Exercise TechniqueSports Science

Deadlift Technique: Use a Trap Bar or Barbell?

The conventional barbell deadlift is a staple in the gym and is a popular exercise among many gym goers. The barbell deadlift is used from beginner athletes learning the hinge movement pattern, all the way to the top powerlifters in competition. The barbell deadlift heavily recruits the hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh, the lower back and spinal muscles. However, is there another deadlift variation which is superior?

Conventional Barbell Deadlift

Introducing the trap bar deadlift.

The trap bar deadlift is often seen as a ‘squattier’ version of the barbell deadlift however it is much more like a barbell deadlift than it is a squat. The trap bar deadlift follows a similar movement pattern to the barbell deadlift however it isn’t exactly the same. In particular there is increased demand on the quadriceps, glutes and middle to upper back in the trap bar compared to the barbell deadlift.

Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar deadlift is considered an easier movement than the barbell deadlift for multiple reasons. It allows for a more upright torso, which minimises back stress and increases demand on the hips compared to the barbell deadlift. This makes the trap bar beneficial for people who have issues with lower back control and stability. Similarly, if you experience flexibility and/or mobility issues, the trap bar deadlift can be a good option due to the smaller range of motion required. The trap bar deadlift is also considered a good starting point for introducing the hinge movement pattern and to develop control and rigidity combined with a neutral spine. These skills are important to master before moving on to the barbell deadlift.

Ultimately it is possible to lift more with the trap bar deadlift than a barbell deadlift. This is due to it being a relatively easier movement that utilises more muscles efficiently due to its ‘squattier’ nature. Similarly, the trap bar deadlift lessens loading on the spine which can enable you to lift heavier relative to the barbell deadlift.

The trap bar deadlift certainly has its place when considering which deadlift variation you are going to utilise in your training. Particularly, if you are a beginner in the gym the trap bar deadlift can be a helpful way to assist in learning the hinge movement pattern. Similarly, if you have mobility or flexibility issues, then the trap bar deadlift may be a good starting point for you to still utilise the hinge movement pattern. The trap bar deadlift may not be superior or inferior to the barbell deadlift, but it certainly is an excellent variation to incorporate into your routine.

By Joe Croom, 3rd year Sports and Exercise Science Student, Curtin University. Joe is currently completing his practicum with Laurence Houghton our High Performance Coach.