Should You Be Doing Trap Bar Deadlifts?

Sep 24, 2018

For a very long time, I saw the trap bar deadlift as the inferior counterpart to barbell deadlifts. As my knowledge of training evolved (as did my preferences and abilities as a coach), I came to realize that there is a time and place for the trap bar deadlift in training.

At its worst, the trap bar can provide a similar enough stimulus to the upper back, spinal erectors, quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, compared to a straight bar deadlift. It is certainly not the exact same movement, but it is a great tool for those with limited mobility who struggle to pull weights off the floor.

At its best, the trap bar can serve to reinforce leg drive off the floor while providing a great novel training stimulus, which can have a fantastic carryover to the straight bar deadlift.

Nevertheless, the trap bar is a valuable tool that is worth keeping in your toolbox, and if you are a barbell warrior like I used to be, then it is definitely worth a try.

New to Deadlifts? No Problem.

While I wouldn’t necessarily pick the trap bar as a teaching tool for a true deadlift, beginners can benefit from learning the basics of bracing and creating tension, as well as pushing the floor away, by choosing the trap bar for deadlifts. The technique is much simpler to understand, which enables virtually anyone to lift heavy-ass weights with a lower risk of injury due to the simplicity of the movement.

Range of Motion

Using the low handles on the trap bar (the ones at the same height off the floor as the contraption itself) provides a greater range of motion compared to the higher handles. This effect mimics a deficit deadlift, where greater demand is placed on the knee extensors thus making it a great tool for developing strength off the floor.

The range of motion can also be shortened by using the higher handles, which makes the trap bar an invaluable asset for lifters who have difficulty getting into proper positioning due to mobility or anatomical limitations.

If you’d like to challenge yourself and obliterate your quads, try stepping on a plate while using the low handles for a double-deficit effect.

Is it Really a Deadlift?

Well, sort of. The trap bar deadlift is more of a squat-deadlift hybrid than a pure deadlift, which means less hamstring and spinal erectors engagement compared to the barbell variation.

At the same time, the trap bar offers a movement that more closely resembles a deadlift than the sumo deadlift itself, partly due to the torso position during the movement. 

With that said, there are ways to make it either more or less hinge-like and hip-dominant.

Keeping the shins vertical reinforces the hinge pattern, while actively flexing the knees and ankles puts you in a more vertical position resemblant to a squat.

Hip-dominant vs. Quad-dominant positions.

Is one better than the other? It depends on what you’re after. That’s the beauty of the trap bar: by simply modifying the start position you can easily alter the end result.

If you don’t currently train with a trap bar, consider giving it a try in addition to or instead of your regular deadlift variation. Trap bar deadlifts can be a great way to increase and reinforce leg drive, build muscle mass and strength, and add some training variety.

About The Author


Barbara M.

At Barbell Strength, Barbara is the Strength & Nutrition coach for females looking to get stronger, both online and in person.

Her primary focus is to help clients increase general strength and improve body composition through training and nutrition coaching that is individualized to each person and sound in principle.

With over 5 years of coaching experience, her passion for strength training has helped her develop a writing voice that she uses to communicate scientific training knowledge to the average lifter and fitness enthusiast.

Click here to find out more about working with Barbara.