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April 01, 2022 1 Comment
You might have seen the strange looking hex-shaped bar at the gym and wondered what it was...OR you know exactly what it is but you just don't know what to do with it (besides deadlifts...and is it even worth using when there is a regular barbell laying around?).
Well, first of all, it's called a trap bar (or hex bar) and it was invented by Al Gerared in the late 1980s as an easier way to do, you guessed it, trap raises. But now, thanks to creative coaches, it is used for so much more, and for good reason.
In this article, we’ll go into what makes the trap bar unique, the benefits of using the trap bar, 9 awesomely effective trap bar exercises and why you should do them, and the best way to incorporate the trap bar into your workouts.
The trap bar has a hex design that allows you to step inside the bar to lift, which aligns the weight more with your center of gravity. It comes with two sets of handles - one projects up in a squared D shape and one pair that’s level with the bar. The bar can be flipped over to make either pair available. This allows you to increase or decrease the range of motion on exercises such as squats and deadlifts, as well as make other exercises feasible like overhead presses. Either way, when you grip it, you will be using a neutral grip.
As the weight is aligned better to your center of gravity and the grip is neutral on both handles, the trap bar is easier on your low back, wrists, elbows, and shoulders than a barbell, particularly for the most common exercises - deadlifts and shrugs. The neutral grip and raised handles generally allows for greater loads too.
Here are a few important benefits of using the trap bar:
Now that you know the amazing benefits of training with a trap bar you might even be considering buying one. If that's the case check out our post that covers the Best Trap Bars on the market.
There are many good trap bar (a.k.a. hex bar) exercises but here are what we consider the 9 best exercises you should be incorporating into your training.
The trap bar deadlift is frowned upon in powerlifting circles but if you’re not competing or you have a history of lower back pain then this is a great variation. As mentioned, there is less shear force on the lower back as your lower back and hips are more in line with the load. Plus, the neutral grip puts less stress on your upper body joints. And when you lift with the D handles it’s a shorter range of motion allowing you to lift more weight.
How to perform the Trap Bar Deadlift:
Trap bar shrugs are a fantastic exercise for strengthening the neck and upper traps. Plus, it is simple and easy to learn, This is performed for either strength or muscle and is an exercise that will cater to many fitness goals. It’s a great exercise to support the position of your head and to reinforce good posture. While this exercise can be done with a barbell, the trap bar allows for heavier loads due to the neutral grip and it makes it easier to rep out at high reps due to the comfortable load positioning (which is important as the traps need high volume for growth due to them being a slow twitch dominant muscle).
How to perform the Trap Bar Shrug:
Trap bar staggered stance deadlift is often referred to as the B-stance deadlift. With the leg behind your offering balance and support, the front leg bears most of the load to help strengthen imbalances between sides. This is a great regression for lifters who cannot do single-leg exercises with good form. The staggered stance makes it even easier on the lower back if bilateral trap bar deadlifts are hard for you. The great thing about the trap bar is it's easier to get into position than with a barbell, and it allows for greater load than dumbbells.
How to perform the Trap Bar Staggered Stance Deadlift:
The benefits of farmers carries are many. Better grip strength, improved shoulder stability, and conditioning. The trap bar carry takes this all up a notch. With the neutral grip and the hex bar design you’ll be able to carry more weight than dumbbell variations to improve your strength and conditioning in a safe manner.
How to do the Trap Bar Farmers Carry:
Barbell overhead pressing is great but not everyone can perform it. If the barbell aggravates your wrists, elbows, or shoulders the neutral grip of the trap bar is a godsend. The neutral grip is easier on the wrist because the barbell press can cause wrist hyperextension when the weight is heavy. Plus, the neutral grip and the weight being in line with your shoulders is easier on the elbow and shoulder joint too. As for muscles worked, the neutral grip also shifts some emphasis away from the front delts to the side delts and the odd shape of the trap bar forces you to stabilize more which is great for your rotator cuff.
How to perform the Trap Bar Overhead Press:
You all know push-ups are awesome and the trap bar push-up is another solid variation that belongs in your training arsenal. Being raised off the ground gives you more range of motion for more muscle-building potential. Plus, the neutral grip is easier on the wrists and instability gives you instant feedback on form. You can’t mindlessly perform this variation you have to be dialed in or else.
How to perform the Trap Bar Push Up:
All floor press variations are easier on the shoulders because the floor stops the shoulder from too much excessive external rotation. The trap bar variation with the neutral grip is easier on your upper body joints if wrist, elbow, and shoulder are an issue for you. Plus, you can go heavier than dumbbell floor press variations which are great for added strength and muscle. If you are looking to improve your lockout strength, the trap bar floor press is great.
How to perform the Trap Bar Floor Press:
The trap bar bent over row with the neutral grip and your center of gravity more in line with the weight is easier on the low back, elbows, and shoulders. Plus, the setup is easier in comparison to the barbell variation. And the wider neutral grip will challenge the muscles of your upper back more to keep a neutral spine with less stress on the lower back. On top of all that, you simply can't do a neutral grip bent over row with a barbell, and again, dumbbells don't allow for as great of load. It's a win-win all round with the hex bar.
How to perform the Trap Bar Bent Over Row:
The trap bar jump squat is safer than barbell variation because the load is off your lower back, particularly when you land. It’s a great variation to build power in your legs but only when loaded correctly. Use 20% of your body weight on the bar for best results. Remember the goal here is power and quickness, height, and not strength.
How to perform the Trap Bar Jump Squat:
Here are a couple of trap bar circuits for fat loss, muscle, and conditioning. Be aware the trap bar is tough on your grip and to take a rest after finishing grip intense exercise. Because the loading and set up are different between exercises, having your equipment ready will make set up easier.
All the exercises above can be substituted in your regular workouts as a replacement for barbell and dumbbell variations for variety or safety sake. The trap bar is a great tool to have in your toolbox.
If you want to do a trap bar only workout for whatever reason, it could look like this...
Instructions: Do each exercise one after the other as a circuit, resting as necessary between exercises. After you have finished one circuit rest for 2-3 minutes and do 2-3 rounds
Start putting that trap bar to use! It's a great way to change the stimulus you place on your muscles and add some new flavor to you training program, which is always fun.
If you have questions about trap bar workouts, leave a comment below.
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