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Regular dumbbells and barbells are great, but if you ignored that big hexagonal thing in the corner, snows time to get to know her. The hex bar, or trap bar, as it’s called, is great for deadlifts and a variety of other exercises.
What is the advantage of a trap bar over a barbell?
When you lift a weight, your center of gravity should be above your feet (because if it doesn’t, you fall). With a regular straight barbell, this means keeping the center of the barbell close to the body.
A trap is shaped like a ring or hexagon, which means that its center of gravity is in the large empty space in the center. You can deadlift without the bar rubbing against your shins and shrugs without it rubbing against your body.
The handles on a trap are in a neutral grip, so your hands can be at your sides with palms facing the sides of your body. This may be a more comfortable position for some exercises. And the handles are taller than a regular barbell, meaning you don’t have to bend over as much when doing a deadlift or other floor lift. These features can all be pros or cons, depending on how you look at them.
How much does a trap bar weigh?
Before you start loading weight, you’ll probably want to know how much the bar weighs. (By the way, you’ll probably be able to move more weight with a trap bar deadlift than you can with a barbell.)
Unfortunately there is no standard weight for trap bars. Many of them weigh 45 pounds, like standard barbells, but it’s also common to find them in a variety of weights. At one gym I go to, there is one 45lb trap bar and one 55lb trap bar. At my old gym, there was a trap, and I stepped on a scale with it to find it weighed 69 pounds (cool). Here are some examples of popular models and how much they weigh:
If the bar is labeled with a make and model on the end, you can try Googling it. Otherwise, see if you can get on a scale and weigh yourself with and without the trap in your hands. As a last resort, you can ask the gym staff. In my experience, this is the least accurate method; every gym has a guy who will say the bar is 55 lbs regardless of the actual weight of the bar.
If you can’t find out for sure, I’d just pretend it’s 45 pounds, because that makes the pot math the same as a regular barbell.
Is the trap bar deadlift a real deadlift?
People can usually move more weight in a trap bar deadlift than they can in a barbell deadlift, so in a sense, the trap is easier. (It would be more accurate to say that it takes more weight to be able to achieve the same level of effort.)
There are two main differences between trap bar deadlifts and regular deadlifts. One is that the handles are higher off the ground. On most trap bars, there is a set of handles that protrude higher than the center of the plates, and these are called high handles. But you can also flip the barbell upside down and lift it from the same height as a standard barbell. This grip is called the low handles. Taller handles usually allow you to lift more weight.
The other difference is due to the shape of the bar. With a straight barbell you have to keep your legs behind the bar (because two solid objects can’t take up the same space), but the open design means you can position your legs however they are strongest or most comfortable. For most of us, that means getting our knees a little forward of the barbell’s CG so our quads can help lift the weight.
For this reason, trap bar deadlifts are often described as a hybrid between a squat and a deadlift. In truth, they are more like 90% deadlift/10% squat. After all, we’re stronger in a deadlift than a squat, so it’s natural to use a deadlift movement to lift the weight off the ground most efficiently.
Ultimately, the advantage of the trap bar deadlift is that you don’t have to think too much about technique. Trap bar deadlifts are popular in sports weight rooms because coaches don’t have to teach football players or basketball players to be great deadlifts; they can simply tell them to enter the trap, grab the handles and stand up. There’s less of a learning curve, so you can lift the weight and get on with your life.
What can you do with a trap bar besides deadlifts?
Besides deadlifts, the other classic trap bar lift is the shrug. You stand up with the weight, then shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Thanks to the open design of the traps, you don’t have to worry about the position of the bars against your body; just put yourself in a good place and shrug.
Traps are also great for farmers’ holds and transports. This is why open trap bars exist, to allow the legs to move without hitting the edges of the bar while walking. (You can still perform carries with a standard trap bar; just take baby steps.)
You can also use trap bars for deadlift variations, such as block shots or deficit deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts. And they work well for folded rows and folded shrugs.
Finally, you might be surprised to learn that trap bars work really well for pressing. Yes, it can be awkward to carry the bar into place, but if your trap bar can fit into a squat rack, you can unhook it from there. (Hint: Rthe bar on the safeties instead of using the J-hooks.) Overhead presses, bench presses, and floor presses can all be done with the trap bar, and you get the benefit of neutral handles and a greater range of motion because the center of the barbell does not touch your body.
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