Deadlifts – Trap Bar vs Barbell

The below notes are taken from an article published on Stronger by Science and written by Greg Nuckols.

Similarities between barbell deadlift and trap bar deadlift

  • Both involve picking heavy weights up off the floor using comparable loads.
  • Both essentially train the hinge pattern.
  • Both involve similar (or identical) ranges of motion.
  • Both elicit similar degrees of activation in the muscle groups they train.

Basic differences

  • Peak spine and hip moments tend to be a bit larger for the barbell deadlift.
  • Peak knee moment tends to be larger for the trap bar deadlift.
  • Quad activiation tends to be a bit higher for the trap bar deadlift.
  • Hamstrings and spinal erector activation tend to be a bit higher for the barbell deadlift.

Joint ranges of motion

  • Squat – About 100-120 degrees of both knee and hip flexion at the bottom of the squat, for roughly equal knee and hip ranges of motion.
  • Barbell deadlift – About 100-110 degrees of hip flexion and only about 50-60 degrees of knee flexion, for almost double the hip range of motion.
  • Trap bar deadlift – Joint ranges of motion for the knee and hip are, on average, within 2-6 degrees of what you see in the barbell deadlift.
  • Summary: True squat has similar knee and hip range of motion and comparable peak knee and hip moments. The conventional deadlift places 3-4x greater demands on the hip extensors than the quads, and takes the hips through a range of motion almost 2x longer than the knees. The trap bar deadlift still places almost twice as high demands on the hip extensors than the quads, and has joint ranges of motion that are almost identical to the conventional deadlift.

Benefits of the trap bar deadlift

  • It’s easier to learn than the barbell deadlift.
    • The main challenge with the barbell deadlift is finding your balance. The bar must stay in front of your legs, which makes it easy to lose your balance forward or round your spine to compensate. With the trap bar deadlift, it’s easier to keep your balance and maintain a good spinal position.
  • No hyperextension at lockout.
    • A common technical error with barbell deadlifts is over-pulling. When people lock the weight out, they’ll hyperextend their spine to finish the lift. With the trap bar deadlift, people assume a good lockout position naturally.
  • No need for a mixed grip.
  • High handles for people with insufficient hip ROM.
  • Less chance of getting pulled forward/spinal flexion.
    • Even if you’re a technically proficient deadlifter, your spine can still start to round as you fatigue. Your hips start giving out, so your body finds other muscles to shift the load to. With the trap bar, since knee movement isn’t constrained by the bar, your hips can shift more of the load to your quads as they start to fatigue instead. Jacked quads are better than a jacked up back.
  • It can still be just as hip-dominant as a barbell deadlift.
    • A trap bar simply allows for more freedom of movement. You can still deadlift with that exact same style – push your butt back, minimize forward knee travel, and deadlift as if you were using a barbell (without bloodying your shins and with lower risk of spinal flexion). You can also drop your hips a little lower and let your knees travel a little further forward to use your quads a bit more. The trap bar gives you that choice. With a barbell, there is no choice.
  • (Likely) higher transfer to other sports.
    • Two studies have now found that peak power and peak velocity with a variety of loads are higher with the trap bar deadlift than the conventional deadlift.

Drawbacks of the trap bar deadlift.

  • Not used in competition.
  • The handles may be too wide for smaller people.
  • No sumo deadlifts.
  • Balancing your grip.
    • While you’re getting the hang of the trap bar, you may accidentally grip slightly too far forward or too far back on the handles, which makes the load a bit unbalanced.
  • Less challenge at terminal hip extension.