The Ultimate Lower-Body Exercise

by Tanner Shuck

The (Other) King Of All Lifts

Forget what you've heard. This isn't an easier version of a deadlift or a squat. But it will make you stronger on both. Here's what to do.

The Best Lower-Body Exercise

What’s the KING of all lifts? One camp will argue that the best lower-body exercise is the back squat. The other will say it’s the deadlift. You can make compelling arguments for both, but ultimately there’s no right answer. So let’s just agree they’re both great and it’s simply a matter of preference.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me introduce to you the trap bar squat (TBS). It may be the exact lift your body needs.

The Trap Bar Squat

The TBS essentially combines the best elements of the squat and deadlift into one extremely high-value-for-time exercise. It’s one of the single most effective lifts to improve both strength and hypertrophy… and most lifters never even try it.

What Muscles Does It Hit?

The TBS will blow up your entire posterior chain by effectively targeting your hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, and traps. What makes it so effective? You’re engaging just about every muscle in your body (except maybe the pecs and triceps) which makes it awesome for total-body anabolism.

The greater range motion and increased demand on the legs makes the TBS arguably more taxing than a conventional deadlift. If you want to make any exercise more challenging and effective, find a way to incorporate the body’s largest muscle group: the legs. So think of the TBS as a squatting deadlift.

Treat it like any other form of deadlift, but instead of trying to pull the weight up, think of pushing your feet through the floor to lift the weight. This will be even easier and more natural with the TBS since the starting position is basically the bottom of a squat.

Who Should Do The TBS and When?

While there are no programming rules here, it works well as the main compound lift. I’ve done numerous workouts of only high-rep, heavy trap bar squats. It’s so fatiguing that it’ll be the only exercise I can do in the training session.

The TBS is a great lift if you’re a moderate or advanced lifter, especially if your primary goal is to put on muscle. It can be a great alternative to the conventional deadlift, and I often use it in my training during accumulation blocks where the main focus is hypertrophy.

What’s The Best Way To Add It To My Workouts?

Because of the increased range of motion and the leverage, you’ll find the 8-10 rep range most effective. You’re likely never going to be able to use as much weight for the TBS compared to your back squat or deadlift, and any time you’re performing the TBS around your true 75-80% of your 1RM deadlift, your technique will start to decay.

Use the most weight possible for at least 8 clean reps while controlling the eccentric portion of the lift. Here’s one of my favorite ways to program the TBS:

For this cycle, use loads (percentages) based off of your most recent 1RM of the conventional deadlift:

  • Week One: 5 sets of 8 reps using 45% of 1RM
  • Week Two: 5 sets of 8 reps using 50% of 1RM
  • Week Three: 5 sets of 8 reps using 55% of 1RM
  • Week Four: 3-5 sets of 8 reps using 60% of 1RM
  • Week Five: 3-5 sets of 8 reps using 65% of 1RM
  • Week Six: 3-5 sets of 8 reps using 70% of 1RM


  • Aim to use a 2-3 second eccentric (negative) each rep.
  • Rest 3-5 minutes between sets or until your heart rate settles.

After this 6-week block, you’ll see some solid size and strength gains, and be better prepared to reach a new one-rep max deadlift.


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