In this article, we will explore what the trap bar deadlift is, the benefits and the muscles worked during this exercise. We will also discuss how to perform the trap bar deadlift correctly, including proper form and technique.
What is the trap bar deadlift?
The trap bar deadlift, also known as the hex bar deadlift, is a variation of the traditional deadlift. It involves standing inside a hexagonal bar, with the hands positioned at the side of the body and standing up with the bar. This setup allows you to maintain a more upright posture, which reduces the stress on the back and hips and instead places the load onto the quads, more than a conventional deadlift.
The trap bar deadlift is a compound lift, that is a great introductory lift for athletes new to compound lifts as it is considered an “easier” lift to learn and perform when compared to other compound lifts such as the conventional deadlift and squat.
The trap bar deadlift is a “squatty” hinge movement pattern (more on this later on), which again, places more emphasis on the quads, but also works the glutes, hamstrings, erectors, trapezius and back muscles.
How to perform the trap bar deadlift?
Step 1: The Set Up
Stand inside of the trap bar and place your feet directly inline with the handles around hip-width apart, with your toes pointing forwards.
To get into the ‘squatty-hinge’ position, have a soft bend in your knees, push your hips back to hinge (i.e. imagine you have draws behind you that your closing with your bottom), and then bend your knees until your hands meet the handles of the bar – your hips should be lower than your shoulders, with a flat back and neutral head position.
Grip the handles of the bar – you can choose from the high or low handles, we would recommend high handles for an athlete learning how to perform this exercise. Take a big deep breath, brace at the core and progressively pull the slack out of the bar (i.e. ‘create tension’) before moving to make sure you are bracing and maintain good posture.
Step 2: Lift off
Initiate the movement with your quads, and push the floor away with your legs to stand up until you get into an upright standing position with the bar, and pause at the top for a moment.
When standing up, make sure your hips and shoulders rise at the same time. In the top position, have a neutral pelvis and spine position with the weight evenly distributed across the body.
Step 3: The Lower & Re-Set
Control the weight to the floor by bending at the hips and knees. Once the weight is back on the floor, breathe out.
Take a second to re-set by taking another big deep breath, brace at the core and progressively pull the slack out of the bar.
What muscles does the trap bar deadlift work?
The primary muscles worked during the trap bar deadlift include the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and back musculature.
The glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps are responsible for extending the hips and knees to lift the weight. The trap bar deadlift targets the quadriceps to a higher degree than the hamstrings due to the increased bent knee position in the set up, which places more demand on the quadriceps throughout the lift.
The greater muscle activation of the quadriceps (specifically, the vastus lateralis muscle) when compared to the hamstrings (specifically, the biceps femoris muscle) and erector spinae during the trap bar deadlift has been demonstrated in a study of EMG data by Kevin Camara and colleagues in 2016, which can be seen below.
This demonstrates that the trap bar deadlift is a good exercise if you want to place slightly more emphasis on the quads (similar to front squats) whilst also working the posterior chain (hamstrings, erector spinae etc) muscles in a hinge movement pattern.
The back muscles the trap bar deadlift works include the erector spinae and the trapezius. These muscles work to maintain proper posture and stabilise the spine during the lift.
The trap bar deadlift targets several secondary mover muscles due to the nature of the lift being a compound lift, these include the trunk musculature, latissimus dorsi, adductors, gastrocnemus and solaus. It also requires stabilisation from the transverse abdominis, gluteus medius, quadratus lumborum and rotator cuff muscles.
How does the trap bar deadlift compare to other deadlift exercises?
The trap bar deadlift is moderate in technical demand and allows an athlete to lift a large amount of weight when compared to over deadlift variations such as the conventional deadlift, Romanian deadlift and single leg deadlift variations.
The trap bar deadlift is moderate in technical demand, but lower when compared to other deadlift variations such as the conventional deadlift, Romanian deadlift and single leg variations.
This is because of the set up position (i.e. hands at side of body, centre of gravity in line with the feet, upright posture), which puts you in an advantageous position to maintain the correct technique – in our experience of working with development athletes, we’ve found athletes typically *click* with this exercise, they can hit the ground running with this exercise from their first session.
This is in comparison to the conventional deadlift, Romanian deadlift and single leg variations, which typically takes longer to learn and can be more challenging to maintain the correct technique.
This is because the conventional and Romanian deadlift requires your hands to grip the bar in front of your body which makes it more demanding to maintain a flat back. Single leg deadlift variations can be considered more technically demanding, given balance and stability add an extra element of complexity.
The trap bar deadlift typically allows you to lift more weight when compared to other deadlift variations.
We’ve found this in our day-to-day experiences of coaching development athletes, who can lift more performing the trap bar deadlift when compared to other variations, but it has also been evidenced by Swinton et al. (2011) and Lake et al (2017).
They found that males with some lifting experience could lift 5-10% more with the trap bar (low handles) when compared to the conventional deadlift – it’s acknowledged that you can typically lift even more with high handles, indicating the trap bar deadlift is an exercise that can be loaded more than others.
*Side note – this data is presented as an example to demonstrate the difference. The research was conducted in males who had some lifting experience, so take caution when interpreting the 5-10% difference to your context (e.g. athlete, gender, experience level, training history etc).
This is because of the advantageous set up position (i.e. the centre of gravity is in line with the feet, hands at side of body, upright posture), allowing you to drive directly up with the load distributed across the body.
The trap bar deadlift is a great introductory compound lift given that it’s relatively easier to learn and maintain the correct technique. It also provides athletes an opportunity to hit the ground running to load in the first session that the athlete learns the trap bar deadlift.
For some athletes (e.g. rowers), where further down the line I know eventually I will programme the conventional deadlift to support lower limb strength during knee and hip flexion during the drive phase of the rowing stroke, I have first programmed the trap bar deadlift for them to build basic strength whilst they develop movement quality and the control needed to hold a neutral spine during the conventional deadlift.
Given the high load and moderate technical demand, the trap bar deadlift lends its way to being advantageous as a tool to developing lower limb strength, specifically in the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Variations of the trap bar deadlift 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.
For example, trap bar jumps and trap bar high pulls at 30-40% of the deadlift 1RM are two variations of the trap bar deadlift that Boxing in Science has found can improve maximum rate of force development, check out their article here.
We’ve found using the trap bar a safe way to develop rate of force development in developing athletes, where the skill level of these trap bar exercises are lower than olympic weightlifting. This means we can usually perform these exercises to elicit the adaptation we are working towards within a couple of weeks of learning them, whereas olympic weightlifting where the skill to learn the snatch, clean & jerk or derivatives can take multiple months before being able to elicit an adaptation.
What are the 5 benefits of the trap bar deadlift?
There are many benefits, 5 of those benefits include:
- Heavy strength training – The trap bar deadlift allows an athlete to lift a large amount of weight, which lends its way to be advantageous as a tool for heavy strength training to develop lower limb strength, specifically in the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and back musculature.
- Less stress on the lower back – The setup position allows you to maintain a more upright posture, which places the load onto the quads and reduces the stress on the lower back and hips. In addition, the nature of picking the trap bar off the floor rather than having a bar placed on the back, means there is no axial loading of the spine so reduces the stress placed upon it, which may be advantageous for certain athletes.
- Relatively easy to learn & keep good form – Some athletes find the trap bar deadlift relatively eaier to learn and maintain the correct form compared to other compound lifts, this is because the trap bar’s design places the athlete in a more upright position.
- Compound lift – The trap bar deadlift is a compound lift that targets multiple muscle groups, so that it is an efficient way to develop full body strength.
- Concentrically Focused – The trap bar deadlift is primarily a concentric exercise, meaning the lifter only needs to lift the weight, and the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift is minimised. This results in less overall fatigue, making it a great exercise for building strength but minimising fatigue in athletes.
The trap bar deadlift is a fantastic exercise to develop strength in the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and back musculature.
The lift is relatively easy to learn and maintain the correct technique, and allows an athlete to lift a large amount of weight, which has many benefits. These benefits include (1) being a great introductory compound lift, (2) advantageous tool for heavy strength training and rate of force development (3) it places less strain on the lower back and (4) is concentrically focused which minimises fatigue.
- Boxing in Science (2018) – Improve explosiveness with trap bar jumps.
- Camara et al. (2016) – An examination of muscle activation and power characteristics while performing the deadlift exercise with straight and hexaganal barbells.
- Swinton et al. (2011) – A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads.
- Lake et al. (2017) – Effect of a hexagonal barbell on the mechanical demand of deadlift performance.
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Emily, co-founder of Sport Science Insider, graduated from the University of Leeds in 2020 and went on to become an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA in 2022. A former athlete herself, Emily has since gone on to deliver S&C coaching for the Southern Academy of Sport, GB Rowing, GB Taekwondo and works currently as a full-time S&C coach at the University of Leeds.