In a battle of epicness not seen since a tank fought a helicopter in Rambo 3, today I'll be pitting the trap bar deadlift vs regular deadlift in order to determine which move truly is the best strength building exercise.
This comes after very interesting research was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggesting that the deadlift may not be the king of all exercises after all... (1)
So let me start by making one thing very clear:
The trap bar is the secret to increasing your deadlift.
That's right, I said it.
In most training facilities, it's known as the weird looking hexagon thing which sits in the corner of the gym collecting dust.
But if you've hit a brick wall with your deadlift progress, I encourage you to take a leaf out of my clients' book and incorporate this movement into your training plan for the next few weeks, because it'll make you stronger than ever before.
And who doesn't like the sound of that?!
The deadlift is an exercise which should sit right at the top of your exercise program. Many would argue that it's the single most important compound lift of them all.
People often overlook the potential benefits of incorporating the trap bar deadlift into their routine and instead only consider grip positioning or range of motion as a way to increase performance (both of which are covered in an upcoming article, so get on my email list at the top of this content so you don't miss those tips).
Also known as a hex bar due to its hexagonal shape, this great piece of kit allows you to place your hands in a neutral position and center the weight across your entire body, as opposed to pulling something that’s in front of you, like you would with a regular deadlift.
In doing so, you can generate much more force.
The next time you go to work on your deadlifts and see this bar gathering dust in the cupboard, I expect you to look at the gym staff with the same disgusted expression as if they've just s**t in your protein shaker.
Given it's odd shape and the fact nobody else seems to use it, most gym members are a little scared off by the hex bar.
But you needn't be afraid.
It's actually a really great piece of kit, and most of my clients use it at some stage of their lifting program.
But how big are these deadlift increases I speak of? Is it worth incorporating it into your own training program?
Well, a trap bar deadlift has been shown to increase your max lift by a whopping 10%!
(So if you deadlift 200kg, you can expect to see a boost of about 20kg.)
These were the findings of a recent study from researchers at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.
Those results are nothing to be sniffed at, right?
Let's take a look at a comparison between trap bar deadlifts and regular deadlifts, so you can see the subtle differences between each lift.
By the way, if you are new to deadlifts in general be sure to watch my video guide on How To Deadlift For Beginners.
Yes, I took the time to make a YouTube vid.
As mentioned above, using a trap bar can yield as much as a 10% increase in your deadlift.
So you may be wondering:
"How did a switch in bar result in such an increase?"
Well, there's no voodoo at work here.
The researchers believed that the increase is the result of the two very small changes which are forced upon you by the bar itself. I'm talking about grip positioning and weight load spread.
First up, you will always find it easier to pull heavy objects when your hands are in a neutral-grip.
It's just how we are built.
Secondly, the different spread of the weight load comes into play.
Because by centering the force across your entire body by being "inside the bar", your quadriceps become a much bigger player in the exercise.
This is because the weight is now much closer to the central line of your body, and this gives you slightly more power coming out of the bottom position.
As if the Everest-like view from the top of a heavy deadlift isn't already spectacular enough!
Interestingly, the researchers also concluded that using a hex bar places less stress on the lower back.
This makes sense because we have a better distribution of the weight across our entire body, as opposed to pulling from in front.
Given the encouraging results of this study, does that mean you should remove barbell deadlifts from your routine and focus solely on trap bar deadlifts from now on?
Hang on a minute, cowboy.
In my opening segment, you probably noticed I said "the trap bar is the secret to increasing your deadlift."
Increasing. Not replacing.
I want you to think back to my recent post where I compared box squats vs regular squats.
In that article, I explained that you shouldn't remove regular squats from your training plan, because regular squats will allow you to hit more muscle groups that box squats miss, even though box squats have been shown to enable heavier weights on the bar.
The same can be said for trap bar deadlifts vs regular deadlifts.
Regular deadlifts remain the king of strength exercises, and should continue to be your 'go to' choice despite this research.
There's no other exercise quite like it for hitting everything in one go.
I've seen guys distort their faces until they resemble a bust sofa, and women shriek like they've just been told their best friend has started selling their friend has started selling Herbalife products, all in the name of getting that bar from floor to hip.
And just like stiff leg deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts, the trap bar deadlift becomes another useful tool you can slip into your routine when things begin to slow down.
While trap bar variation may allow for more weight, a standard version of the move will still hit more muscle groups overall. And while more weight is a nice thing, it's not the be-all-and-end-all.
(For instance, I could probably leg press 5x my squat max.)
So you now have another proven technique for getting things moving again.