1. Al Gerard, a banged up competitive powerlifter who continued to pursue his muscle mission originated the trap bar deadlift in 1985 to take the stress off the lower back while still moving some serious iron.
2. When compared to the straight barbell deadlift, the trap bar deadlift seems like a no brainer as a safe and effective alternative.
3. The Trap Bar Deadlift, like many great movements, is very versatile in its programming capabilities. Program for power, strength, hypertrophy and conditioning, all while keeping your lower back healthy and functional.
For a majority of strength athletes, from newbies to veterans, the ability to lift heavy loads off the floor has become a lost art. Many trainees have all but forgotten about one of the few basic fundamental movement patterns that not only works your entire body, but translates into functional strength outside the walls of the gym.
How could such a basic and fundamental movement lose it’s prowess among such a wide demographic of lifters? The simple answer lies within poor movement execution, painful injuries and an insurmountable amount of apprehension that can only be broken by getting back under the bar. And, oh yeah, a fitness industry that cares more about sweat than results.
The History of The Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar has spent the last 30 years as one of the most misunderstood pieces of equipment in the industry. Al Gerard, a banged up competitive powerlifter who continued to pursue his muscle mission originated the trap bar to take the stress off the lower back while still moving some serious iron.
Lets just say the trap seemed to work pretty damn well for old Al. In the coming months after the trap bar was forged, he put up career bests in the deadlift and the squat, all while continuing to train pain free.
Since that time, the fitness industry took a simple piece of equipment with a proven track record and exponentially complicated its efficacy and utilization. It will be a rare occasion when you walk into a big box gym and see a trap bar, let alone round bumper plates.
Partly due to your training center, and partly due to the industry mind washing our constituents that deadlifting is both dangerous and ineffective, the trap bar deadlift makes it into JRx as the third and final “Best Exercise You Aren’t Doing.”
The Potential Problems with The Traditional Deadlift
The strongest argument against straight barbell deadlifting is the extreme forces that are exerted through the lower back. Without sending you back to Physics 101, the forward position of the barbell causes a less than optimal moment arm to stabilize the core position in neutral while moving some serious loads off the floor.
During the traditional deadlift, the center of mass (barbell) falls in front of your body, therefore causing the axis of rotation of the movement to be farther away from the load itself. This all translates into increased shearing forces at the joints of the lumbar spine, putting all the structures, including intervertebral discs and ligaments at increased risk of injury with faulty mechanics of movement.
Advantages of The Trap Bar Deadlift
When compared to the straight barbell deadlift, the trap bar deadlift seems like a no brainer as a safe and effective alternative. Some of the most important advantages to the trap bar deadlift are:
Decreased Shear Forces on Lumbar Spine
Ability to Lift Heavier Loads
Stabilize your Shoulders in Neutral
Simple to Setup and Learn Proper Mechanics
Check out this set of touch and go Trap Bar Deadlifts:
And another Trap Bar Deadlift variation with more strict dead stops at the bottom position:
Though these two variations of the Trap Bar Deadlift are different from the starting position off the floor, the foundational position at the spine and hips stays the same. Try both and see what works best for you and your goals.
Trap Bar Deadlift Programming Considerations
The trap bar deadlift, like many great movements, is very versatile in its programming capabilities. Based on specific goals, the trap bar deadlift can be programmed as a primary strength or power movement, an endurance or max effort movement such as finishers, or even an assistance movement after barbell work. I have even used the trap bar to relearn hip hinge patterns with patients with lower back pain. Program intelligently, and start with these parameters for your specific goals:
Primary Strength/Power Movement
If you are coming off a lower back injury, utilizing the trap bar deadlift as your primary movement of a training session allows you to go heavy, all while saving your back.
Work up to 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps.
Assistance Strength/Hypertrophy Movement
If you use a squat or barbell deadlift variation as your primary strength movement of the day, use the trap bar deadlift as assistance work.
Program 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.
Max Effort Finishers
Use the trap bar deadlift at the end of a lower body training session to put the final nail in the coffin.
Program 2-4 sets of 15-25 reps, or AMRAP to drain every last ounce of energy out of your body before you call it a day.
Get Inside The Trap Bar and Get Pulling
The trap bar deadlift represents the best of both deadlifting and squatting, while limiting the negative effects of barbell training. With very low stress on the lower back and a high learning curve, the trap bar deadlift is exactly what you need to start moving some iron off the floor. It’s time to strengthen your weakest link in your training. It’s time for the TRAP!
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is a sports performance specialist and injury prevention expert that has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes including multiple Olympic gold medalists, NFL & MLB All-Star performers, and professional athletes from 11 different sports. Dr. Rusin has also managed some of the most successful barbell sport athletes in the world including world record holding powerlifters, CrossFit Games athletes, and IFBB professional bodybuilders and physique athletes. His innovative pain-free performance programs have been successfully used by over 25,000 athletes, which has gained him the reputation as the go-to industry expert for rebuilding after pain, injuries or plateaus. Dr. Rusin is also the founder of the Pain-Free Performance Specialist Certification (PPSC) that has certified over 1500 personal trainers, strength coaches and rehab pros from across the globe in his methods over the past two years.