WHICH IS BETTER: TRAP BAR DEADLIFT VS REGULAR DEADLIFT
We’re putting two huge exercises against each other to determine a true winner. It’s a battle of epic proportions, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Rambo fought a helicopter with a tank.
It’s the trap bar deadlift vs regular deadlift!
Ever since I first set foot in a gym at just 9 years old, barbell deadlifts have been hailed as “the king of exercises”.
- Wanna get stronger? Deadlifts.
- Wanna get bigger? Deadlifts.
- Wanna develop traps so big you look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle? Deadlifts.
But is there a new challenger on the horizon?
This article came together after the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published an interesting study hinting that conventional deadlifts may not be the true king of exercises. (1)
Instead, they suggest using a trap bar.
I know… shocking! Today we’ll look at exactly what they discovered, and see whether we do have a new ‘king’ of muscle building exercises.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRAP BAR DEADLIFT VS REGULAR DEADLIFT
If you’ve never performed a trap bar deadlift, you may be wondering what the differences are between this movement and a regular barbell deadlift.
So let’s take a look at it.
Do you notice the subtle differences?
When we perform a deadlift with a trap bar (a.k.a. hex bar, due to its shape) we can place our hands in a neutral-grip position. The unique shape of the bar also enables us to keep the weight centered from beginning to end, as opposed to pulling from in front with a regular barbell.
These two factors play a significant role in helping you lift more weight.
It also places much less stress on the lower back, making the trap bar deadlift a great choice for anyone who struggles with conventional deadlifts.
Further reading: Rob King’s guide to the hex bar deadlift.
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT VS REGULAR DEADLIFT
So which one is best?
Well, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research claimed to have solved this one.
During the trial, the researchers worked with a group of 19 male powerlifters as they tested the effectiveness of each exercise.
Interestingly, trainees recorded a 10% strength increase when they performed the test with the trap bar.
Maybe they were right when they claimed it was superior?! Heck, at the very least, I think we can safely agree the trap bar has no business gathering dust in gym cupboards (sadly, that’s where you’ll find it in most gyms).
The researchers believed the strength increase was made possible by the fact the hex bar emphasizes the quadriceps as the main drivers, greatly reducing the involvement of the lower back.
Interestingly, these findings were re-confirmed in a 2016 study (also published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research), where a team of researchers measured muscle activation in the quadriceps (specifically, the biceps femoris and vastus lateralis) and back (erector spinae) during a regular deadlift and a trap bar deadlift.
They found that performing a trap bar deadlift led to greater force, greater peak power, and greater velocity. This makes the trap bar a great tool for athletes looking to build explosive power. (2)
SHOULD YOU DITCH REGULAR DEADLIFTS?
Ditching regular deadlifts would be a big mistake.
You see, despite the fact a trap bar deadlift will lead to heavier weights being used, the good old regular deadlift should still be your first choice.
One of the reasons we can pack more weight on the bar during a trap bar deadlift is because the movement reduces the involvement of our weaker muscle groups, by placing our forearms in a better position and reducing the load on the lower back.
However, if we want to get stronger, we need to continue training these muscles!
In some ways, it’s like comparing a box squat to a regular squat. The box squat will probably lead to using a heavier weight, but that’s because it reduces the workload on many of the stabilizer muscles. So it’s not all about sheer weight lifted.
So, instead of replacing regular deadlifts with trap bar deadlifts, I recommend programming the trap bar deadlift into your routine in order to increase your regular deadlift.
Next up, you might enjoy this comparison of trap bar deadlifts versus barbell squats by my pals over at Dark Iron Fitness. I’ll see you next time.
- Swinton P. A., et al. A Biomechanical Analysis of Straight and Hexagonal Barbell Deadlifts Using Submaximal Loads. J Strength Cond Res (2011).
- Camara K. D., et al. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. J Strength Cond Res (2016).