Should You Be Doing Trap Bar Deadlifts?

Full disclosure: for a long time, I viewed 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 purist like I used to be, then it is certainly an exercise worth experimenting with.

New to Deadlifts? No Problem.

Beginners can benefit from learning the basics of bracing and creating tension, as well as using leg drive to push the floor away, by choosing the trap bar for deadlifts.

The technique is much simpler to understand, which enables virtually anyone to build strength 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 (quadriceps) 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 hinge movement, 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 which is more similar to a squat.

Hip-dominant vs. Quad-dominant positions.

Is one better than the other? It depends on what you’re after. That’s another advantage the trap bar offers: by simply modifying the start position you can easily alter the results you’ll achieve.

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 to your program.

To your strength,

Coach B

About The Author

Barbara M.

Since 2013, Barbara has been helping women of all fitness backgrounds get stronger, leaner and more confident, both inside and outside the gym.

Her passion lies in educating, empowering and encouraging women to find out what they’re capable of, and more.

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