The trap bar, or as some call it, the hex bar, is one of my favorite specialty bars for building strength and explosive power while also minimizing injury risk (when compared to a straight bar).
The trap bar is the first specialty bar I ever used at a local YMCA, and it's one that I come back to frequently in my training. You can use it in a number of ways, making it a very versatile piece that has carryover to general athletic performance.
Because of the unique design of the trap bar as compared to a traditional barbell, it has quite a few distinct benefits that I'll discuss in this article.
Let's have a look.
#1: It's Safer For Your Back
By design, the trap bar is inherently different than a traditional barbell. It differs in two notable ways:
The first is that the weight is actually centered with the body. Because you actually step into the bar, the sleeves are situated directly to the sides. Where a traditional barbell has the weight placed in front of your body, the trap bar is actually much more aligned with your center of gravity. This creates a very balanced position that has a couple of key benefits when it comes to safety:
1. It puts less shear force on the lumbar spine
With traditional straight bar deadlifts, the axis of rotation is further from the load, which creates increased shearing forces at and around the lumbar spine. The potential for injury in this position is greater, especially when fatigue and/or form breakdown occurs. When utilizing a trap bar to perform deadlifts, the axis of rotation is virtually in-line with the load, which reduces the amount of shearing force. Therefore, it's easier to maintain a neutral position and it's overall a safer position.
2. It prevents lumbar hyperextension
I'm sure you've all seen the person performing straight bar deadlifts who dramatically leans back at lockout. Maybe you're that person – I'm not judging. Either way, it's not the safest position to be in. This hyperextension at lockout can be attributed to a few things, including form, poor bracing, weak upper back, etc… It can also be attributed to the fact the weight is in front of the body. It's essentially a counter-balance that makes the hyperextension possible in the first place. With a trap bar deadlift, there is no counterbalance. You naturally rise and extend the hips through to a vertical position… a safer position.
#2: It's Safer for Your Shoulders/Biceps
The second way the trap bar differs from a straight bar is that the handles are perpendicular to the sleeves. This allows for a neutral grip vs the pronated/supinated grip on a traditional barbell, which has a couple of notable benefits when it comes to safety:
1. Shoulders are externally rotated
If you sit at a computer all day or you otherwise have insufficient shoulder mobility/stability, an internally rotated shoulder may cause discomfort. This is particularly true with pressing movements. For example, a lot of people press with a swiss bar because the neutral/angled handles are more comfortable.
The trap bar accomplishes something very similar. When doing an overhead press with a trap bar, for instance, your shoulders are in a better position, the weight is more centered with the mid-line, and it allows you to press in a straighter line. You can also work shoulder stability much like a bottoms-up kettlebell by using the high handles when pressing.
2. Biceps tears be damned
When you're deadlifting with a straight bar, you basically have two options: overhand grip (including hook grip and straps) or a mixed grip. The issue with a mixed grip, aside from possibly leading to some imbalances, is that it puts the biceps of the supinated hand in a very susceptible position to tearing. You may have seen some videos of this happening – it's disturbing, to say the least, and it can derail your training while you recover.
With a trap bar, there is no need to use a mixed grip because your hands are in a neutral position. The risk of tearing your biceps is sharply reduced.
#3: You'll Build Serious Power
The Trap bar is extremely effective at building strength and explosive power. In fact, there have been numerous studies stating as much, and even comparing the trap bar deadlift favorably to the straight bar deadlift.
In one study at Robert Gordon University, they documented the performance of male powerlifters performing conventional straight bar deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts at various submaximal %s of their individual predetermined 1RM. Their findings were that there was significantly greater peak force, peak velocity, and peak power values with the trap bar deadlift than with the straight bar deadlift.
In another study by Cal State's Center for Sport Performance, they concluded also that the trap bar deadlift “demonstrated significantly greater peak force, peak power, and peak velocity values than those of the straight bar deadlift.” In other words, they found you could lift more weight, faster, than with a straight bar.
Finally, in another study by the University of Chichester, they found that a trap bar deadlift facilitated significantly heavier loads than a conventional deadlift. They found that the weight was lifted significantly faster and the load was accelerated for significantly longer. The total work performed was higher than a straight bar and the power output was significantly higher with the trap bar.
#4: It's Very Versatile
The trap bar isn't just for deadlifts. It's actually an extremely versatile piece of equipment that can add a ton of variety to your training.
Some of this will depend on which trap bar you're using, but for the most part, you can get a good amount of variety out of all them. For instance, an open-ended trap bar like the Intek ModF Bar opens up a lot more optionality. Similarly, some trap bars are rackable, some have bigger spaces, some have two sets of handles, etc… All of this will play into what you can perform. That said, here is a list of movements you can do with a trap bar (I added an asterisk to those that are exclusive to an open-end design):
- Seated Deadlifts *
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Jump deadlifts
- Split Squats
- Cambered Squats *
- Zercher Squats *
- Zercher carries *
- Zercher lunges *
- Normal/Walking Lunges
- Farmers Walks
- Step Ups
- Overhead Press
- Shoulder Shrugs
- Heavy Isometric Holds
- Back Rows
- Floor Presses
- Push Presses
There are certainly other creative and unconventional ways to use the trap bar, but as you can see, it has a lot of utility.
#5: It's Easy to Learn/Great for Beginners
When I first started getting into powerlifting and barbell lifting in general, the trap bar is where I started. I didn't really know what the hell I was doing at the time since I had been so pre-occupied with stupid bro-split workouts. Thankfully, the trap bar is very easy to use. It's a very intuitive piece of equipment. You don't need a great understanding of biomechanics to use a trap bar. You stand in it and you pick it up. It just makes sense… largely because of the design.
What the trap bar helped me with tremendously was grooving the hip hinge pattern. Obviously, this is a key aspect of deadlifting, along with maintaining a healthy back in general. Once I was able to master the hip hinge, my confidence skyrocketed and I felt much more comfortable. Another confidence booster with the trap bar was that I felt really safe. Straight bar deadlifts can be very intimidating to a newbie. I know I was intimidated. The safety of the trap bar helped me remove those mental barriers.
Not only did it help my confidence/hip hinge, but the trap bar also allowed me to build a lot of strength that I was able to leverage when transitioning to the straight bar. Going into straight bar deadlifts with a stronger back and stronger legs made it a much more seamless transition.
I'm sure I could have learned just by using a straight bar, but the trap bar did make it easier… it's a fantastic bar for beginners.
Where to Buy
Good news… you can find a trap bar in a lot of different places that will fit your budget and your needs.
Keep in mind, not all trap bars are created equally. Some are heavier, some have a higher weight capacity, some are rackable, some have two handle heights, some have angled handles, some are open-ended, etc…
On top of that, they can range from under $100 to upwards of $600.
I like options. Options are good.
If I were to break down a list of notable trap bars, it would look like this:
- Intek ModF Bar – In my opinion, this is the King of trap bars. It can be open-ended OR closed off. It's incredibly versatile, it's extremely well made, it holds a crap ton of weight, and it's rackable… but… it's the most expensive. I would also have called the Biotest Dead-Squat Bar a close second, but sadly that bar isn't made anymore.
- Rogue TB-2 – This is a high quality, dual handle trap bar that isn't overly expensive, but also not really a budget pick.
- Black Widow Hex Bar – This bar from Black Widow is reasonably priced, it offers dual handles and I like the compact design.
- MoveStrong DSL Bar – This is a more budget-friendly open-end design. It's very similar to the original Intek Functional Trap Bar with the main difference being this one isn't rackable.
- Cap Mega Hex Bar – This bar is one of the best budget-friendly trap bars out there. Nothing about it will blow you away… it probably will have cosmetic issues, but it's a workhorse. It has dual handles with a strong weight capacity.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it's a good starting point if you're looking for a trap bar.
Trap Bar Benefits – Conclusion
If you're looking for a specialty bar that will get you strong, keep you safe(r), and add a ton of variety to your training, the trap bar is a great choice.
It was the first specialty bar I've ever used, and I continue to use it regularly.
If you have any questions on trap bars in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback.
The bar is loaded,