Abs, Adductors, Calves, Forearms, Glutes, Lats, Lower Back, Quads, Traps, Upper Back
Trap Bar Deadlift Overview
The trap bar deadlift is a variation of the deadlift and an exercise used primarily to target the muscles of the hamstrings. It will also indirectly target the other muscles of the leg, as well as the lats, forearms, traps, and lower back.
The trap bar deadlift is often seen as a quad dominant variation of the deadlift, and while it does incorporate the quads to a larger degree than some other deadlift variations, it still is a hip hinge movement. And hip hinges should be primarily felt through the hamstrings and glutes.
The hip hinge is a crucial movement pattern, so it is important to find a variation that is comfortable for you to perform (if able), and work on it.
Trap Bar Deadlift Instructions
- Stand inside of the trap bar with a hip width stance.
- Push your hips back and hinge forward until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor.
- Reach down and grasp the handles using a neutral grip outside of shoulder width.
- Inhale and pull up slightly on the bar while allowing your hips to drop in a seesaw fashion. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “pulling the slack out of the bar”.
- As you drop the hips and pull up on the bar, set the lats (imagine you’re trying to squeeze oranges in your armpits) and ensure your armpits are positioned directly over the bar.
- Drive through the whole foot and focus on pushing the floor away.
- Ensure the bar tracks in a straight line as you extend the knees and hips.
- Once you have locked out the hips, reverse the movement by pushing the hips back and hinging forward.
- Return the bar to the floor, reset, and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Trap Bar Deadlift Tips
- Stance width should ideally resemble your typical jumping position. Place your feet in a stance that feels powerful and keeps the knees vertically aligned over the feet.
- In order to prevent the bar from drifting away from the body, one should focus on squeezing their lats in order to keep the bar close and allow it to travel in a linear fashion. Use the cue: “squeeze oranges in your armpits”, “put your shoulder blades in your back pockets” (i.e. scapular depression) or “imagine you’re doing a straight arm pulldown”.
- The hips should be lower than the shoulders and you should be able to see the logo on the lifter’s shirt before they pull (i.e. “chest up”). The chest up cue is usually accomplished when the lats become locked in though so this cue is typically not needed if the lifter understands how to initiate the lats.
- Ideally the knees should be tracking out over the foot. If you find that you have trouble keeping this neutral knee position, focus on spreading the floor by trying to push your feet apart as you push into the floor. In other words, imagine there is a crack in the floor and you’re trying to spread it open by pushing your heels away from each other. This will help to activate your glutes more during the movement and stabilize the knee joint.
- You MUST keep the crease of the armpit over the bar and the midfoot in order to allow the bar to travel linearly.
Neck position is highly individual - Some prefer a neutral neck position (i.e. keeping the chin tucked throughout the lift) while others do well with looking slightly up. Here’s some factors to consider:
- If you’re someone who is more globally extended (i.e. athletic background), then you will likely be able to keep a neutral position more effectively by packing the chin.
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you tend to be more flexion dominant (especially in your thoracic spine - upper back) then it would behoove you to look up slightly as this will drive more extension.
- Experiment with each and see which one works best for your individual anatomy and biomechanics.
- Given most deadlift variations require a more vertical shin after the initial pull off the floor to allow the bar to move around the knees, the trap bar deadlift will actually require a more dorsiflexed position of the ankle at the start. In other words, the shins will be in a more angled position and more of the load will be displaced on the quads.
- More experienced lifters may not need to emphasize the “pull the slack out the bar” cue as much and that’s perfectly fine if it works for them and still allows them to pull maximal weight but initially it’s an important concept to understand and implement.
- Toe angle is highly individual - this will be dependent upon your hip anatomy. Experiment (toes slightly in, out, or neutral) to see what feels best for you.
- Do NOT retract your shoulder blades. This is mechanically inefficient and a self limiting cue as it shortens the length of the arms thus requiring a larger range of motion.
- Make sure you wrap your thumb around the bar and don’t utilize a false grip. Squeeze the bar as tight as possible like you’re trying to leave an imprint of your fingerprints on the bar.
- Ensure that the hands are positioned in the middle of the handles as this will ensure that the bar doesn’t tilt as you make your pull.
- To follow up on my previous point, if you focus on keeping the weight entirely on the heels, you won’t be able to effectively recruit your quads at the beginning of the lift and thus you’ll be slow off the flow. So, to combat this, you should focus on driving through the whole foot - you want 3 points of contact: big toe, little toe, and heel.
- Ensure the elbows stay locked out. Don’t actively flex the triceps but make sure that your elbow doesn’t break neutral as this can potentially put you at risk for a bicep tear under maximal weights.
- For single repetitions, it will be much easier to drop the bar from lockout (provided that it’s allowed and you’re lifting on a platform or with bumper plates) due to less eccentric loading upon your spinal erectors. However, for multiple repetitions you should try to lower the weight under control while not overly fatiguing the erectors.
- If you find that you’re weak at lockout, you should incorporate rack pulls, RDLs, and/or pulls against chains or bands. On the opposite end of the spectrum however, if you’re weak off the floor, you should incorporate paused and/or deficit deadlifts. You would also need additional supplementary work for the upper back and glutes.