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Though they’re not found in every gym, the hex bar might be one of the most underrated pieces of equipment out there. They’re often thought of as fairly one-dimensional, but the truth is that they’re actually quite versatile. Seven excellent movement variations you can do with the hex bar are listed below.
This is the first one everybody normally thinks of. The great thing about this variation is that it’s a cross between a squat and a traditional deadlift, giving you the best features of each. Simply just stand inside the bar, grabbing the handles with your head up, chest spread, and butt down.
At this point, attempt to jump. Of course, you won’t actually be jumping, but using this mental cue will have you hitting nearly perfect form. This is because when you jump, your head and chest stay up as you thrust with the hips and extend the hips, knees, and ankles. All of these are what you want to do with a hex bar deadlift. Read our comparison of the trap bar deadlift vs straight bar deadlift here.
After deadlifts, the next best movement you can do with a hex bar is farmer’s walk. The great thing about this variation is that you can really pile on the weight, and unlike other implements such as dumbbells, the bar won’t rub on your thighs as you walk, which can make things a little unstable or awkward.
Performing the farmer’s walk is pretty straightforward. Stand inside the bar, deadlift it to the standing position, and start walking. Try to keep your shoulders back as much as possible to emphasize squeezing the rear delts and help posture. Just be wary of where you do this at, as it could be dangerous in a crowded gym setting.
Doing overhead presses with a hex bar can be a great way to get an excellent stretch in the shoulders and traps. At the same time, using a parallel grip keeps your elbows pointing in front of you instead of out to the sides. This is actually a preferable anatomical position for the shoulder joint, greatly reducing the risk of injury.
The biggest issues with this is setup, as the sleeves where you actually load the weights are what will have to sit on the hooks when you put the bar in a rack. This can make actually loading / unloading weight plates awkward. Be sure to experiment with this variation first, as the handles on some hex bars can be a bit too wide for some lifters to press overhead comfortably.
The handle spacing and parallel grip on most hex bars can be virtually ideal for inverted rows and / or pullups. This is especially true since many pullup stations don’t have parallel handles, and doing inverted rows with such a grip usually requires the use of a suspension trainer. All you have to do is set up your bar in a rack at the appropriate height upside down, grab it, and start pulling.
The hex bar is about the ideal piece of equipment to do shrugs with. The handles being at your sides allows you to keep your shoulders back to hit the traps more, and they’re usually just wide enough that they don’t rub on your body like a barbell or pair of dumbbells can. Just step inside the bar, deadlift it to the standing position, and start shrugging.
One form tweak to consider is to keep your elbows pointed back as much as possible. This will really emphasize the lower traps and whole upper back. Leaning your head (or even your entire torso) slightly forward can exacerbate this even more. Just don’t get carried away – leaning too far forward can put your shoulders in position to potentially get injured.
Shoulder and elbow issues prevent many lifters from doing any sort of barbell bench or floor press without pain. This discomfort is most often alleviated when the elbows are tucked near the sides and / or the hands are in a neutral grip. Usually, the only way to do this is to use dumbbells. However, bench or floor pressing with the hex bar is another option.
The good thing about this variation is that it can be more stable than dumbbells (just be sure you’re gripping the handles dead in the center). When you’re more stable, you’re then able to lift more weight. The only real issue is that of loading the bar with it in the rack, such as discussed with the overhead press above.
Both of these options are usually done much lighter and for slightly higher reps (e.g. – 8-12 reps vs 4-6 or 6-8 reps) than other deadlift variations. This is because the legs don’t bend during movement execution and emphasis is put on the lower back and hamstrings.
While they’re great exercises, the problem you can run into is that when bending forward with a straight bar, the bar can end up quite a bit forward of your body’s center line. This radically reduces your leverage and puts way more stress on your lower back. Both of these can increase the chance of injury.
However, when doing stiff legged or romanian deadlifts with a hex bar, the weight is going to tend to stay closer to your body’s center line, which improves leverage and reduces the chance of injury. Romanian deadlifts are going to work a little better, as you keep your knees bent a little more and butt further back. This will naturally bring the weight closer to you, but the hex bar will put your body in an overall more comfortable position.
Truth be told, you could about do an entire routine with a hex bar, eliminating the need for a straight bar all together. Some exercises would be more effort than others (e.g. – overhead and bench presses), but the deadlifts, farmers walks, inverted rows and pullups you could do would more than make up for it. Don’t underestimate keeping the weight nearer to your center line or the improved leverage / body mechanics that comes with using a parallel grip. Both keep you less likely to injure yourself and able to use more weight.