With the age of “functional fitness” coming to fruition, most gyms will typically have a trap bar or a hex bar, if you prefer.
It’s a hexagonal shaped bar that you step inside of, hence the name “trap bar”.
Most often, when you see this bar, the initial and often times only thought that comes to mind is doing a trap bar deadlift.
While the trap bar is an awesome substitute for a deadlift if you are a beginner, have shoulder issues, or want to increase your jumping power, it’s not the only exercise you can use the bar for.
Spending every day at the gym can get a bit dull sometimes. That’s why you really have to think outside the box to keep your workouts fresh, exciting, and most importantly, impactful.
In this article, I’m going to discuss 5 different ways that you can utilize the trap bar, giving you more tools to keep your workouts fresh and throw some different stimuli into your regimen.
1. Trap Bar Jumps
This movement is great for increasing jumping explosiveness (and overall explosiveness). Since a deadlift using a trap bar is naturally in a more upright position, it will utilize more of your legs than a traditional deadlift, thus translating to jumping energy gains.
Set Up: Assume proper deadlift form, neutral back, neck in line with the spine, hands in the center of the trap bar handles to maintain balance of the bar.
Perform a deadlift with the intent to jump. This is vitally important. If you perform the deadlift, and then decide to add the jump after the deadlift has finished, this will feel very wonky and ineffective.
Follow through the entire ascending portion of the deadlift into a jump without any hesitation. Land back down into starting position.
From here, you can both bounce right back up, or completely stop momentum at the bottom and re-engage the movement. Both have their places in training. If you want to increase work capacity, then bounce right back up each time. If you want to really hone in on the specific jump, reset at the bottom.
2. Trap Bar Reverse Lunges
This movement is great for unilateral leg training. Your core must remain solid as well due to the swinging of the bar. Forward lunges don’t really work in a trap bar, but going backwards gives you the space you need to go through full range of motion.
Set Up: Deadlift the weight up. Initiate the reverse lunge by bringing one leg back, and dropping that back knee as far down to the ground as you can get it. Keep your torso upright.
Return to the starting position by standing the front leg up and returning the back leg to proper starting position.
3. Trap Bar Shrug
This movement is a personal favorite of mine. I’ve had a bad shoulder injury, and this is pretty much the only way I can shrug weight now, due to the neutral grip handles on the trap bar.
This is close to the same way you shrug a dumbbell, however, you can load this bar up more than you can usually individually grip in each hand with dumbbells.
Very shoulder friendly, since your hands aren’t pronated it isn’t putting insane amounts of pressure on the anterior shoulder joint.
Set Up: Find a power rack with some safety bars if you’re going to load this up. Throw some plates on, step through the bar, grab the middle of the handles, look forward, engage the upper back, squeeze your core, and use your traps to shrug the weight up.
Lighter weight as pictured in the video can just be deadlifted from the ground to shrug position.
4. Trap Bar Chest Press
The trap bar is also useful for upper body, who-woulda-thunk? If you don’t have access to a football bar that has the neutral grips, this can be a great alternative.
The instability of the bar also requires your shoulder girdle, joint, and pectoralis muscles to engage constantly to stabilize the weight and protect that pretty little face.
The neutral grip feels really comfortable on the shoulder for pressing movements, and adding bands to the sides allows you to develop lockout power with some accommodating resistance.
Set Up: I like this with bands, but they aren’t necessary. If you’re using bands, just attach them around the sides from an anchor on the ground (safety bar, underneath the bench, dumbbell etc.).
You can use a power rack like I did, or find a flat/incline bench press to use. Assume standard barbell benching set-up, grab the middle of the handles that jut out, and un-rack the weight, making sure it is stable before engaging in a press.
Press the bar, allowing it to come down as much as possible each time, stabilizing it at the top each time.
5. Trap Bar Overhead Press
This exercise is another fun one. Again, if you have shoulder issues, you may enjoy how this feels. The neutral grip feels really nice as you press and descend.
The natural instability of the bar will also require you to engage muscles from your shoulder girdle and shoulder joint to maintain stability. This is also a great prehab and rehab exercise.
Set Up: Position the bar in a rack at about shoulder height. Turn the bar upward so you can step your body through the bar. Grab the middle of the handles that jut out, and step back.
Assume a very stable stance, and proceed to press. Drive your head through the press at the top, and bring it out on the descent.
Controlling the eccentric phase of this with a 3-5 second negative is also a great way to add some more endurance to your shoulders.
T(w)rapping it All Up
These are just a few not-so-standard exercises that you can utilize the trap bar for. The trap bar is very effective in throwing a different external stimulus and forcing your body to have to do something different to try and adapt.
If you’re hitting a plateau with a few exercises, try replacing them with one of these instead, and start to have fun with your workouts again.