The Differences Between Trap Bar Deadlifts vs Conventional Deadlifts

A man and woman demonstrating the different techniques for the trap bar and conventional deadlifts.

It’s time we talked about this—we’re here to finalize the trap bar deadlift vs conventional barbell deadlift debate, once and for all!

There’s much talk about which is better in the fitness world, the conventional deadlift or the trap bar deadlift. In general, both are fantastic compound exercises that activate many muscle groups.

Knowing this, it’s crucial that you are aware that one of these deadlift variations has more injury risks than the other and that the differences between these two exercises could make or break whether you add or remove them from your workout routine. 

Now, it’s time we settled this debate. Let’s dive into the differences between trap bar vs conventional deadlifts!

What’s a Hex Bar or Trap Bar Deadlift?

Hex bar deadlifts, also known as trap bar deadlifts, are a variation of the regular deadlift using a specially designed piece of gym equipment—the hex bar. The hex, or trap, bar is shaped like a hexagon, allowing the lifter to step inside the center for the lift. 

Compared to straight bar deadlifts, which require a more forward weight position with the barbell, trap bar deadlifts are closer to the lifter’s center of gravity. It offers a neutral grip position with low and high handlebars to adjust to the lifter’s height and desired intensity in the range of motion for the deadlift. This is also helpful for other trap bar deadlift variations like the Romanian deadlift. 

What’s a Straight Barbell Deadlift?

The straight bar deadlift uses a different piece of gym equipment than trap bar deadlifts. The barbell is straight, requiring the lifter to step up to the bar and practice proper technique with a quality position of the feet and hands when setting up to lift. 

Two deadlift variations are practiced with the straight barbell—the sumo and the conventional deadlift. It’s important to know the sumo and conventional barbell deadlift differences as they incorporate different forms that target some muscle groups more significantly than the other. 

A conventional deadlift has a more narrow stance, with hands positioned on the outside of the legs, and it engages more of the lower back than its counterpart. The sumo deadlift uses a wider stance, with hands placed inside the legs, and it places more emphasis on the quads than the conventional deadlift. Even so, they are powerful exercises that effectively activate the posterior chain for a great workout. 

There is a lot of controversy between sumo and conventional deadlifts in powerlifting as there is a shorter range of motion with the sumo deadlift than the conventional deadlift. For some, this is considered “cheating” with lifting, though there are still significant benefits with the sumo deadlift. 

Trap Bar Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift: Main Differences

So, what are the differences between trap bar deadlifts and the conventional deadlift? These deadlift variations have quite a few differences to be aware of, contrary to their similar movement patterns. Find out how the straight bar deadlift and the trap bar deadlift differ below! 

Trap Bar Allows for Heavier Loads

The barbell deadlift is one of the main lifts in powerlifting competitions, and the trap bar deadlift is not. This information may make one believe that greater loads can be lifted with the barbell deadlift than with the trap bar deadlift, but this is not the case, according to research. 

It has been discovered through dedicated studies that the trap bar deadlift allows lifters to achieve heavier loads than the barbell deadlift. The study also connected greater achievements in power, force, and velocity production with trap bar deadlifts. It is one of the best types of deadlifts to incorporate into your gym routine for its efficacy in producing results.  

Trap Bar Uses a Different Hand Placement

Trap bar deadlifts incorporate a different hand placement for the lift than a barbell deadlift. The conventional barbell deadlift typically utilizes an overhand grip though other grip forms can be used, like a snatched, mixed, or supinated grip. 

A trap bar deadlift uses an adjustable neutral grip between high and low handles. The grip placement and weight placement closer to the lifter’s center of gravity is ideal for better grip strength as it prevents the weight from rolling out of the hands. Unfortunately, this is often a concern in barbell deadlifts with forward weight and grip position, making it challenging to maintain one’s grip while lifting heavier loads.  

Easy to Lift With Good Form

The barbell deadlift isn’t easy to learn or lift with good form. Quite a few lifters have been deadlifting for years with poor form without knowing it. That’s why we don’t consider the barbell deadlift the best option for beginner lifters. 

On the other hand, the trap bar deadlift is considered an exercise that is easy to lift with good form. It is ideal for beginners as the hex bar has visual aids. For example, placement of the body inside the hex bar and hands on the handlebars in a neutral grip position. 

Another reason it is easy to lift with good form with the trap bar deadlift is thanks to the weight load placement closer to the lifter’s center of gravity. This positioning allows the lifter to maintain grip more effectively than a barbell deadlift, preventing the bar from rolling out of the hands with greater loads. 

Lower Risk of Back Injury 

The traditional deadlift with a barbell is commonly associated with back pain. Many believe it is because of poor form or technique when performing the barbell deadlift. Though this could be true for some, one study discovered that even with a neutral spine, the lumbar spine had natural alignment adjustments during the lift. 

For individuals with pre-existing back issues, the barbell deadlift may not be the best exercise, as performing the lift could strain and agitate the area. 

The trap bar deadlift is a refreshing alternative to the conventional barbell deadlift. Though it does not incorporate the posterior chain as significantly as the conventional deadlift, the trap bar deadlift still engages the posterior chain of the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. It is safer for the back than the conventional deadlift with no hyperextension of the lumbar spine at the top of the movement. 

Each Deadlift Activates Different Muscle Groups

As discussed earlier, the conventional deadlift activates the posterior chain more than the trap bar deadlift. For an insight, let’s look into what muscles are part of the posterior chain. 

The posterior chain muscles include:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Rhomboids  
  • Gluteal 
  • Hamstrings
  • Erector spinae
  • Calves 

The trap bar deadlift engages these muscles less significantly than the conventional barbell deadlift. In comparison, the trap bar deadlift activates the quads more, specifically the vastus lateralis, than the conventional deadlift because there is less hinge movement. This information is another reason the trap bar deadlift is an excellent exercise for avoiding back injuries, as there is more incorporation of the legs than the back during the movement. 

Trap Bar is Better for Sport-Specific Training

Unlike the barbell deadlift, the trap bar deadlift and the variations of exercises that can be used with the trap bar are better for sports-specific training. 

The trap bar positioning for the deadlift better mimics the athletic stance with a more upright torso position. As discussed previously, the trap bar deadlift is connected to greater velocity, power, and strength output than the barbell deadlift, so there’s no question why this movement is used to enhance sports performance. 

No matter the sport, whether it be volleyball, football, or soccer, the trap bar deadlift is a powerful exercise to incorporate into your workout program. 

No More Scraped Shins

One thing every lifter who has repped a barbell deadlift can tell you is that scraped shins are a common problem.

The correct technique for a straight bar deadlift is that the barbell must be as close as possible to the body throughout the movement. It’s no surprise that the barbell might be scraping against the thighs or shins while lifting the bar from the ground to standing. 

For a hex bar deadlift, this is no concern. No scraping up your legs or ruining your workout pants with a trap bar deadlift. The design of the hexagonal bar makes it so that this is no issue when lifting the bar, unlike with the barbell. Only if there’s a serious shift of weight or instability while lifting the bar could this be a potential problem, though with prioritizing form and technique, this is easily avoidable. 

Pick the Deadlift for Your Goals

The barbell deadlift and the trap bar deadlift are both great compound exercises to add to your gym routine. Of course, each has risks, but prioritizing good form and quality technique is crucial for preventing serious concerns. 

These deadlift variations can also be used for different goals. 

For example, the traditional deadlift is best for powerlifters. The reason is that powerlifters use the sumo or conventional barbell deadlift in powerlifting competitions rather than a trap bar deadlift. 

A powerlifter could still incorporate trap bar deadlifts into their workouts. However, it would be smart for them to prioritize a barbell deadlift as it will be the same movement and grip position they would use in a competition. 

On the other hand, a trap bar deadlift would be great for an athlete looking to enhance their performance in their sport. This is because the hex bar deadlift has been linked to greater capacities for velocity, strength, and power, which are essential for a prime athlete. 

Remember, an athlete can also train with the barbell deadlift, and a powerlifter can still train with a trap bar deadlift. There are no limitations, but there is smart training that prioritizes goals and results. Prioritizing one over the other is necessary, but having the other in a training program is still wholly plausible. 

Trap Bar Deadlift vs Conventional: Muscles Worked 

Another difference between the trap bar deadlift and the conventional barbell deadlift is the muscles worked. This is important as it is necessary to determine whether an exercise aligns with a person’s individual fitness goals like, let’s say, training the legs vs the back. Let’s find out more below! 

Conventional Deadlift – Muscles Worked

Diagram of a man performing a conventional deadlift, showing the different muscles that are worked.
http://allaboutpowerlifting.com/muscles-involved-in-the-conventional-deadlift/ 

The barbell deadlift is a hip-dominant, compound movement that engages numerous muscle groups for the lift. It is split into two variations: sumo and conventional deadlifts. 

We’ll discuss conventional deadlifts in this case, though both variations activate the same muscle groups. However, one variation will activate a muscle group more significantly than the other and vice versa. 

Muscles worked in the conventional deadlift include:

  • Trapezius
  • Abdominal
  • Gluteal
  • Hamstrings
  • Erector Spinae
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Rhomboids 
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Adductors
  • Quadriceps 

It is important to remember that the conventional deadlift does target the lower back and biceps more than the legs when compared to the trap bar deadlift. This is due to its greater hip hinge movement and the forward weight placement of the barbell. 

Trap Bar Deadlift – Muscles Worked

Diagram of a man performing a trap bar deadlifts, showing the different muscles that are worked.
https://hashimashi.com/hex-bar-deadlift-benefits/

Like the conventional deadlift, the trap bar deadlift is a powerful, compound, resistance-based movement. It effectively engages numerous muscle groups for an overall great exercise to add to your gym routine, whether you’re aiming for sports-specific goals or hypertrophy. 

Muscles worked in the trap bar deadlift include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteal
  • Quadriceps
  • Erector spinae
  • Adductors
  • Abductors
  • Abdominal
  • Gastrocnemius
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Forearm
  • Rhomboideus 

The trap bar deadlift has less hinge movement and more of a center of gravity weight placement with the hex bar. This contributes to its greater engagement of the legs than the conventional barbell deadlift. 

What is a Good Trap Bar Deadlift to Conventional Deadlift Ratio?

For most of the population, we recommend a healthy trap bar deadlift to a conventional barbell deadlift ratio of 2:1.

The reasoning for this ratio is that there is a lower injury risk with trap bar deadlifts compared to conventional barbell deadlifts. It is essential to prioritize movements with lower injury risk over an exercise that could otherwise actively aggravate old injuries or cause new ones.

This ratio can change depending on the lifter and their goals! 

Trap Bar Deadlift: Drawbacks

If there is a drawback of the hex bar deadlift, it is that there is less posterior chain muscle activation in contrast to the straight bar deadlift. 

It still activates the posterior chain less significantly than the traditional barbell deadlift method. It remains a powerful full-body exercise, activating muscles such as the legs, glutes, back, and abdominals.  

Is the Trap Bar Deadlift or Conventional Deadlift Better?

Comparing the traditional barbell deadlift vs the trap bar deadlift, each exercise has pros and cons. The trap bar has many benefits that coincide with it, backed by research, that everyone should take for granted. 

We like the trap bar deadlift because there is less injury risk. This is an important quality that every lifter should consider. 

Each deadlift variation has qualities that coincide with specific goals, such as powerlifters and athletes. We recommend adjusting your exercise routine to your goals and prioritizing quality form and recovery during your lifts to avoid injury. 

Trying out the trap bar deadlift and the conventional bar deadlift in your routine is doable and could be a tremendous, muscle-engaging addition to help you reach your goals if you program right! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why Can I Lift More With a Hex Bar?

You may find that you can lift more with a hex bar than with barbell deadlifts. Studies have proved this hypothesis to be true.

This may occur because the hexagonal bar is placed closer to the lifter’s center of gravity, unlike the barbell deadlift. It also places less stress on the lower back and more emphasis on the legs, making it more functional to lift heavier weights. 

Is it Hard To Deadlift With a Trap Bar?

It is easy to deadlift with a trap bar. At first, it may feel strange if you’re accustomed to the barbell deadlift, but it is easy to adapt. 

The trap bar deadlift is frequently considered an easy lift to learn for beginners, so we recommend trying this exercise when you have the opportunity!

Does Trap Bar Deadlift Benefit Conventional Deadlifts? 

Conventional deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts are incredibly similar movement-wise. They also engage the same muscle groups, so it doesn’t seem outrageous to say that the trap bar deadlift could benefit lifters trying to increase their weight for conventional deadlifts. 

Wrap Up

In this article, we heavily discussed the debate on the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift and the differences between these compound movements. 

The trap bar deadlift and conventional barbell deadlift are great exercises with their pros and cons. The trap bar deadlift is linked to less injury risk than the conventional barbell deadlift, which, for many, is an exercise to consider, especially with its outstanding research-backed benefits. 

Try out the trap bar deadlift next time you’re in the gym to get a taste of its benefits and feel how it differs from the conventional barbell deadlift! 

Kaelyn Buzzo | ISSA CPT & Nutrition Coach

Kaelyn Buzzo | ISSA CPT & Nutrition Coach

I am an ISSA-certified CPT and Nutrition Coach with a BA in Creative Writing and a Minor in Nutrition.

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