Trap Bar CNS Demands Compared to Conventional

I can’t find it but I am sure I’ve seen CT mention before on here about the lower CNS costs of the trap-bar. I’ve also seen in other places people talking about the trap bar being great to get some heavy volume in due to this. I just wondered if there were any studies about this and hear people’s own experiences?

There aren’t any studies on this to my knowledge, mostly because CNS fatigue is challenging to measure (or even define)

I know personally, I tend to coach as if trap bar is more fatiguing. This is because technique is less of a limiting factor in the trap bar deadlift, so the weights someone uses are probably “closer” to their true physiological/muscular/neural limit.

That’s only a theory, and I have no direct physical evidence to prove it


My experience is very similar to what @j4gga2 has described: I find it far easier/safer to get lots of heavy volume in with trap bar deadlifts than conventional due to the reduced risk of lower back issues.


I think that’s where it gets confusing. People sometimes do higher volume with the TB because it’s safer, but demands on the body could be higher due to being able to get closer to your max. From a recovery stand point this is more to think about.

I know some people will only full ROM deadlift once every few weeks to save the lower back which is less of an issue with the trap bar. It’s hard to know how many people keep conventional deadlift volume low for CNS reasons or for lower back recovery reasons.

Maybe it is just as simple as lower back fatigue often limiting people with deadlift volume before reaching the demands that trap bars may. It’ll be interesting to see how switching from a 5-6 heavy TBDL reps (1x5, 3x2, 2x3) type of routine to a 3-4x8 will disrupt the rest of my training.

FWIW, a trap bar DL is basically a half squat. Let that inform your programming as necessary

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What’s the purpose of the deadlift in your program? Are you using it to train a particular movement pattern? Build a certain muscle? Trigger a certain anabolic response?

I thought the mentality of the trap bar being a half squat was long gone?

Sure there are people that are overly upright whilst using handles that are up to their knees but pretty much all the science says the two deadlifts variations have more similarities than not, especially if you are paying attention to your hip-hinge. Most coaches these days will even say that if you don’t have powerlifting goals that trap bar deadlifts are the better alternative for most people.

I don’t consider it a squat in my programming whatsoever, neither does Jim Wendler.

Any and all of the above. The trap bar is my heavy hinge movement, RDLs are my accessory, I wish to build the huge myriad of muscles involved, and like with 90% of what I do in the gym, I hope to stimulate an anabolic response.

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I program TB far more often than I program conventional. I am definitely not married to standard straight bar deadlifts (or any exercise)

I still think it’s relatively close position wise to half squat (especially in individuals with “hingey” squats)

That’s not a bad thing by the way

What “science” my guy?

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For those goals, i believe the trapbar is far superior to the conventional. I don’t really know what CNS fatigue means so i’m just going to describe it as best i can. High volume trap bar deadlifts hit me all over like a tonne of bricks. They put me into a hole i need to dig myself out of with a fork, i can practically feel myself growing. High volume conventional deadlifts make me hurt in very specific places and in a way that doesn’t seem to respond as well to food and rest.


Greg Nuckols very famous article that gets reposted everywhere is a very good read. In biggest relevance to our conversation is the squat-hinge continuum he talks about.

ShreddedSportScience references a couple of things also.

I feel ya, i’ve had times I’ve fully maxed out or even failed a PR on the TB in the past and felt fine the next day. On Wednesday I built up to a top set of 5 and backed off with 2x8 and I felt ruined, I was just playing with a few different rep ranges and intensities. 3-4x8 is gonna really test me. Hopefully I won’t have to pull back on my RDL volume a full 96 hours later…

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My totally unscientific thoughts are that the trap bar deadlift spreads the strain more evenly over the whole body, which makes it easier to recover from.


For me, the thought is that the straight bar forces me to fit my body around the bar. The trap bar doesn’t.

I also prefer the hammer strength machine vs. barbell overhead pressing - same reason.

I agree the straight bar is more likely to beat up tissue that is harder to recover.

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Have you ever tried the trap bar for overhead pressing? I’ve never used the hammer strength machine, and whilst OHP is maybe my favourite exercise, some days it just feels awkward and my performance seems so determined by how in tune I am that day rather than raw strength. Form is obviously important on all exercises but OHP seems to be the one that is the least forgiving strength-wise.

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Obviously technique with the trap bar is much easier, because you are never dealing with the difference between the center of gravity of the bar and your center of gravity. IMO, much more upper back strength is needed to deadlift the bar, and of course, your skill of minimizing the difference of the center of gravities will affect how much more weight you can deadlift.

IMO, if you are an efficient deadlifter, the deadlift is a greater CNS drain than the trap bar.

Trap bar overhead pressing is awesome. It should be more popular.

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I feel like “much more upper back strength” can be argued depending on anatomy. A low-handle trap bar deadlift can feel like a deficit deadlift for some people, that could mean more leg drive for one build, and for others, it will force them to use more upper back.

Speaking from my own experience, when I switched to the trap bar I got more upper back DOMs than I’d ever got before and I felt some new size pretty quickly. I do concede that that could have just been the novelty of the movement though. The same might have happened if I were to be switching the other way round.

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Could you lift substantially more weight with the trap bar? That might explain some of what you experienced.

A lot of people forget about that aspect when they say such and such variation is better for building X muscle. One lift might target that muscle more, but less weight is used with that lift, and a different lift might not target that muscle as much, but more weight (or reps) is used and the muscle gets worked.

I do feel that @RT_Nomad is probably correct on this one if the work done is equal. The conventional deadlift should use more upper back because the upper back is required to keep the barbell in position by pulling it towards the lifter. This isn’t really required with a trap bar (especially handles up version).

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My gym closed and reopened 4 or 5 times during COVID so I experienced both quite fresh. It’s hard to say about the weight used as they were at different times in my training but it would 100% be a factor, definitely if using high handles - with low handles I don’t feel my strength has been much different. My “coming back from a break” DOMs from conventional I felt it more shared amongst my posterior, but less in my upper back. The trap bar however was much more upper. Maybe that’s my form/anatomy, or maybe some of the lower posterior involvement you miss out on gets shared amongst the hips and upper back. There’s also an element of what the wider grip does - you can just mimic the lift with no weight and feel more trap involvement straight away - I can anyway. Of course this is me being completely speculative.

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