I am proud to announce today’s article is a guest post from my good friend, amazing strength coach, and Cinnabon connoisseur, Rog Law. He’s an incredibly smart guy, and has one of the best rear-ends in the entire industry. 😉 Don’t just take my word for it; you’ll see it in the videos below.
In this article, Rog reveals practically anything you could ever want, or need, to know about trap bar deadlifting in addition to several awesome variations.
Are you ready to tackle an exercise that will not only imbue you with amazing levels of physical and mental strength, but also help build the kind of confident, curvy & badass body that’s guaranteed to cause stares, turn heads and realign million dollars satellites to specifically track your position?
Then look no further than the deadlift!
New to the exercise? Our head beautiful badass in charge has provided a fantastic primer on the movement and all of it’s benefits here. If you’re not sure about your technique, get someone who is knowledgeable to evaluate your form, but if that’s not possible then the following video is a great place to start, because we’re about to delve into new territory.
Enter the Trap Bar
If you’ve seen this funky looking bar at your gym, odds are that it’s being used for shrugging, or even worse, is sitting in the corner collecting dust like the exercise equipment equivalent (say that five times fast) of VHS tapes. For some it’s an intimidating doodad to be avoided at all costs, but to me and many other lifters around the world it plays a crucial role in their success.
1) It’s a lower back saver
It goes without saying that if you’re in pain when you’re training then something is wrong. With many exercises – the deadlift being one of the top offenders – low back pain is quick to rear its ugly head, shutting you down faster than a power outage and possibly interfering with future sessions because of the residual discomfort. For those who have a history of this kind of pain, or simply want to use it as a preventative measure, the Trap Bar should be your first line of defense.
When doing a traditional deadlift with a straight bar, it’s in front of your body, forcing you to hinge forward to grab the bar, then you have to fight against the downward forces of the weight, resisting the urge to round your lower back as you lift. For many, the initial set up puts them in a compromised position from the start, usually only going downhill from there.
When deadlifting with a Trap Bar you are, as dirty as it sounds, inside the bar, and this makes a HUGE difference. Because of your position and the design of the bar, you no longer have to aggressively hinge forward to grab the bar. You also don’t have to internally rotate your shoulders – all you have to do is keep your arms straight down by your side to receive the bar and voila, you’re ready to deadlift with a lot less stress on your spine.
2) Higher load
Let’s just be honest: somewhere deep inside all of us, no matter how small, there’s a calling to be as strong as we can, so it’s completely natural to want to lift as much weight as possible, sometimes at the sake of form. With the Trap Bar, due to the leverage and mechanical advantages you gain from being inside the path of the bar bar, the universe & stars have aligned and everything is working in your favor, so as long as your technique is spot on, you’ll be able to lift significantly more weight than you would with a straight bar.
3) Easy Peasy!
The deadlift is a technical exercise no matter how you slice it, so the more possible “uh oh” moments you can prevent and avoid the better, and this is where the Trap Bar really shines because of relatively small learning curve.
Those new to the exercise usually have a problem hinging from their hips. The Trap Bar dodges this issue because of the handle & bar placement, allowing beginners to squat down a bit more to grab the bar and gain confidence with the movement – minor kinks can be worked out later. By having your hands down your side, it’s much easier to keep your chest up and upper back from rounding, and this has a direct impact as to what happens further down in your lower back as well.
The Set Up
Let’s break down step by step how to take you from a Trap Bar novice to a USD Grade A certified badass.
1) Step inside the bar with your feet shoulder apart or slightly closer.
2) Bend your knees slightly. Imagine there is a wall of sharp spikes a few inches front of your knees – do you really want to take some spikes to the knees? I didn’t think so. Resist the urge to let your knees aggressively slide forward.
3) Puff your chest up and pull your shoulder blades back and down with your arms straight down by your side. Imagine you’re walking into a room and you want to make the biggest impression possible – assume that powerful posture (or that you’re an old school gunslinger getting ready for a showdown at high noon).
4) Keep all the weight on your heels and push your butt & hips backwards. Don’t bend anymore from the knees just yet. Imagine someone tied a rope around your waist and is pulling your backwards (or if you’re nerdy like me, imagine your bum is being tugged on viciously by a black hole).
5) Use your hips to hinge down and grab the bar. If you need to squat down a bit more to do so that’s completely fine, but make sure that you’re pushing your butt back the entire time to emphasis the hips as much as possible, not just letting your knees drift forward – this can set you up for knee pain.
6) Breath in through your stomach and hold. Imagine that Bruce Lee himself is about to punch you in your food holder and you want to give yourself the best chances for survival. If your chest rises when you attempt this, you’re doing it wrong.
7) Stand straight up and finish the movement by squeezing your butt at the top. Once your butt stops squeezing, you stop moving.
Just like the straight bar deadlift, there are several different ways to pick up heavy things off the ground, so here are few variations to experiment with depending on your goals and/or limitations.
The Knee Dominant Deadlift
This is a benefit unique to the Trap Bar since the bar isn’t in your way, allowing your knees to drift forward more, placing emphasis on the quads and turning it into more of a squatting movement.
Feet Elevated Deadlift
This variation takes the regular Trap Bar and cranks it to the next level. Because you’re now higher up from the ground, it requires excellent mobility in your ankles and hips to even grab the bar but now you’re able to tax all of the contributing muscles more because of the increased range of motion. You can stand on a small aerobic step, plyo box or weight plates for this exercise.
Bar Elevated Deadlift
For those that don’t possess the proper levels of hip and ankle mobility and/or suffer from low back pain, this variation is for you. This would be the equivalent of a rack pull using a straight bar. By elevating the bar (height dependent on your mobility & form), you can still get a training effect and by reducing the range of motion ensure that you stay out of your own individual “pain range” as you work on your limitations. You can use an aerobic step, plyo box, weight plates or anything solid enough not to be crushed under the weight of the bar to elevate it.
Trap Bar Deadlift No No’s
Avoid doing these, like saying “Candy Man” in the mirror three times, at all costs.
1) The Excessive Humper
This person finishes by pushing their hips forward instead of squeezing their glutes, placing unnecessary stress on their lower back. Make sure to finish with your glutes directly beneath your hips. As a rule of thumb, when your glutes stop groovin, you stop movin.
2) The Cranker
This person cranks their neck all the way back in an attempt to help keep their chest up. While effective for many, it places undue strain on the neck. To solve this issue, try to keep a neutral neck position by finding a spot about 45 degrees in front of you and keeping your eyes locked on that position during the entire movement.
3) The Depressed Deadlifter
This person starts by rounding their upper and/or lower back and doesn’t correct it at all during the movement, setting them up for a potential injury as the weight increases while their form continues to deteriorate. It can also have negative effect on your posture, exacerbating the poor forward leaning posture many of us have from sitting at computers all day.
While a case can be made for rounded back deadlifting, for most people, especially those who’ve had lower back pain in the past, it’s best to avoid it and focus on keeping your chest up from start to finish.
4) The Centaur Butt
This person simply stands up but doesn’t use their butt to seal the deal and finish the movement, leaving it trailing far behind their hips, leaving their lower back to handle the brunt of the weight. This one is an easy fix – STAND WITH AUTHORITY! When you stand up, snap your glutes shut like a bear trap and make sure that they are directly beneath you (or as much as they can be if you have a big booty).
You’re now armed with more Trap Bar ammo than a Rambo movie, so go forth, lift long and prosper. (Nia here — want to have an awesome deadlift workout using this awesome info? Click that link and get to work!)
Rog Law is the Chief Sexification Officer over at RogLawFitness where he drops knowledge on fat loss, muscle gain and the mental side of training and diet with a healthy dose of hilarity and a heaping pile of nerdery.
Deadlifts are awesome. Period. And it’s why I use several deadlift variations in most strength training programs, such as the Train to Be Awesome Guide. Be sure to use the tips Rog provided above, and definitely use a trap bar if you have one available. I really think you’ll enjoy it.