A Tool For Deadlifts, Rows, Shrugs, And Carries
Whether you’re training in a home gym or commercial gym, this versatile yet underrated tool needs a place in your workout.
Every Home Gym Needs One
If you have a home gym, you probably have a bar, plates, a power rack, an adjustable bench, a pull-up rig, and some dumbbells. What’s missing? A trap bar.
The trap bar is the best specialty bar. Certain exercises are just better with a trap bar – yes, even better than using a barbell. There are two reasons for this:
- The neutral grip allows your shoulders to stay properly centrated and in external rotation. Holding a regular barbell with a double-overhand grip puts your scapulae into protraction and your humerus into internal rotation – two slouchy positions we already spend too much time in.
- Standing in the middle of the implement aligns the load with your center of gravity. This decreases the injury risk for the lumbar spine.
Here are a few trap bar exercises that need to be part of your training.
1. The Trap Bar Deadlift
For most, the trap bar deadlift is vastly superior to its barbell cousin. In addition to the advantages described previously, there are two other clear wins for the trap bar: grip and versatility.
With a conventional barbell deadlift, you can use a double-overhand, mixed grip, and hook grip (thumbs inside of the fingers). Each has clear disadvantages that are eliminated with a trap bar.
The mixed grip with a conventional bar can be tough on the spine and risky for the biceps, and the hook grip is uncomfortable for many people. By default, the double-overhand grip becomes the go-to choice, but it’s the weakest of all three and forces lifters to use straps once the weight gets heavier. With a trap bar, you’ll often be able to grip an extra 50-100 pounds, without straps, compared to double-overhand.
The high and low handles on many trap bars add versatility. Using the high handles, which are usually between 4-7 inches higher than the low handles, makes the movement similar to a rack pull and allows you to handle more weight. The high handles also promote a more vertical torso angle for greater quad recruitment.
Low-handle deadlifts more closely resemble a traditional barbell deadlift, with a true hip hinge pattern and posterior chain emphasis.
Program training blocks of 6-8 weeks, rotating between all three: high-handle trap bar deadlifts, low-handle trap bar deadlifts, and conventional barbell deadlifts.
2. The Trap Bar Bent-Over Row
You can do a traditional barbell bent-over row with either an overhand or an underhand grip. The problem is that both versions lock the wrist into an angle that doesn’t allow for optimal activation of the upper back musculature. The trap bar’s neutral grip means you can easily focus on scapular retraction to get your rhomboids, lats, and traps (mid and lower) firing.
During barbell rows, depending on your relative limb segment lengths, you may find that your knees get in the way of what feels like a proper pathway for the bar. This is a non-issue with the trap bar; there’s plenty of space between your legs and the bar.
3. The Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
Like the bent-over row, the bar path can be an issue with barbell Romanian deadlifts for some, especially taller lifters. Knees and shins can end up being an obstacle. The neutral grip of the trap bar once again wins the day, allowing for heavier loading and better shoulder centration.
4. The Trap Bar Shrug
Shrugs are an underrated exercise to preferentially develop the upper traps, despite their limited range of motion. Most shrug variations limit range of motion even further.
Barbell shrugs can be very uncomfortable for a segment of the population when a certain part of the anatomy gets in the way if you follow my meaning. Range of motion tends to be cut short.
Dumbbell shrugs are also less than optimal because the weights tend to run up your legs as you shrug, removing a portion of the load.
Shrugs with the trap bar avoid all of these problems. The wide spacing between the handles also allows you to focus more on the upper traps.
5. The Trap Bar Farmer’s Walk
In the absence of actual farmer’s walk implements, there’s nothing better than the trap bar for heavy carries.
Dumbbells are terrible since they bang against your thighs as you walk; kettlebells are only marginally better. So if you have the space to walk with a load, the trap bar is the best way to go.
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