Hex (Trap) Bar Deadlifts vs. Barbell Deadlifts

The deadlift is a total-body strength exercise that works several muscle groups in your upper and lower body. The trap, or hex, bar is a specialized training tool that lifters use for two exercises: the deadlift and the shrug. The trap bar deadlift has several advantages over the barbell deadlift and, overall, is a more effective exercise.

The trap bar deadlift allows you to lift more weight than a barbell deadlift. (Image: kjekol/iStock/Getty Images)

Barbell vs. Hex Bar

A barbell is a straight, 7-foot-long metal bar. The ends of the bar, called sleeves, hold weight plates for resistance. The hex bar is so-named because the bar has a hexagonal shape. You stand in the middle of the hexagon and hold the handles on each side of you. Bars, with sleeves to hold the weight plates, extend from the middle points of the hexagon. With a barbell, the weight is in front of your body, but the design of the hex bar places the weight in line with your body.

Deadlift

The deadlift is a full-body strength exercise. It works your legs, glutes and lower and upper back muscles. To perform a deadlift, place a loaded barbell or hex bar on the floor in front of you. Squat down, grab the handles and pull the weight off the floor, finishing in a standing position with the weight at thigh level. Keep your back straight throughout the movement to reduce the risk of injury to your lower back.

Hex Bar Advantages

A study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" compared the biomechanics of the hex bar deadlift and the barbell deadlift. Researchers concluded that the hex bar deadlift is an overall better strength and power exercise. The subjects could lift a heavier one-repetition maximum load with the hex bar deadlift. The peak force, speed and power were greater with the hex bar than the barbell. Using the hex bar placed more load on the knees and less load on the lumbar spine and hips. A lighter load on the lumbar spine is especially advantageous for those with lower back pain or discomfort.

Barbell Advantages

The barbell deadlift does have some advantages over the hex bar deadlift. Since the hex bar places greater force through the knees, your legs do a lot of the work; this makes the hex bar deadlift similar to the squat exercise. If you want to focus on your lower back muscles more and your legs less than the barbell deadlift is the better choice. A barbell is also much more readily available than a hex bar. Even gyms and fitness centers that have a large selection of free weights do not necessarily have a hex bar.

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