The Trap Bar Is More Than Just A Tool For Deadlifting
Chances are you’ve used the trap bar to deadlift, but it would be foolish to think that this versatile piece of equipment’s use is just limited to lifting heavy off the floor.
Due to it’s unique shape, size and handle placement, the trap bar is literally one of the best training tools that you’re most likely underutilizing in your training and programming.
From presses to hinges, carries to lunges, the trap bar is is the tool of choice for many strength coaches looking to produce a novel training effect while prioritizing intelligent pain-free training for their athletes and clients.
We’ve brought together some of the industries top strength coaches to share their favorite trap bar exercises and how to perfectly execute and program them for maximal results. Here are the best 6 trap bar exercises you need to start implementing now.
#1 The Trap Bar Overhead Press by Christian Thibaudeau
It’s no secret that I love pressing. I also love big delts. But I find that for most people the regular military press with a barbell can be hazardous. Maybe not always in the short term, but the insult to the should joint can pile up and you only notice the issue when it’s too late.
That’s why I love the trap bar overhead press. It puts the shoulder in a much safer and natural position while also keeping the point of force application closer to your body’s midline. Both of these greatly reduce shoulder stress by allowing you to press in a straighter line. It is also much easier to have the bar in the proper position overhead (arm slightly behind ear line, or at lest in line with the ears), especially in those with shoulder and/or T-spine mobility issues.
You will notice that most trap bars have two handles: the “low” handles which are aligned with the center of the plates and the “high” handles which are a few inches above. You can use both to press.
If you use the low handles you will be able to use more weight because it is a more stable position. So strictly for strength or hypertrophy purpose, it is likely the better option.
If you use the high handles (which will be below the “low” handles in the pressing position) it will be a lot more unstable because the weights will be above the point of contact (kinda like during a kettlebell bottoms-up press). This makes it a great exercise to work on shoulder stability and activation.
I often combine both in a workout. Here are two applications:
- Use the “unstable” grip (high handle) for your preparation sets. This will activate both the central and peripheral nervous system, allowing you to perform better when you switch to the low handles for your work sets.
- Use both as a mechanical drop set: start with the unstable (high handles) position. When you can’t do any more reps, turn the bar around (so that the high handles will be at the bottom) and do as many reps as you can with the more stable grip, using the same weight.
I find option 1 to be better for strength and performance and option 2 to be better for hypertrophy. Another strategy that I really like is doing a post-fatigue superset of trap bar overhead press and full range front raise as in the video above.
For more from Christian, check out his website and social media links below:
#2 The Reverse Grip Bottoms-Up Chest Press by Dr. Joel Seedman
Trap bar chest presses are some of my favorite horizontal pressing variations not only for improving pressing strength but also for enhancing upper body mechanics. Most individuals perform these with the traditional handles (the handles that sit in line with the bar) however I’ve found that using the opposite handles (the handles that sit below the bar) essentially turn the trap bar press into a reverse grip bottoms-up variation. Here are several of my NFL athletes demonstrating it in the video above.
The movement feels very similar to traditional bottoms-up presses as even the slightest deviation destabilizes the trap bar making it very difficult to balance and control. With that in mind I’ve actually found this variation effective both as a strength builder and technique enhancer. These literally force the lifter to tuck the elbows and centrate/pack their shoulder joint into the optimal position as anything less will cause the bottoms-up trap bar to become uncontrollable.
In addition, the reverse grip trap bar chest press eliminates excessive momentum and cheating as it requires the lifter to use very strict and smooth mechanics. As a result this places enormous constant tension on the targeted musculature making it highly effective for building functional mass.
For more from Joel, check out his website and social media links below:
#3 The Trap Bar Farmer’s Carry by Dr. John Rusin
In case you’ve been living under a fucking rock over the past decade, our society is in the midst of a progressive physical decline centered around generalized weakness, frailty and an inability to maintain any resemblance of injury free orthopedic health. This resilient strength epidemic is killing the health of our kids, the longevity of our adults and the bottom lines of our medical systems faulty infrastructure.
There’s no better indicator of global weakness and frailty then the inability for an individual to simply pick up a load off the ground, stabilize it into position and walk with it under control. This is some pretty basic shit, but time and time again both athletes and general fitness populations struggle to complete the most primal of motor tasks, and we wonder why this active demographic of trainees is getting hurt more than ever before.
We fix this monumentally complex problem with simple implementations of carries into programming. For testing and developing full body strength under heavier loading parameters, nothing beats the trap bar farmer’s carry. Due to the shape of the trap bar, the load can be centered under an athlete’s base of support, while placing the hands, arms and shoulders into a more authentic neutrally centrated position to create torque and tension from.
Load the trap bar heavy while maintaining a neutral-ish spinal alignment and full tension through the shoulders and hips and watch your full body strength and function sky rocket. And hey… don’t be afraid to condition this exercise hard, as it’s extremely joint friendly and will not fatigue your CNS in the process.
For more from John, check out his website and social media links below:
#4 The Deficit Trap Bar Deadlift by Lee Boyce
The trap bar deadlift may seem like an overly conventional choice for a list that features rather innovative responses, but in my opinion, until it’s used more popularly with members of the general population and sports athletes alike, it deserves its place among important lesser known movements.
The thing that sets the trap bar deadlift apart from a standard deadlift is the fact that the shins are no longer blocked. This allows for more dorsiflexion at the ankle, a taller torso, and even a wider stance if needed. All of these modifications are spine-savers worth their weight in gold, and the saving grace for an athlete who can do without the axial loading due to his anthropometry (think of a long legged, 6’8″ basketball player) or for a recreational lifter with a history of back problems.
Moreover, since a lifter can adjust his positioning, he can quickly and easily incorporate more quadriceps by sitting taller, or more posterior chain by bending over further (or adding a deficit, seen in the video).
For more from Lee, check out his website and social media links below:
Twitter: Coach Lee Boyce
#5 The Trap Bar Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat by Tony Gentilcore
I can’t think of many “tools” more valuable in the weight room than having access to a trap bar. Gang Starr Radio on Pandora comes a close second.
The trap bar, for most people, most of the time, makes things much more joint friendly and makes it less likely people “fall” or default into compromising positions. One exercise I like to sprinkle into my programs every now and then is the Trap Bar Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat. I like this variation because it doesn’t take a whole bunch of load in order to gain a significant training effect. In effect: it’s spine sparing.
Too, it HAMMERS the glutes. The women I train have a love/hate relationship with this exercise.
Key Coaching Cues:
- Be sure to start with one leg already elevated and one inside the trap bar.
- Try to push or drive through the heel as you stand up.
- On the descent, come to a complete stop on the floor with each rep.
- Have fun sitting down tomorrow.
For more from Tony, check out his website and social media links below:
#6 The Trap Bar Deadlift-RDL Combo by Charles Staley
Here’s a very effective movement that can only be done on a trap bar: Lift the weight (concentric phase) in a “squatty,” knee/quad dominant manner, and then lower the bar (eccentric phase) with a hip-dominant emphasis (like an RDL). This targets the quads very effectively in one direction, and the glutes/hams in the other direction — two exercises in one!
There are a number of ways you can modify this idea to address your specific needs. One such way is to lift the weight with your “strongest” technique (a balance of hip and knee contribution, like a standard pull) and then perform the eccentric phase with a very quad-dominant way, with minimal contribution from the posterior chain — this then becomes a very intense form of eccentric training for the quads. Or reverse the pattern to perform heavy eccentric loading for the hams. Lots of options here — the primary point is that the trap bar affords you options that a straight bar doesn’t — so take advantage and enjoy the pain!
For more from Charles, check out his website and social media links below: