Most people don’t do hex bar or trap bar exercises. They’re missing out. Grab the one at your gym, dust it off, and put it to work.
The trap bar (on Amazon) – also called a hex bar – is the best tool that people seem to forget. If you haven’t done a trap-bar deadlift, you’ve at least seen someone else doing it. It’s a simple way to go heavy while minimizing joint stress and injury risk.
Here’s a quick refresher from Christian Thibaudeau:
While the deadlift is a classic, you can use the trap bar for a lot more than that. Here are 10 other ways to fit this barbell-alternative into your workouts:
The loaded carry is another common way to use the trap bar, and whether you’re doing it for conditioning or strength, your options are endless.
Try a descending ladder of push-ups with farmers walks in between:
Carry the trap bar, do 10 push-ups, carry, do 9 push-ups, carry, do 8 push-ups, etc. working your way down to a single rep. You accumulate 55 push-ups by the end and several minutes walking while loaded up.
Set a timer and see how long it takes, then see if you can beat that the next time around. Weight selection is up to you, but if you’ve chosen something that’s too heavy, shorten your distance or remove plates. If it feels too light, add weight or walk further.
Still not enough of a challenge? Do straight sets of push-ups – 10 sets of 10 – instead of descending. Or before each carry, do a quick set of trap-bar deads.
The time it takes to finish will depend largely on the distance you chose for the walk. But if you go with a super short distance, your chest won’t have much time to recover between each set of push-ups. A longer walk will mean more total work, but it’ll also mean more time to “rest” between push-ups.
Tip: If your chest gets tired, just alternate between standard and hand-release push-ups. As long as you’re using a full range of motion (chest touches the ground at the bottom, arms straightened out at the top) it counts.
The trap bar actually works great for pressing exercises. The neutral handles are better for your shoulders and elbows if you have issues in those areas. Your head doesn’t get in the way, which makes for a very natural press with no need to lean back or create weird neck angles.
Try this overhead press dead-stop style: Start with the bar on the pins in a power rack and do each rep from a dead stop – no bouncing at the bottom. The pins should be set anywhere from your traps to the top of your head, depending on your shoulder mobility and how you like doing your overhead presses.
The rack pull is a great exercise for the posterior chain and back. Most people do it in “dead-stop” fashion – resting the bar momentarily on the rack between reps. That’s a good technique, but there’s value in using the continuous tension method too. “Tap” the rack (don’t bounce) and keep the tension on the muscles at all times.
If you have access to a trap bar with elevated handles, try this split squat. Compared to the conventional BSS, you’ll feel more stable in the bottom position because the plates will touch the ground. While you might need a little balance, you won’t get a case of the wobbles in the middle of a set.
Remember, single-leg training is an important part of having a well-developed and strong lower body.
Matching up the resistance profile of an exercise with the working muscles’ strength curves increases the effectiveness of the exercise. Given the trap bar deadlift is a lot like a squat, it can be classified as an extension movement pattern. This movement pattern has an ascending strength curve – you get stronger throughout the range. You’re weakest at the bottom and strongest at the top.
The load you can lift is limited by what you can lift off the floor (your weakest position). As a result, your muscles are only working maximally through the early part of the range. By modifying the lift to match this strength curve you can challenge the muscles across the entire range and make it a more effective muscle builder.
Doing this with the trap bar is very simple: attach bands to the bar. You don’t need specialized equipment or band pegs; you can just stand on the bands.
If you can bench press your bodyweight ten times but can’t do ten strict inverted rows, then your relative strength sucks, and so does your back development… probably. Bottom line? You need to be doing more horizontal pulls like this to even that out.
Trap bars come in various designs with different lengths and grip widths. Not all work for inverted rows, but those that do offer some unique benefits to your back and shoulder health. The trap bar will create an element of instability, adding even more of a challenge.
Try holding the OTHER sides of your trap bar. This shifts the load from the sides to the front and back. Rotating the bar will test your grip strength, anterior/posterior balance, and scapular stability. Because the hex bar freely rotates in this position, the challenge is stabilizing the weight. Use around 65 percent of your normal farmer’s walk weight with same distance and set requirements.
Lifters and athletes wanting to add plyometrics to their training often do jump squats, but landing with 185 to 225 extra pounds on the back leads to spine jarring and knee caving. That’s where the trap bar comes in. You get the same benefits without the bar hitting your back.
For the trap bar jump, one study recommended a load of 20% 1RM of your back squat. This produced greater peak power than normal vertical jumps.
To prevent replicating horror movie scenes, let the trap bar unload after jumping. This takes the load off the spine and allows you to focus on triple extension and maximal jump height without concern for landing safely.
This challenge will build your work capacity and grip strength. Start with a set of trap bar deadlifts, then take a short walk (loaded carry) between mini-sets. Choose a weight that’s 40-60% of your max. Do this toward the end of the workout. In the video you see how it looks with the 8-8-6-4-2 rep scheme.
You could also set the timer for 3-4 minutes. Do 5 reps, walk 5 steps, do 5 more, walk 5 more, etc. for the duration of the timer. Add 20-30 seconds each week for 4 weeks, then add 5-10 pounds and repeat.
Similar to the barbell floor press, this trap bar variation limits the bottom range of motion, but allows you to use a neutral grip (palms facing in).
Many times, the barbell will force you to flare the elbows out and increase the angle between the upper arm and the side of the torso – the “carrying angle.” Too high of a carrying angle will cause over-internal rotation at the bottom of a press making it very difficult to maintain proper torque output at the gleno-humeral joint.
By bringing the hands into a neutral position, the carrying angle of the upper arm and shoulder girdle is decreased, making it easier and more natural to keep the elbows tighter to the sides of the body. Just grip the middle of the handles to keep it from tilting forward or backward.
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