The Best Kept Secret: Trap Bar Deadlifts

There is no easy way to do a deadlift – no way to cheat, which explains their lack or popularity in most gyms around the world.” – Mark Rippetoe

For the past month, my husband and I have been watching replays of the World’s Strongest Man on YouTube. We watch all the heats (if they are available) and then immediately watch the finals. We have gotten up to 2010. Sadly, we will soon catch up to today and then have to wait until the spring for 2013. I made him go back to 1981 when Bill Kazmaier was competing so we would not jump immediately to 2011. Yes, I am that addicted.

(As a result of all this YouTube watching, I have been throwing in a lot more sandbag and sled dragging into the group programming lately and everyone loves it. Farmer’s walks have been a staple but the additional sandbag work is really making it complete. But this post isn’t about sandbags or sled dragging. It’s about lifting weight off the floor. Pure and simple.)

Among the Fingals Fingers, the Atlas stones, the carries and drags in the line up of feats of strength in the World’s Strongest Man, is the one true test of brute strength – The Deadlift. Pick up that heavy weight off the ground and then put it down. Sometimes they are lifting a car for as many reps as possible. Sometimes they are lifting as much weight as possible. Whatever the event, the deadlift is always the deadlift. Pick it up. Put it down. A true test of strength.

The deadlift is a staple exercise at my gym. We also swing kettlebells, drag sleds, press weight overhead, carry dumbbells, squat and slam balls. And no matter your age, if you train here, you will do some variation of these exercises.

His warm up set. 38lbs.

And while all my clients may not do all of the exercise I listed above due to any number of restrictions (for some of my older clients, pressing weight overhead is not doable due to shoulder issues), the deadlift is one exercise that ALL of my adult clients do no matter their ability, no matter their age (cue Jack, my nephew, age 5.)

Lauren, age 55



In my Basic Training class, due to the nature of the class, we stick with kettlebells, single or double. But in my All Strength Class, we teach the barbell deadlift. Only problem is, for many of my lifters, setting up in a good position for either the conventional or sumo deadlift is next to impossible. So what do I do? I want them to deadlift but I need them to be in the best possible and most efficient position for them. Cue the trap bar deadlift. For those of you unfamiliar with the trap bar, it is a hexagonal shaped bar which you stand inside of to pick up. There are two sets of handles, high handles and low handles. To perform a trap bar deadlift, the lifter steps inside the hollow portion of the bar, pushes the hips back, reaches for the handles, stands up holding the bar, lowers it the ground and repeats.

Pretty simple, right? And it really is that simple. Here are a few of my trainees deadlifting. Take a look at the ages.

Joanne, age 63

For different mobility and flexibility reasons, these ladies cannot safely deadlift with a barbell. But that does not stop them from learning how to lift something effectively and safely off the ground. The trap bar deadlifts let them still be badasses and lift some good weight. No matter what shape the bar is, either the weight goes up or it doesn’t.

Karla, age 35



And it’s not just my ladies who use the trap bar. I have a few gentlemen who also have difficulty getting into a good position with the barbell. The trap bar is a great alternative for them as well. Weight is weight and for my clients, learning to lift properly, with good position and good form is key and number one in my book and theirs. If they cannot get into a good position with the conventional or even sumo deadlift, they use the trap bar. It is much easier to coach someone to get into a good position with the trap bar than the barbell and it no way undermines their work as a lifter. They still have to get that weight off the floor themselves.

Is the trap bar a piece of specialized equipment? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t exist in a commercial gym setting. However, how many of you have ever seen a trap bar in a commercial gym? Maaaybe there are some gyms out there that have one tucked away in the weight room….but I highly doubt it. Then again, how many commercial gyms have their members learning how to deadlift properly? Yes, you do see the renegades who put the bar on the floor, load it up, pick it up, put it down only do be told they can’t do that here. But by not allowing people to deadlift and not having appropriate equipment to teach people how to deadlift, you are doing a great disservice to their backsides as well as not helping to teach them how to move and lift things off the floor properly. The deadlift is just one of the top exercises to help teach someone how to hinge from the hips and use their legs as they lift.  The trap bar allows men and women, young and old, to learn to use their bodies in an efficient way and to lift properly. And for most people, this is the only deadlift they will ever really need to learn.





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