Hex Bar Deadlifts: How to Use the Trap Bar to Improve Your Main Lift
This article will take a look at hex bar deadlifts and how they might be able to improve your traditional deadlifts.
There are very few athletes and gym-goers who would deny the effectiveness of the traditional deadlift. The exercise is as basic as it gets: how much weight can you lift off the floor?
To be fair, there are some deadlift-haters out there who will claim the exercise will wreak havoc on your back. This is usually the result of not properly warming up before trying to lift a lot of weight. The deadlift is traditionally done as a power exercise, so doing 3-4 warm-up sets beforehand is time well-spent.
Despite these precautions, it’s possible that some athletes still aren’t able to take advantage of the traditional deadlift. The deadlift is a deceptively simple looking exercise, but there are several reasons why someone wouldn’t be able to perform it properly.
Tight hamstrings prevent proper form lifting the weight off the ground
Tight hip flexors prevent proper lockout at the top of the exercise
Weak lower back muscles put too much strain on the lower back
It would be a major shame to ditch the deadlift altogether. So what’s the answer?
Fortunately, there’s another option: hex bar deadlifts (also called trap bar deadlifts).
Benefits of Hex Bar Deadlifts
Anyone who has any experience with traditional deadlifts can easily see why hex bar deadlifts might be beneficial.
Instead of being forced into a pronated or mixed grip with the bar in front of you, you’re able to use a neutral grip with your hands at your sides.
This changes the center of gravity when lifting the weight, reducing the pressure on the athlete’s lower back. This in turn reduces the risk of injury and makes it easier to maintain straight-backed posture during the lift.
Furthermore, the handles of the hex bar are normally higher off the ground than a traditional straight bar with 45 lb plates. For athletes who are still working on their flexibility, those few extra inches could enable them to deadlift with proper form.
In short, the hex bar deadlifts are just EASIER.
Not only do they reduce the chance of injury, but they also allow the lifter to lift more weight. And lifting more weight means increasing overall power output.
The lifter will be able to strengthen their entire posterior chain without running the risk of banging their shins, slipping a disk, or pulling a muscle in their lower back.
Risks of the Hex Bar Deadlift
Biomechanically speaking, there is one risk to doing hex bar deadlifts that is not present with traditional straight bar deadlifts: the lockout.
At the top of the movement, it’s recommended that lifters thrust their hips forward to lock out the weight. Not only will this ensure that they’re keeping their shoulders back and chest up, but it will serve as a reminder to give their glutes a final flex to ensure they’re fully activated.
Often overlooked is the fact that the lockout is limited by the bar in front of them – you can’t push their hips further than the bar.
With the hex bar deadlift, the bar is too far forward to prevent you from locking out too far.
With novice lifters, it’s entirely possible to attempt a lockout with too much zeal and throw their hips too far forward, resulting in an injury.
If you’re coaching someone, make sure to stop this before it happens.
If you’re doing the exercise on your own, remember that less is more when it comes to the lockout. Practice with lighter weight at first and “grease the groove” of the lockout before moving to a heavier weight.
Variations of the Hex Bar Deadlift
Regular deadlifts do not offer many variations. Changing your grip and possibly adopting a sumo stance are pretty much it.
But with the hex bar deadlift, you have a few interesting options that are worth exploring.
Plyometric Deadlift with the Hex Bar
Traditional deadlifts are virtually impossible to do as a plyometric exercise. In order to avoid banging your shins, you have to slow down slightly as you raise the bar until it passes your knees.
Additionally, the subsequent drop on the way down can put too much stress on the lower back.
These two problems are solved with the hex bar deadlift. Banging your shins is impossible, and with the center of gravity “centered” on the lifter instead of disproportionately in front of him, it’s much less likely to sustain an injury when landing the jump.
Deficit Deadlift with the Hex Bar
While extremely flexible (and brave) individuals can attempt a deficit deadlift with a straight bar, they’re much more enjoyable with a trap bar.
To do a deficit deadlift, find something to stand on that rises a few inches off the ground. Because of the size of the trap bar, it’s likely that whatever mini platform you’ve found will fit inside.
The benefits of a deficit deadlift with the hex bar are similar to the benefits of squatting below parallel: more strength at a greater range of motion.
As a brief side note: this is the same concept behind power yoga – you attempt to increase your strength in various poses where the human body has very little leverage. Add to this the challenge of breathing deeply through your nose, and you’ll find your balance, power output, and core strength increase with just a few workouts.
If the Hex Bar Deadlift is so Great, Then Why Ever Use the Straight Bar?
After all of these apparent benefits of the hex bar deadlift, then why would you ever use anything but the trap bar?
If your main concern is being able to do the deadlift without risking injury, then the trap bar is for you.
But if you’re looking to hit your posterior chain (specifically the hamstrings, lower back, and back extensors) then the straight bar deadlift is still the king.
When you grip the bar in front of you, the hamstrings have a much greater load placed on them. With a hex bar deadlift, this effect is much less as the center of gravity is more aligned with the center of the body instead of towards the front.
In your training regimen, it’s important to remember that there is no “best” exercise or group of exercises. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and there is some value in varying the types of exercises that you do in order to force your body to constantly adapt to new stimuli.
That said, if you DO plan on kicking the traditional deadlift to the curb in favor of the trap bar version, then you might want to consider adding additional exercises that focus on improving your hip drive (kettlebell swings, squat thrusts, etc).
Final Thoughts on the Hex Bar Deadlift
Regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, it’s highly likely that the hex bar deadlift can benefit you.
If you’re a novice lifter and don’t feel comfortable with a traditional deadlift, you can use the trap bar to get acclimated to the movement of the lift without having to worry about hobbling out of the gym with bruised shins or a slipped disk.
And if you’re a veteran lifter, don’t be so quick to scoff at doing deadlifts with the hex bar. The additional weight that you’ll be able to lift with the trap bar will significantly strengthen the muscles in your lower body as well, possibly leading to you setting a new PR the next time you load up the straight bar.
For everyone in between, give the hex bar a try next time deadlifts come up in your routine. If your gym is anything like mine, then it’s probably collecting dust in the corner (for no good reason!).