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If the deadlift has ever been any sort of mainstay of your workout program, chances are you use a “traditional” stance with your feet at roughly shoulder-width and your hands in an “over/under” position, placed outside your legs. On the other hand, if you’ve spent any real time working out with powerlifters, you may have adopted the “Sumo” stance with your feet placed very wide and your “over/under” grip on the bar only having your hands a few inches apart.
But have you ever done the trap bar deadlift? And do you know why it’s often thought of as a sort of “best case hybrid” between the squat and deadlift?
Here’s a look at not only what the trap bar deadlift is, but how it differs from straight bar deadlifts, as well as why it could be a superior alternative.
A trap bar deadlift is, simply put, a deadlift done with a “trap bar”.
The trap bar is the bar in which the center section instead of being straight like a normal bar, is in the shape of a diamond, hexagon, or even just a square. Sometimes also called a “shrug bar”, instead of standing behind the bar as you would with a straight bar deadlift, you actually stand “inside” the bar. Then when you perform your reps, the bar actually travels up and around the outside of your body as you stand up. Instead of an “over/under” grip, your hands are in a neutral (palms facing each other) grip, and are directly at your sides.
Regardless of if you pull “traditional” or “Sumo”, straight bar deadlifts focus much more on the back than trap bar deadlifts. They can place the lower back in a more disadvantageous position as you have to bend over more at the beginning of the lift, and form can decline fairly rapidly when you fatigue, leaving you more susceptible to injury. More flexibility is often needed for straight bar deadlifts, and it can be harder for shorter lifters to ever achieve a significant deadlift max simply due to inferior leverage with shorter limbs.
However, with a trap bar deadlift, since you’re able to stand “between” your hands rather than behind them, much of the stress is lessened on the lower back as the weight is now more lined up with the center of your body. A good deal of emphasis is transitioned from the spinal erectors to the hips, glutes, hamstrings, and even quadriceps, allowing you to generally pull more weight. The top half of the movement still heavily targets your upper back, middle back, and trapezius, but can allow for more muscular development as you’re able to use more weight.
Good lifting form is also generally much easier to learn with the trap bar option, too. Squat down, with your hips back, head up, and chest spread, grab the bar, then simply think “jump!” This will lead to near-perfect form without having to try that hard.
Many coaches and trainers feel that while not as popular, that deadlifting with a trap bar is a superior alternative to its straight bar counterparts as there’s less chance for injury, you can pull more weight, and because so much of the emphasis is transitioned to the legs, it can also be used as a great substitute for barbell squats, as well.
Lower back issues can prevent trainees from deadlifting, which along with knee issues can also hinder squat progress. These are almost all virtually alleviated with the use of the trap bar deadlift, it’s easier to learn, and could be considered to give you more “bang for your buck”.
This version coupled with a couple of isolation movements for the quadriceps and hamstrings, or even just a single-leg movement, could very well fulfill all your lower body training needs.