Trap Bar Deadlift Vs Squat – A Scientific Guide

The trap bar (or hex bar) deadlift and squat are both exercises that can be used to build lower body strength. But which one is better for you? In this article, we’ll take a look at both exercises, which muscles they work, and considerations for each, so you can decide which one is best for you. 

Trap Bar deadlift Vs Squat

The main differences between the trap bar deadlift and squat, are (1) the movement patterns, (2) loading demands and (3) the equipment lifted. The trap bar deadlift, requires you to lift a trap or hex bar from the ground in a hip-hinge movement pattern using muscles mainly from your posterior chain whereas the squat, requires you to lift either a dumbbell, kettlebell or barbell typically in front of your chest or on your back in a squat movement pattern using mainly the quads, glutes and abductor muscles. 

We’ll break that down in more detail below:

Movement Pattern

The trap bar deadlift is a “hip hinge” movement pattern, as it involves a greater amount of bending at the hip (hip flexion) when compared to bending at the knee (knee flexion) whereas the squat is a “squat” movement pattern, as it involves relatively the same amount of bending at both the hip and knee (hip and knee flexion). 

Loading Demands

The trap bar deadlift involves picking the weight off the floor whereas the for the squat, the barbell is placed on the back of the shoulders, making it an axial-loaded exercise, which can place compressive and shearing forces on the vertebrae and spine. 

Due to the hinging nature of the trap bar deadlift, it predominantly works muscles mainly from your posterior chain when compared to the squat, which works the quads, glutes and abductor muscles. 

Equipment used

The trap bar deadlift uses a trap bar or hex bar, where the athlete stands inside a hexagonal shape framed bar, grips “high” handles at either side of the frame where they must then pull it off the ground. In comparison, for the squat, athletes can either lift a dumbbell, kettlebell or standard barbell which is typically held in front of your chest or on your back throughout the lift. 

Joints worked and ranges of motion

To understand the difference, firstly we must understand what joints and muscles are being used.

JointTrap bar deadlift ROMSquat ROM
Hip (flexion-extension)Mid-highMid-high
Knee (flexion-extension)MidHigh
Ankle (flexion-extension)MinimalLow

Muscles worked during a Trap Bar deadlift

The main muscles worked during the trap bar deadlift are:

  • Posterior chain: This includes the glutes, hamstrings and erector spinae muscles.
  • Lats, traps and back muscles: moderately active throughout as used to stabalise the back muscles.
  • Quadriceps: depending on bloody shape, they will be most active when pulling the trap-bar of the floor. 
  • Core: The muscles in the core stabalise the trunk and spine.  

Muscles worked during a Squat

The main muscles worked in a squat are: 

  • Quadriceps: They are the prime movers for the downwards (eccentric) and upwards (concentric) phase of the squat. 
  • Glutes: These work the most (maximally recruited) when at the bottom position of the squat. 
  • Abductors and adductors: These aid stability during the lift. 
  • Erector spinae: This muscle helps maintain an upright trunk position. 
  • Core: The muscles in the core stabalise the trunk and spine.  

Considerations when choosing between trap bar deadlift and a squat

Considerations for strength

Both the trap bar deadlift and squat can be loaded to build lower limb strength, if performed at 83+% of the athletes squat 1RM working between 4-6 repetitions of 3-5 sets. Although, the trap bar deadlift tends to be more effective at building strength in your posterior chair whereas the the squat tends to be more effective at building muscle in the quads, glutes and adductors.

Considerations for power

Variations of the trap bar deadlift and squat can be used to improve power (or what we would prefer to call rate of force development), if performed with maximum intent with moderate load.

Trap bar jumps at  30-40% of the deadlift 1RM is one variation of the trap bar deadlift that Boxing in Science has found can improve the maximum rate of force development, check our their article here.

Pin squats, a variation of the squat can be used to improve the rate of force development. The most common start position for this lift is resting the bar on the pins when your thighs are parallel to the ground in a squat position, which takes away the pre-tension in the muscles, and creates a greater demand for a higher rate of force development.  

Other training considerations

Safety: Both the trap bar deadlift and squat can place stress upon the lumbar spine, so good technique must be focused on. 

Level of complexity: Both exercises are complex compound lifts, but the trap bar deadlift is considered an “easier” lift than the squat to learn and perform, this is because most athletes find it more of a natural movement and requires less range of movement than a squat. 

Commonly asked questions

Are trap bar deadlifts better than squats?

Both can fit within the programme – you don’t necessarily have to choose one over the other as they target different muscles.

If you had to choose, then it depends on which one meets the athletes outcome and needs. For example, if an athlete is looking to increase the strength in their posterior chain, then the trap bar deadlift may be better whereas if an athlete is looking to increase the strength in their quads, glutes and adductors, then the squat may be better. 


At the end of the day, both the trap bar deadlift and squat are solid choices of exercise for lower body development. The best exercise for you mainly comes down to your goals, which muscles you want to target the most, and which exercise feels the best for you as an individual.

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