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.

Deadlifts are a great whole body exercise. (Image: Pekic/E+/GettyImages)

Compare the Bars

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 the middle of your body.

Use Proper Form

The deadlift is a full-body strength exercise. It works your legs, glutes and lower and upper back muscles, while also building your grip strength.

HOW TO DO IT: Place a loaded barbell on the floor in front of you or step into a hex bar. 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.

Advantages of Hex Bar Deadlifts

According to a study published in September 2017 by the Strength and Conditioning Journal compared the biomechanics of the hex bar deadlift and regular barbell deadlift. The study found that 1-repetition max for the deadlift was higher when performed with a hex bar — so, hypothetically you could set a new PR by increasing your hex bar weight.

Performing hex bar deadlifts helps keep the weight closer to the lifter's center of gravity and allows the lifter to remain more upright during the movement, which could decrease risk of injury to the low back.

Hex bar deadlifts also position the forearms in neutral, versus a pronated, supinated or mixed (one side supinated, one side pronated) grip used for conventional barbell deadlifts. This could possibly reduce risk of injury to the wrist, elbow and biceps.

Advantages of Barbell Deadlifts

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 typically 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.

The Bottom Line

Both barbell and hex bar deadlifts have advantages. Incorporate both exercises into your strength training program to target your muscles a bit differently and add variety to your routine.

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