Do you have to use a barbell when deadlift? The quick answer is no, and you will probably be better off using a trapbar for your deadlifts. The trapbar, also known as hex bar, is a hexagonal shaped barbell, and you are inside this hexagon to perform an exercise like the deadlift. The barbell has become this fitness tool that has become almost essential for many lifters. The barbell has its good and always a time and place for them, but for many people and their goals the barbell is unnecessary. Unless you are a powerlifter, using the barbell for your lifts is not necessary to reach your goals. For today’s article will go deeper into why the barbell is not the greatest tool for your deadlifts when your goal is not to powerlift.
Before I go into why the trapbar is better for most lifters, let’s talk about the similarities between the two lifts. They have more in common than most would think, which is why I am shocked when lifters are so dogmatic about the barbell. So here is what the barbell and trapbar share:
- Picking heavy things off the floor
- Works the hinge movement pattern
- Similar range of motion
- Similar degrees of activation in the trained muscles
So let’s describe what the deadlift is, you are hinging at the hips and picking something off the floor. Both the barbell and trapbar have the same movement and muscles working, with some minor differences on how much a certain muscle is working compared to the other. So let me ask you this, does it matter what you use to deadlift if your goal is health, hypertrophy, or strength? Unless you’re a powerlifter it doesn’t matter, and some would argue that the trapbar for powerlifters is a very useful tool in their offseason.
Alright, now let’s talk about the differences between the two tools. We already established that at the foundation they are the same, but let’s dive on why they are different:
- More quad activation in the trapbar DL
- More hamstrings and spinal erectors in the barbell DL
- The Center of mass is in front of the body with barbell DL
- The load with the trapbar DL is close to your center of mass
- The grip for the trapbar is neutral grip by your side
- The grip is either supinated or mixed grip with barbell
The differences between the two are small details, but those small details are what makes one a safer option for your deadlifts. One of those details was listed in the placement of the load. With your barbell deadlifts, the load is in front of the body, changing your center of mass. With the trapbar, because you are in the middle of the bar the center of mass doesn’t change. The reason this matters is because the front loaded weight of the barbell will put more stress into the low back. The trapbar will help decrease the amount of shear force on the lumbar spine. For longevity of your joints, specifically the low back, that is why the trapbar deadlift is a better option.
The grip is also an issue when we look at deadlifts. When you go into a gym and watch someone deadlift, most of the time you will see them use a mixed grip. A mixed grip is when you have one hand with palm up (pronated), and palm down (supinated), while holding the bar. This grip will allow the lifted lift more weight without their grip failing them. Holding the bar with a supinated grip for both hands is tougher and will experience a slip with less weight. The problem with the mixed grip is the stress it puts on the shoulder and biceps of the side with the underhand grip (pronated). Over time this stress can cause imbalances in the shoulder and create elbow injuries and chronic pain. The trap bar has neutral grips, so you avoid this issue and like the mixed grip, you have a stronger grip compared to a supinated grip.
I hope that you can see how beneficial the trapbar is compared to the barbell. We already pointed out that they do the same movement, and the goal is the same, to pick heavy things off the floor. The trapbar allows you to lift the heavy load with less stress to the body. You can also lift more weight with the trapbar due to the leverage being better. For longevity it makes sense on why the trapbar is better, but it is also better for performance for athletes. The advantage for athletes is the same for longevity, the stress in the low back is lowered while also moving the bar at a faster speed. This is great for power development, which is important for many athletes.
I know for myself that I want to have the ability to keep lifting when I’m 80 years old. I could use the barbell for deadlifts with good form, but even with good form the stress is there in the low back. I can lower that stress and just use the trapbar and continue deadlifting. At its foundation, they are the same, you are lifting weight off the floor, why not take less stress out of your joints while doing so? That is why most people would be better off with the trapbar.