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The trap bar deadlift and conventional barbell deadlift are two incredibly effective exercises for building total body strength. But each comes with its own unique benefits and differences.
If you’re debating which deadlift variation deserves a spot in your training routine, this comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know when comparing trap bars vs. conventional deadlifts.
We’ll dig into proper form, muscles worked, risk of injury, and how to know which is a better fit for your specific goals. Time to deadlift your way to new PRs!
Trap Bar Deadlift Form and Technique
Let’s first break down the proper technique for the trap bar deadlift:
– Starting Position
- Feet hip-width apart inside the bar handlers
- Shoulders retracted, chest up
- Hips pushed back, knees bent
- Grip handles with straight arms
– The Lift
- Initiate the lift by driving through heels, extending hips and knees
- Keep back flat and chest up throughout the entire movement
- Fully lock out hips and knees at the top
- Do not overextend back or allow hips to rise early
- Hinge at hips first to send butt back
- Allow knees to bend only as far as the crease of the hip
- Keep weighted heels and avoid squatting down
- Do not round the upper or lower back
– Common Mistakes
- Starting with knees too bent or hips too low
- Letting hips rise before the bar leaves the floor
- Rounding the lower back/collapsing the chest
- Overextending the back or hyperextending knees at lockout
- Allowing shoulders to creep forward of the bar at the top
Proper setup places the handles at mid-shin level. The lift is initiated through a leg drive, not the lower back. A tight core keeps the body rigid from floor to lockout.
Conventional Deadlift Form and Technique
Now let’s cover the same basics for the correct conventional barbell deadlift form:
– Starting Position
- Feet hip to shoulder-width apart
- Shoulders over or slightly in front of the bar
- Hinge at hips to bend down, keep a flat back
- Grip bar outside legs hands shoulder-width or closer
– The Lift
- Drive through heels and push hips forward to stand
- Keep bar path vertically close to shins throughout the lift
- Fully extend hips and knees at lockout
- Maintain rigid spine position from floor to top
- Hinge at hips again to send butt back
- Allow knees to bend as the bar lowers past them
- Keep back flat and chest up
- Do not squat down
– Mistakes to Avoid
- Rounding upper or lower back at any point
- Allowing hips to rise before the bar leaves the floor
- Locking knees before hips reach full extension
- Losing tension and letting shoulders creep forward
- Not engaging lats enough or pulling slack out of the bar
The main keys are the hip hinge, vertical bar path, rigid core/back, and leg drive to initiate. Avoid spinal flexion or deviation.
Muscle Groups Worked by Each Exercise
The trap bar and barbell deadlift target many of the same major muscle groups but with a slightly different emphasis:
|Muscle Groups||Trap Bar Deadlift||Conventional Deadlift|
|Hamstrings||Targeted||Primary (Posterior chain)|
|Erector spinae||Targeted||Primary (Posterior chain)|
The trap bar deadlift involves more knee and quad action to lift the weight off the floor versus a barbell relying heavily on hip extension and hamstrings.
Grip width and body position can also alter focus. Wider grips target more upper back while closer grips hit the legs harder on both variations.
Level of Difficulty: Trap Bar vs. Barbell Deadlift
Generally speaking, most lifters can move more weight on the trap bar deadlift due to its more efficient mechanics:
– Trap Bar Deadlift Difficulty
- Closer to the body’s center of mass
- Allows better hip position due to a neutral grip
- Greater quad involvement for initial leg drive off the floor
- Less spinal flexion under load
– Conventional Deadlift Difficulty
- Greater forward torso lean requires more low back strength
- Challenging grip strength due to pronated hands
- Less leg drive since hips start lower engaging hamstrings
- Heavier loads increase the risk of form breakdown
The trap bar allows lifting in a “pseudo-squatted” position for stronger leverages. Most lifters feel they can deadlift 15-20% more than barbell pulling conventional.
Risk of Injury: Trap Bar vs. Conventional Deadlift
Both deadlift styles come with injury risks if the form breaks down, but some key differences:
– Trap Bar Injury Risk
- Lower due to neutral grip and closer bar position
- Handles limit grip as a limiting factor
- Poor trap bar form risks pulled biceps, strained shoulders
– Conventional Deadlift Injury Risk
- More sheer force and risk of back injury if poor form
- Challenging grip and forearm stress with pronated hands
- Higher risk of disc bulges, slipped discs, and torn hamstrings
The trap bar’s centered load and limited forward torso lean put less stress on the lower back during heavy lifts. The neutral grip also reduces the chances of bicep tears.
However, while less likely, back issues can still occur with sloppy trap bar technique. No deadlift is truly “risk-free” with huge loads.
Which Muscles Get Worked More?
Due to the differences in body position and mechanics, some muscles get emphasized more with each deadlift variation:
– Trap Bar Deadlift Muscle Focus
- Greater quadriceps engagement
- Increased core activation to stabilize
- More shoulders and upper back involved
- Reduced stress on lower back vs. conventional
– Conventional Deadlift Muscle Focus
- Greater hamstring and glute activation
- Increased latissimus dorsi involvement
- Higher demand for spinal erectors
- A greater challenge for forearm and grip strength
Neither deadlift targets a single muscle group. But the trap bar elicits more quad and upper back effort while the barbell really hammers the posterior chain muscles.
Which Deadlift is More Functional?
The term “functional” gets thrown around a lot in training circles, but what does it really mean?
In short, functional exercises mimic real-world movement patterns and develop the strength you can use in daily life. Both deadlifts have functional merits:
– Trap Bar Deadlift Functionality
- Grip variations mimic picking up objects like boxes or tools
- Standing torso position is like lifting items safely off the ground
- Develops total body pulling strength for daily bending and hip hinge movements
– Conventional Deadlift Functionality
- Traditional hip hinge movement reinforces proper pickup form
- Full body tension teaches bracing core under load
- Jamming legs into the floor builds power you use when standing up from a chair etc.
- Gripping bar translates to holding heavy objects like groceries in hands
Due to the more “squat-like” movement, most experts consider the trap bar deadlift slightly more functional for general strength. But both excel at building full-body power.
Trap Bar vs Barbell Deadlift: Which is Better?
With all these factors to consider, is one deadlift clearly superior to the other?
The truth is it depends on your specific training goals and individual needs:
– Trap Bar Deadlift Advantages
- Lower learning curve
- Allows lifting heavier loads
- Builds more quad strength
- Reduced spinal compression risk
- Easier on shoulders and wrists
– Conventional Deadlift Advantages
- Greater grip and forearm development
- Hamstring/glute focus
- Teaches core bracing under heavier loads
- More lat and upper back activation
- Better barbell strength carryover
Choose the trap bar deadlift if prioritizing injury prevention, progressive loading, and greater comfort. opt for conventional if focusing more on maximal strength, muscle development, and core stability under heavy loads. Or implement both in your routine for comprehensive results!
Should You Do Both Deadlift Variations?
Rather than choosing one exercise and excluding the other, many lifters implement both trap bar and conventional deadlifts for optimal full-body strength development:
Here are some effective ways to incorporate both variations into a training cycle:
- Alternate which deadlift you emphasize from one training block to the next
- Use trap bar deadlifts for higher volume and conventional for lower rep strength work
- Do trap bar deadlifts one workout, conventional the next workout
- Focus on just one variation at a time if still early in training age
- Always start with trap bar to pre-fatigue quads then follow up with conventional
There are many ways to integrate both if you have the recovery capacity. Just be sure to Master safe techniques on each movement before combining them long-term.
Sample Deadlift Workouts: Trap Bar vs Conventional
To see these deadlift variations in action, here are two sample routines focusing on each:
– Trap Bar Only Workout
|Exercise||Sets x Reps||Notes|
|Trap Bar Deadlift||5 x 5||Focus on form and control|
|Glute Bridge||3 x 10||Strengthen glutes|
|Standing Overhead Press||3 x 8||Work on shoulder strength|
|Dumbbell Row||3 x 10||Engage upper back muscles|
|Hanging Leg Raise||3 x 10||Core and hip flexor work|
– Conventional Only Workout
|Exercise||Sets x Reps||Notes|
|Conventional Deadlift||3 x 3-5||Heavier weight, lower reps|
|Romanian Deadlift||3 x 8||Focus on hamstring and glute strength|
|Chin Ups||3 x Max Reps||Bodyweight exercise, target upper body|
|Zottman Curl||3 x 10||Target bicep and forearm muscles|
|Plank||3 x 30 sec||Core stability exercise|
Use these templates as a guide for structuring your own trap bar or conventional deadlift-focused training day. Start conservatively until you understand how your body responds.
Should You Deadlift with a Trap Bar or Barbell?
So should you deadlift with a trap bar or barbell? The choice depends on your specific goals and fitness level:
- If just starting out
The trap bar allows learning proper hip hinge mechanics with a lower learning curve. It also builds great functional strength.
- If concerned with back issues
The trap bar is likely the safer choice due to its spine-friendly design. But beware of technique flaws.
- If training for muscular hypertrophy
The conventional deadlift hits the hamstrings and glutes harder for more development.
- If improving barbell strength
You’ll need to train pulling from the floor directly with a straight bar at times.
- If pursuing single lift maxes
The trap bar typically allows lifting the most absolute weight. But the barbell has more carryover.
The best approach is training both variations over time to reap the full spectrum of strength and muscle-building benefits. Vary which you emphasize based on your current goals.
Just be sure to master your technique – no deadlift will make you bigger or stronger if done with sloppy form and ego lifting. Patience and gradual progression are key.
Both the trap bar deadlift and the conventional deadlift should have a place in any serious lifter’s strength training routine. Now that you understand the key differences, benefits, and applications of each, you can start implementing them into your workouts.
Remember to start light, practice impeccable form, and gradually increase weight in a controlled manner for long-term gains. There are no quick shortcuts to a massive deadlift – only consistency, hard work, and smart programming.
Stick with it and incorporate a solid deadlift foundation into your training. Your backside, legs, and entire body will respond by getting bigger and stronger than you ever thought possible!