Barbell deadlifts have long been hailed as “the king of exercises”.
- Wanna be bigger? Deadlifts.
- Wanna get stronger? Deadlifts.
- Wanna develop Rambo-sized traps? Deadlifts.
However, new research suggests there may be a new heir to the thone.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently published a study which suggests that performing trap bar deadlifts (that weird hexagonal-shaped hunk of metal which collects dust in most gyms) may be superior to conventional deadlifts for gaining strength. Let’s take a look at the findings.
The Key Differences Between A Trap Bar Deadlift And A Regular Deadlift
For those readers who have never performed both movements, here’s a quick rundown of the subtle differences.
It’s easier to just show you, so watch the video:
The first difference you’ll probably see is the hand position. The trap bar gives us an opportunity to lift with a neutral-grip, instead of taking a traditional overhand-grip or an over/under grip. The second difference is that you’re “inside the bar” when you lift with a hex bar, as opposed to pulling from in front with the regular barbell.
This new grip position yields significant improvements to the weight you can lift, and being able to center the weight places much less stress on your lower back.
Further reading: Rob King’s guide to the hex bar deadlift.
The “Trap Bar Deadlift vs Regular Deadlift” Study
Researchers from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, had 19 male powerlifters perform deadlifts with both types of barbell to see which resulted in greater strength gains.
Incredibly, trainees recorded a 10% strength increase when they performed the test with the trap bar. Holy f**k!
The researchers believed that this strength increase was made possible because the hex bar emphasizes the quadriceps as the main drivers of each rep, greatly reducing the involvement of the lower back. (1)
Interestingly, these findings were re-confirmed in a follow-up study five years later (also published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research). This time researchers measured muscle activation in the quadriceps (specifically the biceps femoris and vastus lateralis) and back (erector spinae), noting that performing a trap bar deadlift led to greater force, peak power and velocity. (2)
This makes it a great tool for athletes looking to build explosive power!
Should You Ditch Regular Deadlifts From Now On?
I know what you’re thinking… but slow down!
Ditching regular deadlifts would be a big mistake.
The researchers acknowledged that one of the main reasons we can pack more weight onto 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 our lower back.
However, if you want to get stronger you need to train these muscles!
In some ways it’s like comparing a box squat to a regular squat. The box will enable you to use a heavier weight, but it does so by reducing the involvement of many of the stabilizer muscles involved in a barbell squat; it’s not all about the sheer weight we can lift.
This research simply highlights the potential gains waiting to be unlocked by dusting off the hex bar in your local gym and programming it into your routine from time to time. It gives you another weapon in your arsenal as you grow bigger, stronger, and fitter!
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).
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