the glutes tight and drive the hips forward. At the same time, maintain a core brace to prevent any spinal flexion or extension.
In the standing position, the body should be entirely vertical with the shoulders pulled back and down and the chest lifted high.
Upon reaching this position, reverse the movement in a controlled fashion ensuring that the back remains flat as the bar drops down to the floor.
Trap Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked
The trap bar deadlift targets a multitude of muscles throughout the body and therefore can be considered a highly effective full-body developer.
This section will detail the major muscle groups that are targeted during the trap bar deadlift.
The glutes are the most powerful muscle group in the human body and therefore play a crucial role in a number of strength and power exercises.
Due to the degree of hip flexion performed during the deadlift, the glutes are placed under great demand and play an influential role in bringing the bar up from the floor to the hips.
Therefore, the trap bar deadlift can be considered an effective exercise for developing glute function, strength, and size.
While there are other deadlift variations that more specifically target the hamstrings, such as the Romanian and straight-leg deadlift, there is no doubt that the trap variation effectively works the hamstrings.
The hamstrings are responsible for bringing about hip extension and knee flexion and are heavily involved in the trap bar deadlift as a result.
However, it must be noted that because the trap bar typically places more demand on the quads (due to increased knee flexion), the stress placed on the hamstrings is slightly reduced.
In a similar fashion to the sumo, the trap bar variation targets the quadriceps to a greater degree than a conventional deadlift.
As touched on, a greater amount of knee flexion is typically required for a trap bar deadlift which causes this increased quadriceps activation.
The increased flexion of the knee in the setup causes the trunk to be held in a more upright position which reduces the demand on the hamstrings and lower back.
4) Erector Spinae
The majority of deadlift variations will highly activate the erector spinae; this is because these muscles, which run the length of the back, contract in order to keep the back flat.
The mechanics of the trap bar deadlift does contribute to a decreased demand on these muscles in comparison to other deadlift exercises.
As a result, those who wish to limit the amount of stress placed on the lower back, while still regularly performing pulling exercises, may find it beneficial to use the trap bar variation.
5) Back Muscles
While the decreased back angle has a substantial impact on reducing the load placed on the erector spinae, having the torso in a more upright position may place more of a load on the traps, specifically the mid and upper traps.
The lats are another muscle group of the back that are recruited during the deadlift in order to stabilize the spine.
Trap Bar Deadlift Benefits
The trap bar deadlift can easily be incorporated into a training problem and makes a great substitute for the conventional or sumo deadlift.
Powerlifters, weightlifters, strongman athletes, crossfitters, sports athletes and those looking to improve their general health can experience significant benefits by adding this exercise to their training.
This section will highlight five benefits to allow you to understand why the trap bar deadlift is such an effective exercise for strength, function, and hypertrophy.
1) Improved Pulling Strength
The trap bar deadlift is an excellent exercise choice for developing pulling capabilities or for adding in additional pulling volume.
It can be used as a primary or accessory lift and can contribute towards a better performance with the conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift, front squat and back squat.
In addition, a recent study suggests that the trap bar may be more beneficial than the straight bar for developing force, power, and velocity (2).
The trap bar deadlift is also a great place to start for the beginner and it requires less of a hip hinge – a movement that some beginners can find challenging to begin with.
2) Weightlifting Benefits
For Olympic lifters, the trap bar deadlift can prove to be an effective exercise for facilitating a better clean or snatch as it will effectively build total-body strength.
There are similarities between the first pulls of both the clean and snatch and the trap bar deadlift. The main similarity is in terms of trunk position as all of these exercises place the trunk in a more upright position.
While it should not be used as a replacement for the clean or snatch, adding it into your training as a supplemental lift can be highly beneficial.
3) Reduced Lumbar Stress
The conventional deadlift places a great demand on the spinal erectors, hips, and hamstrings due to the reduce flexion at the knee in the setup.
As reflected on, this makes the trap bar deadlift an effective choice for those who are looking to reduce the demand placed on these muscles.
Many individuals struggle with lower back issues and pain, therefore, there may be times where you need to use the trap bar deadlift in order to reduce the loading on the lower back.
4) Glute and Quad Development
For those who are looking to develop muscle size, the trap bar deadlift will apply a large amount of stress to the quadriceps and glutes.
With appropriate nutrition, these muscles will adapt to the training stimulus and significantly increase in strength and size.
Once again, the reason that the quadriceps and glutes are subject to the greatest amount of stress in the trap bar deadlift is due to the upright position of the trunk.
5) Supramaximal Lifting
For those who are at an advanced level of training, the trap bar deadlift can be loaded supra-maximally and research suggests that a greater load can typically be lifted with a trap bar deadlift (3).
There may be a number of reasons for incorporating supramaximal training. It may allow you to become more accustomed to dealing with heavier loads and overload the nervous system.
This can have a consequent positive impact on your strength capabilities and allow you to more safely and effectively lift heavy loads.
While there are a number of useful deadlift variations, the trap bar deadlift is an excellent exercise for a variety of reasons.
Not only will it significantly develop strength and size, but it can also be a practical choice for those who need to reduce lower back loading.
1 – Swinton, Paul A.; Stewart, Arthur; Agouris, Ioannis; Keogh, Justin W. L.; Lloyd, Ray (2011-07). “A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25 (7): 2000–2009. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73f87. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 21659894.
2 – Camara, Kevin D.; Coburn, Jared W.; Dunnick, Dustin D.; Brown, Lee E.; Galpin, Andrew J.; Costa, Pablo B. (2016-05). “An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 30 (5): 1183–1188. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001352. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 26840440.
3 – Lake, Jason; Duncan, Freddie; Jackson, Matt; Naworynsky, David (October 24, 2017). “Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance”. Sports. 5 (4). doi:10.3390/sports5040082. ISSN 2075-4663. PMC 5969032. PMID 29910442.