Trap Bar Deadlift vs Deadlift Face-Off [Workout Wars]

Written
Zing Coach
Medically reviewed
Walter Gjergja
6

 min

Published on 

May 1, 2024

Choosing between trap bar deadlifts and conventional deadlifts? Learn about their impact on muscle activation, joint stress, and overall performance.

Trap Bar Deadlift vs Deadlift Face-Off [Workout Wars]
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Key takeaways

Fact checked

The deadlift is a highly effective compound movement exercise that engages some of the largest muscle groups in your body and is great for increasing overall muscle strength and size. 

There are several deadlift variations you can perform that tweak the form or equipment used, that have different biomechanics and therefore work your muscles differently. Integrating these variations into your training routine can have a significant impact on your workout results.

The variation that will be facing off against the conventional deadlift today is the trap bar deadlift. As with rack pulls vs deadlifts, there are unique benefits and disadvantages when comparing a trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift. In this battle of the Workout Wars, we’ll take a look to see which is right for your training and why.

Key Takeaways

  • The trap bar deadlift uses a hex bar instead of the straight barbell of a conventional deadlift.
  • They are both full-body, compound movements that engage many of the same muscles
  • The benefits and drawbacks of the trap bar deadlift vs conventional deadlift have to do with the differences in the muscles that the exercises engage and their form.
  • The conventional deadlift has more posterior chain engagement, while the trap bar deadlift engages the quads more.
  • The trap bar deadlift is easier for beginners to learn and allows you to lift greater weights, but the equipment isn’t as common, and it’s not used in powerlifting competitions.
  • The conventional deadlift is more functional but poses a higher risk of injury.
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Trap Bar Deadlift: What Is It?

The trap bar deadlift is a variation of the conventional deadlift that uses a trap bar (also called a “hex bar”), one of the more specific deadlift accessories.

The trap bar has a hexagonal or diamond shape with two sets of neutral-grip handles on either side – low handles at the same level as the rest of the bar, and high handles that rise out from the bar at 90 degrees.

Aptly named – since trap is short for “trapezius”, a large muscle of the upper back – the trap bar is often used in exercises that work the back and shoulders, like shrugs, overhead press, and, of course, the trap bar deadlift.

Both the options for handle position and the starting position being in line with the weight are unique to the trap bar deadlift vs conventional deadlifts.

To perform a deadlift with a trap bar vs barbell, the lifter stands inside the "hex" and in line with the weight plates, bends down to grasp either set of handles, and then stands to lift the weight.

The degree of knee flexion vs hip flexion can vary depending on which muscles you want to focus on.

Muscles Worked

The trap bar deadlift is a full-body exercise that emphasizes the lower body, engaging both the anterior (front) and posterior (back) chains, making it effective for developing overall leg strength and power. Let’s break down the trap bar deadlift vs deadlift muscles worked.

Glutes and Hamstring

As with the conventional deadlift, the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings are heavily engaged as they are the primary muscles that cause the hip to hinge.

Quadriceps

The trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift allows the torso to be more upright, which increases the degree of knee flexion at the start of the lift. This places more demand on the quadriceps, which is why it’s often compared to a squat – although it’s actually still more of a hip hinge, and the hip extensors are far more involved than the quads. The more you bend your knees in a trap bar deadlift vs regular deadlift, the more work your quads will do.

Core and Back

Any deadlift requires that the core muscles are engaged to stabilize and protect the spine and chest throughout the movement, however, they are even more engaged in the trap bar vs regular deadlift due to the more upright posture of the exercise. In a trap bar deadlift vs conventional deadlift, some of the load is shifted off the lower back and hips and into the legs. However, the back muscles are still significantly engaged to maintain stability and support the lift.

Benefits of Trap Bar vs Conventional Deadlift

The benefits of a trap deadlift vs deadlift with a straight bar are all about the change in position that the trap bar allows.

Flexibility of Form

With a trap bar vs barbell deadlift, you can choose to lift in either the hinge position or with more knee flexion. This is great for people who struggle with the hamstring flexibility required to deadlift a straight barbell from the ground – or for taller people. The two sets of handles let you adjust the height of the lift, too. Since there's more variability with a trap bar vs a straight bar deadlift, you have more flexibility to adjust your deadlift form to suit your specific muscle imbalances or weaknesses.

Reduced Injury Risk

This workout war asks the question: is trap bar deadlift better for your back? The design of the trap bar allows you to adopt a more upright torso position while lifting, which reduces the shearing force on the lumbar spine. Since you don’t need to pull the bar up against your thighs during the lockout portion of the lift like you do in a conventional deadlift, there’s also less risk of hyperextending (and injuring) your lumbar spine. All this means there’s less chance of back injuries associated with improper form in a conventional deadlift. The neutral grip offered by the handles can also reduce shoulder and wrist strain, and you don’t risk scraping the bar along your shins like you do in a conventional deadlift.

Better for Beginners

Is trap bar easier than deadlift with a straight bar? Well, the neutral spine position in trap bar deadlifts vs conventional makes it easier to learn and allows you to practice the correct deadlift form while placing less stress on your lower back (a body area notorious for injury due to deadlift poor technique) – and you can always switch once your form is better. 

Sports Specific

The strength gained from the trap bar vs deadlift translates more directly into sport-specific movements than the conventional deadlift due to its similarity to jump mechanics, the torso, knee, and hip angles, and the center of gravity being around the athlete's body. This is particularly true for athletes who engage in sports requiring explosive movements or quick changes in direction – making it a great exercise for basketball players and other athletes.

Higher Max Load

You may find you can lift heavier in a trap bar vs straight bar deadlift. Why? There are a few reasons. There’s better mechanical leverage by standing inside the hex bar, your quads are more involved, and decreased shearing force on the lumbar spine allows you to lift heavier without straining your back. Even the neutral grip position (hands facing your body) can make it easier.

Strength Development

I’ve already mentioned that your quads are more engaged in a trap bar vs a conventional deadlift, which – along with the hamstring, glute, and hip engagement – makes it great for increasing your lower body strength. Plus, your back is still getting worked, so it’s still a good exercise for developing your back muscles and transforming your fitness.

Drawbacks of Trap Bar vs Conventional Deadlift

Unfortunately, some of the things that make the trap bar such a good exercise – like lower back engagement – can also be used against it. It all depends on your perspective and what you’re hoping to gain from your training.

Limited Posterior Chain Engagement

The conventional deadlift primarily activates the back, glute, and hamstring exercises, so it makes sense that the main criticism many lifters have with the trap bar vs regular deadlift is that it doesn’t engage this “posterior chain” of muscles as much. If you’re trying to increase your posterior chain strength, then the trap bar deadlift may not be for you.

Not a Powerlifting Standard

Even though the trap bar deadlift may translate better for some other sports, the conventional deadlift is a staple of powerlifting competitions. If you’re preparing for a meet, you need to be working on your conventional deadlifts. 

Not Everyone Has a Trap Bar

Barbells are probably the most common piece of equipment across health clubs and home gyms since they can be used for so many different exercises. Trap bars, on the other hand, are bigger, more expensive, and more specific, so they aren’t as common – which means using a trap bar vs barbell in your routine could be challenging.

How to Do a Trap Bar Deadlift Correctly

Like other deadlifts, the trap bar deadlift has 3 stages – the setup, drive, and lockout – that each needs to be performed correctly to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise. (Hint: Practice the lift with low or no weight first to get your form right!)

The Setup

  1. Place the hexagonal trap bar on the ground and add your desired weights.
  2. Step into the center of the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward or slightly turned out.
  3. Hinge at the hips and knees to reach down and grasp the handles at your desired height – lower for more back, higher for more legs.
  4. Maintain a neutral neck position with your eyeline forward.

The Drive

  1. Before you lift, tighten your grip, pull your shoulders back and down, and engage your lat muscles.
  2. Take a deep breath with your diaphragm and brace your core to protect your lower back.
  3. Extend your legs and hips to lift the bar by driving through your heels.
  4. The bar should move upwards in a straight line without swaying back or forward.
  5. Keep your shoulders back, your back muscles contracted, and your spine straight.

The Lockout

  1. Hold for a moment at the top of the movement, continuing to squeeze your glutes and back muscles.
  2. Reverse the movement, hinging at the hips and the knees to lower the bar to the starting position.
  3. Keep your chest up and back straight as you go down.

Common Trap Bar Deadlift Mistakes

Be careful when adding the trap bar deadlift into your routine, since improper form increases your risk of injury – especially since the trap bar allows you to lift more weight than in a regular deadlift, so you may be tempted to overload the bar too soon before proper technique is established.

A specific mistake that many people make is failing to fully lock out at the top of the movement. This prevents your muscles from engaging properly, which can limit your gains. Always try to reach full extension of the hips and knees without hyperextending and arching your back during your lockout.

Conventional Deadlift: What Is It?

The conventional deadlift is a staple among weightlifting exercises. It’s a highly effective, compound movement that utilizes most of the major muscle groups in the body and can help you massively increase your muscle gains and strength. Along with the squat and the bench press, it makes up the three primary lifts in powerlifting competitions. It’s also exceptionally functional, training strength in movement that occurs often in everyday life – like lifting up heavy items. 

A conventional deadlift uses a straight barbell, which you stand behind to grip and lift to lockout,  using a combination of leg and back strength.

Muscles Worked

Conventional deadlifts activate the muscles of the posterior chain, those muscles that run along the backside of our body, which is crucial for posture and overall back health. The muscles engaged in a regular deadlift are:

Lower Back and Core

The conventional deadlift has a high risk of lower back injury due to the heavy load and the shearing weight on the lumbar spine, so maintaining a straight back is essential. This requires intense engagement of the lower back muscles, including the spinal erectors, and the core muscles should always be engaged to brace the core and stabilize the spine throughout the movement. This means that. If you have long legs, you may start the movement with a more horizontal back position, which increases the effort from the spinal erectors – this is why it’s important to understand your unique body composition.

Upper Back and Arms

The muscles of the upper back are heavily involved in keeping the bar close to the body and stabilizing the torso during the lift –  especially your traps and rhomboids. The forearms are activated to grip the barbell, while the upper arm muscles of the biceps and triceps are under isometric tension to stabilize the bar.

Upper Legs

The conventional deadlift has a higher activation of the hamstrings than the trap bar deadlift during the lifting phase of the deadlift, while the adductor magnus muscle of the inner thigh stabilizes the legs and hips throughout the lift. 

Benefits of Conventional vs Trap Bar Deadlifts

Conventional deadlifts can be a highly effective exercise in any weightlifting workout, with a number of benefits offered by the compound movement.

Overall Strength

The broad activation of muscles in a deadlift – which hits the glutes, hamstrings, back, abdominals, and forearms – makes it a great exercise for building overall body strength. This also helps prevent injury from occurring.

Functional Fitness

There are many times in our regular day-to-day when we bend and lift heavy objects, and conventional deadlift vs trap bar strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain required for these activities, as well as those that affect your grip strength. So improving your deadlift ability makes these everyday tasks easier.

Simple Equipment

To perform a conventional deadlift, you just need a barbell and some weight plates – no machines, no fancy bars. Any self-respecting gym will have many available, making them an exercise you can perform on a visit to any gym or as one of your at-home exercises.

Drawbacks of Conventional vs Trap Bar Deadlifts

The conventional deadlift is a technically complex exercise that requires the combined and controlled effort of a number of muscle groups. This makes it a challenging exercise to perform, even with good form, and with that challenge comes some risks.

High Injury Risk

Poor form means a higher chance of injury. This is true of any exercise, but deadlifts specifically are notorious for causing lower back and hamstring strains, especially among beginner lifters. It’s imperative that you understand the proper steps for the trap bar or barbell deadlift, but this is even more important with the conventional deadlift.

Low Quad Activation

When performed conventionally, the deadlift does not activate the quadriceps very much, which means that you’ll need to include additional accessory exercises to develop your quads. So, in the trap bar vs barbell deadlift debate, the conventional isn’t your best choice for building bigger quads.

More Demanding Requirements

The spine and hip flexion required in a conventional deadlift is significantly higher than other deadlift variations like the trap bar deadlift or rack pull. This means that regular deadlifts demand a good range of motion in the hips and hamstrings, and it’s important that you have the flexibility and mobility to perform them safely. Before adding deadlifts to your workout, you should test your flexibility in these areas to understand your capabilities and whether you can handle the required range of motion.

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How to Do a Conventional Deadlift Correctly

A conventional deadlift deadlift has three stages: the setup, drive, and lockout. You’ll need to perform each correctly to get the most out of your lifts while reducing your risk of injury. 

Before you start your first set of deadlifts, make sure you’ve warmed up your posterior chain before you start with mobility and activation exercises for the hamstrings and lower back. When you’re ready to begin, follow these instructions: 

The Setup

  1. Start feet shoulder-width apart and the straight barbell on the floor in front of you with the bar directly above the middle of your feet. Your shins should be almost touching the bar.
  2. Bend at the hips and knees to lower your upper body towards the bar. Maintain a straight back, and avoid curving your spine. 
  3. With hands shoulder-width apart, grip the bar in either an overhand or mixed grip (with one hand facing forward and the other back). The mixed grip may offer you a better grip.
  4. Make sure your shoulders are directly over the bar or a little in front of it.

The Drive

  1. Inhale deeply into your stomach, expanding it outwards and not into your chest. Engage your abdominal and lower back muscles to brace your core – as if you’re preparing for a punch to the stomach. This stiffening is called “bracing,” and it stabilizes your spine, reducing the risk of back injury.
  2. Focus your gaze on the floor a few feet away from you so that your neck and head are in a neutral position, and maintain this throughout the lift.
  3. Drive through your heels to extend your knees and hips as you simultaneously lift the bar with your chest, keeping your arms straight and tense.
  4. The bar should stay close to your body to reduce imbalance as you lift, moving vertically and even grazing your shins.

The Lockout

  1. Once you are standing straight with the bar just in front of your thighs, squeeze your glutes to fully extend your hips.
  2. Stand tall, pulling your shoulders back and gripping the bar firmly for a few moments.
  3. Lower the bar to the ground with control by hinging your hips and pushing your butt back, focusing on engaging the same muscle groups as in the drive.
  4. Keep your back straight, your core engaged, and the bar close to your body the entire time, dropping it straight down and not swinging it forward or back.
  5. As the bar reaches your knees, bend the knees slightly to place the bar gently on the ground in the starting position. 
  6. You’re now ready for your next rep.

Common Mistakes

There are some deadlift mistakes that lifters often make that make it less effective and more dangerous. 

Rounding the back is most common, placing excessive strain on your lower back. To avoid this, engage the lats and core before lifting to stabilize the spine, and maintain an upright chest as you lift. 

The position and movement of your hips are also very important: bending the knees and lowering the hips too much at the start of the lift reduces the engagement of your posterior chain, while high hips strain the lower back. Maintain a slight bend in the knees during the setup, but let your hips do almost all of the hinging – but try not to overextend your hips and lean back when you reach the top of the lift, as this can strain your lower back.

Take your time to ensure that you’re correctly positioned and braced for each stage of the movement, focusing on aligning your feet, hips, and shoulders with the bar.

Trap Bar Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift: What are the key differences?

As mentioned in the benefits of the trap bar deadlift vs conventional form, the trap bar offers a more forgiving learning curve for beginner lifters. This allows you to build confidence while you learn.

There are many similarities between the trap bar vs regular deadlift: both deadlifts train the hip hinge pattern, they’re both great for improving all-round strength, and they both require good form to perform without risking injury.

However, there are some key differences between the barbell deadlift vs trap bar deadlift that you should consider when planning your next workout. While both these movements move similar loads, you’ll find you can lift more weight with a trap bar vs a straight bar deadlift. This is more obvious when you use the high handles due to the difference in the angle of your upper body. In a barbell vs trap bar deadlift, there’s greater force moving through the spine and hips due to the greater degree of hip flexion at the start of the movement. It requires more mobility and strength in these body areas. In the trap bar deadlift, where your upper body is more upright, you exert more force through the knees, which also means that your quads are more activated in the trap bar deadlift vs conventional, which activates your spinal erectors and hamstrings more. All this means that your trap bar deadlifts can go heavier with less risk of injury, especially if you have challenges with back and hip mobility.

Trap Bar or Barbell Deadlift: Which option is the right fit for you?

So, which variation should you choose in this face-off: trap bar or barbell deadlift? Both the conventional deadlift and the trap bar deadlift are great exercises for anyone looking to gain strength using compound movements. However, we can make some recommendations on whether you should deadlift with a trap bar vs barbell, based on what your goals are for your lifting.

If you’ve struggled with back injuries in the past, especially of the lower back, you can decrease your risk of reinjuring yourself if you choose the trap bar deadlift vs conventional deadlift due to the decreased stress it places on your back. If you’re an athlete who needs to exert explosive force with quick changes of direction, then the trap bar deadlift will give you that more than the regular deadlift. Finally, if you want to work your legs, then the trap bar gives you more activation and will result in more gains in that area.

The regular deadlift is right for you if you’re planning on competing in powerlifting competitions since it’s one of the three main exercises you’ll have to perform – and practice makes perfect.

In this Workout War, choosing to deadlift with a trap bar vs barbell comes down to your training preferences, your body and injury history, and your experience level. These are questions that you should ask yourself regularly so that you’re always confident that your workouts are right for your training goals. To help you with your long-term progress and to develop sustainable lifting habits, try an AI-powered personal trainer like Zing Coach, which acts as a digital companion on all your workout adventures, providing you with workouts that always match exactly what you hope to achieve from your fitness journey. Take the quiz and get started with your new AI Coach today!

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FAQ

What is the difference between RDL and trap bar deadlifts?

Is a low or high trap bar deadlift better?

Why can I lift more with a trap bar deadlift?

Is a deadlift or trap bar better for the back?

Is a trap bar the same as a hex bar?

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