Trap Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked: The Hex Bar Deadlift Comprehensive Breakdown

In the past, we’ve discussed how much the Trap Bar hex bar weighs.

This is very important information. Especially if you’re one of the soldiers tasked with setting up the equipment for the ACFT.

…but the question still remains: why the heck are you doing Trap Bar Deadlifts in the first place? Like, what muscles do they work?

As you may be able to guess from the title of this piece, we’re going to answer that question (and many more!) very shortly. 

By the time we’re finished, you’ll be ready to take over your Trap (…Bar Deadlifts), bringing your hex bar skills to a whole new level!

Trap Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked: The Hex Bar with High Handles is Your Friend!

The Trap Bar, also known as the Hex Bar, was invented by Al Gerard in the 1980s. Mr. Gerard was interested in devising a hexagonal barbell that would reduce the strain on the lower back while helping lifters maintain a more upright posture during deadlifts. The result? A “unique” implement with parallel handles on either side, allowing the lifter to stand in the center of the action. 

@Ccr3ateur

Trap Bar Deadlifts are used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts from an array of different sports and disciplines. For example, powerlifters often incorporate Trap Bar Deadlifts into their regiments to develop raw strength, build power, and improve overall muscle activation. Beginners may also find the Trap Bar Deadlift exercise more approachable than conventional deadlifts, as the setup is more intuitive and the risk of injury is (generally) lower.

Trap Bar Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlifts

The Trap Bar Deadlift offers several advantages over the traditional straight bar deadlift:

  1. Reduced strain on the lower back: The design of the Trap Bar allows lifters to maintain a more upright posture, placing less strain on the lumbar spine. You can thank Mr. Gerard for the decreased lumbar spine stress you experience from trap bar deadlifts!
  2. Improved form: With the Trap Bar, the weight is centered around your body, which reduces the risk of form breakdown during the lift.
  3. Easier on the grip: The parallel handles enable you to grip the bar more comfortably, reducing strain on your wrists and forearms. The neutral grip also takes out much of the “guesswork” involved in the “overhand vs. mixed grip for deadlifts” debate!
  4. Easier to Learn: A debatable claim for sure, but the Trap Bar Deadlift is a great exercise for beginners. Its setup is more intuitive than that of a conventional barbell deadlift, making it easier to maintain proper form.

What Muscles Does the Trap Bar Deadlift Work?

The Trap Bar’s unique shape allows lifters to stand inside the bar and grip handles on either side of the body. Due to this setup, the body is positioned more vertically, similar to a high-bar squat, than it is in conventional deadlifts. This allows for a more even distribution of weight and stress across the body.

@cichicpesynkarocom

The Trap Bar Deadlift works the following primary muscles:

  1. Quadriceps: The large muscle group on the front of your thighs responsible for knee extension.
  2. Glutes: The muscle group comprising the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, located in/around your butt, responsible for hip extension.
  3. Hamstrings: Situated at the back of your thighs, the muscles used during hip extension and knee flexion.
  4. Lower Back Muscles (erector spinae): Responsible for extending and stabilizing your spine during lifting motions.
  5. Lats (latissimus dorsi): Large muscles on your back that support spinal stabilization during lifting.

Secondary muscles worked are:

  1. Trapezius Muscles: Support muscles for your shoulders and upper back, they contribute to proper posture and positioning during lifting.
  2. Forearms: These muscles help maintain a strong grip on the bar.
  3. Core Muscles: Abs, obliques, and lower back muscles are engaged to maintain stability and balance during the lift.

Hex Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked vs Straight Bar Deadlifts Alternatives

Different deadlift variations target specific muscles and offer distinct advantages. Let’s look at a few:

  1. Conventional Deadlift: This popular “variation” uses a standard barbell (or a specially-designed deadlift bar) and targets the posterior chain, with a focus on spinal erectors and hamstrings. The horizontal torso position of the traditional deadlift tends to load the lower back more than the trap bar deadlift.
  2. Sumo Deadlift: This wide-stance deadlift variation places more emphasis on the glutes, adductors, and quads while reducing spinal load due to a more vertical torso position. However, the grip is not as comfortable as the grip employed with Trap Bar Deadlifts.
  3. Romanian Deadlift: This variant is great for isolating the hamstrings and lower back muscles, as it keeps the legs relatively straight. It may not be suitable for those with limited hamstring flexibility or for those who want a more full range of motion.

Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift Exercise

The Trap Bar Deadlift is a versatile compound lift that offers numerous benefits for those aiming to improve their overall strength, muscle mass, and sports performance. By targeting your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and posterior chain, the trap bar can help you achieve a well-rounded physique.

The upright posture adopted when performing Trap Bar Deadlifts not only helps with better technique and posture but also reduces stress on your lower back. This makes it an excellent choice for beginners who may find the standard deadlift challenging due to necessary form requirements or existing back pain.

trap bar deadlift muscles worked
@thehabitgirl

In addition to the general strength gains, the Trap Bar Deadlift can significantly enhance your power development. Submaximal loads allow you to focus on achieving greater force output, making it a beneficial exercise for athletes aiming to improve their sports performance.

The Trap Bar Deadlift has demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing total body strength and activating a wide range of muscles. One study found that the Trap Bar Deadlift promotes higher quadriceps activation compared to conventional deadlifts. As you might expect, this increased activation leads to improved strength gains, muscle hypertrophy, and athletic performance.

Trap Bar Deadlift Limitations

Although there are numerous benefits to Trap Bar Deadlifts, it is important to acknowledge some potential drawbacks and limitations. 

First, since the exercise relies on a specific piece of equipment – the trap bar – you might face limited access to it in certain gyms.

(if this is your gym, leave immediately and place an order for one for your home gym!)

Another potential concern is the relative lack of development in forearm strength from performing trap bar deadlifts compared to conventional deadlifts. To counteract this, incorporating additional grip strengthening exercises, like farmer’s walks or RDLs (or even using grip strengtheners), can be beneficial.

How to Perform Trap Bar Deadlifts

One of the main advantages of performing deadlifts with the trap bar is the degree of “intuitiveness” that comes with the exercise. Regardless of how “easy” the movement appears to be, let’s take a quick look at the steps to success while performing it:

  1. Stand inside the trap bar: Position your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and slightly turn them outward to engage the glutes.
  2. Grip the handles: Hinge at the waist and bend your knees simultaneously until you’re able to grab the handles of the trap bar.
  3. Brace your core: Take a deep breath and tighten your abdominal muscles to create a strong and stable base.
  4. Keep your back neutral: As you pull yourself down into the setup position, maintain a neutral spine to prevent injury.
  5. Lift the weight: Push through your heels, extending your hips and knees simultaneously, while keeping your chest up and back straight.
  6. Lock out at the top: Finish the movement by fully standing up with your hips and knees locked, shoulders down, and chest proud.
  7. Lower the weight: Carefully reverse the movement, hinging at the hips and bending your knees, maintaining a neutral spine as you lower the trap bar back to the ground.

Trap Bar Deadlift Additional Points of Performance

  • Foot position: Experiment with different foot widths and angles until you find a stance that feels comfortable and enables you to “power through” your legs
  • Grip: Utilize a hook grip if you need additional grip strength to hold onto the trap bar handles.
  • Breathing: Practice the Valsalva Maneuver to create a strong abdominal brace, providing better core stability and lifting power.
  • Pacing: Don’t rush the movement; focus on a controlled, smooth acceleration throughout the lift.

Frequently Asked Questions

Three more questions…then you’ll be a certified expert in Trap Bar Deadlifts

While both deadlift variations engage similar muscle groups, the hexagonal bar deadlift tends to involve the quadriceps more than a traditional barbell deadlift. This difference may result in slightly less emphasis on the glutes, depending on your form and technique, but more activation for the legs muscles in the front of your body.

Trap Bar Deadlifts can potentially improve your squat performance due to the overlap in muscle groups worked. By strengthening the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors, you'll likely notice carryover gains in your squatting ability and overall leg strength.

If you're looking for alternatives to hex bar deadlifts, consider these exercises: the regular deadlift (duh!), sumo deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, and kettlebell swings. Each of these exercises targets similar muscle groups, allowing you to work on your lower body strength, hinging strength, and power development.

Take Over Your Trap (…Bar Deadlift)

Just in case you didn’t get the reference

…that important note out of the way, we hope that this short primer on Trap Bar Deadlift muscles worked has been informative and serves as a good complement to our “sister piece” on the different weights of hex/trap bars.

Between knowing the weights, muscles worked, and how much weight you have to lift with one in order to max out your score on the ACFT, you really don’t have any excuse not to pick one up and get lifting.

…and in case you really don’t want to use the trap bar, keep in mind that you’ll probably be able to set a higher “deadlift PR” when you use one. Who doesn’t want that extra bit of validation for a few seconds’ work!?

You read this article because you obviously love deadlifts; check out our article on the top 19 deadlift WODs of all time. You’ll get a hernia just reading the list!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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