Your complete guide on trap bar deadlifts muscles worked and how to do them properly will help you become an expert on one of the best exercises you can do in the gym.
Trap bar deadlifts have been becoming more popular the last few years as people have learned that it is a safer movement than traditional deadlifts and you can still reap the strength and muscle benefits from it.
Trap bar deadlifts are one of the best lower body compound exercises you can do. It is a posterior chain movement, meaning it is working muscles on the back side of your body.
The big difference with a trap bar is that you are inside of the bar so you get to distribute the weight between the front and back leg muscles, whereas with traditional deadlifts the bar is in front of you so only the backside muscles are working.
When a trap bar deadlift is performed correctly, it will be working:
- Erector spinae (lower back)
- Trapezius & upper back
- Start by standing in the middle of the trap bar with feet shoulder width apart.
- Keeping your hands at your side, start bending your knees and pushing your hips back as far as they can go until your hands reach the trap bar handles.
- Grip the handles tightly, tuck your chin, and keep your back flat. This is your starting position.
- Before you lift the weight, create tension in your lats by squeezing your armpits and pulling your shoulder blades back. You might hear the bar click slightly (this is a good thing). This is called pulling the slack out of the bar.
- Once the slack is pulled out, begin standing with the bar by straightening your knees and pushing your hips forward.
- Instead of thinking that you are lifting the weight with your back, imagine you are trying to push your feet threw the floor to get the weight up.
- At the top of the movement, begin bending at your knees and pushing your hips back to get to the end/start position.
- That’s one rep!
Whether you want to switch things up to make your training more interesting or you need an alternative to trap bar deadlifts because of pain issues, try these 4 exercises.
If you need a regression from trap bar deadlifts, start with a kettlebell deadlift. You’ll still be working in the same range of motion and you’ll get the practice of bending your knees, pushing your hips back, and keeping your back flat.
Kettlebell deadlifts allow you to start with a lighter load to perfect form and gain confidence to go into trap bar deadlifts.
Split Stance Trap Bar Deadlifts
Going into a split stance is going to put the majority of the load on the front leg so you’ll need to go lighter with this lift.
People use this alternative if they want to lift lighter while still getting the same benefits. The split stance is practically doing one leg at a time so a 30 - 50% weight decrease is totally normal.
The fatigue kicks in quickly with this movement since you’ll need to do the same amount of reps on both legs.
Traditional deadlifts have been a staple in programming for decades and is one of the best exercise you can do when performed correctly.
The issue is that it’s an advanced movement and most people don’t take the time to properly learn it. This leads to lower back injuries and now people say “deadlifts are bad for your back”.
As long as you do traditional deadlifts with an appropriate weight and actively work on learning the movement, they are a great alternative to trap bar deadlifts.
Sumo deadlifts are very similar to traditional deadlifts in the sense that the weight is entirely in front of you.
The main difference is your stance. With sumo deadlifts, you’ll take a wider stance and flair your feet slightly out to get into a good starting position.
Both sumo and traditional deadlifts are great exercises and you should do the one that feels better for your body.
I’ll also give an honorable mention to single leg deadlifts as an amazing alternative to trap bar deadlifts.
Trap bar deadlifts are an advanced exercise that take time to learn and perfect. As a beginner, the most important thing you can do is take the time to learn perfect form before you start aggressively increasing weight.
For most of my online and in person clients, I start them with trap bar deadlifts versus any other deadlift alternative.
If you don’t take the time to learn proper form, you risk having bad form that can lead to knee, hip, and lower back pain. Generally speaking, you want to stay away from low reps (which means heavier weight) until you feel confident with the movement.
Guidelines for trap bar deadlifts sets and reps for beginners:
- Ensure you can properly hinge, pull the slack out of the bar, and keep your back flat throughout the whole movement with a light weight.
- Perform 3 working sets of 6 - 10 reps.
- Rest 2 - 3 minutes to ensure you are fully recovered.
- Find a weight that you do for the 6 - 10 reps and still have 2 - 3 reps left in the tank. For example, if you do a trap bar deadlift with 135 for 6 reps, you should be able to do 8 - 9 with confidence. This is a safe spot to train as a beginner.
Guidelines for trap bar deadlifts sets and reps for intermediate and advanced lifters
- Perform 3 - 4 sets of 3 - 12 reps.
- Rest 3 - 5 minutes for a rep range of 3 - 5 and 2 - 3 minutes for a rep range of 6 - 12.
- Do 1 - 2 practice rounds as you get into your working set weight.
- Leave 1 - 2 reps in reserve (RIR) on each set.
This is the information I would advice for any deadlift variation. To learn more about reps and sets for deadlifts, check out The Ideal Sets And Reps For Deadlifts For Strength And Muscle.
For any big compound lift like a trap bar deadlift, it is best to perform 1 - 2 times per week. Any more than 2 times per week increases your chance of injury.
Most people would be fine with 1 deadlift session per week but if you wanted to do 2, you can play with different rep ranges each workout.
One day can be your heavy trap bar deadlift session where you stay in the 3 - 5 rep range and your second deadlift day can be more moderate 8 - 12 reps.
Since the weight is distributed in the front and back of your body when you stand in the center of a trap bar, it is going to be a safer, more joint friendly movement.
The ability to have more knee flexion allows your quads to help you with the movement which will help prevent lower back issues.
This is why trap bar deadlifts are one of my 12 favorite exercises for a back friendly leg workout.
Since the trap bar deadlifts is a full body posterior chain movement working your legs and back, it can be performed on either your back or leg day.
Analyze the structure of your workout program to decide which day to do it on.
It’s probably not the best idea to do legs one day and the next day you do back exercises along with deadlifts. You may still be fatigued from your leg workout the prior day.
But if you take an approach such as legs, push (chest, shoulders, triceps), and finish the week with a pull day (back and deadlifts), you’ll have given yourself adequate rest.
Find what works for you.
Trap Bar Deadlifts Recap
You’ve learned the trap bar deadlifts muscles worked include the majority of the muscles on the back of your body and also your quads.
It’s an amazing joint friendly exercise that has multiple benefits that all levels of experience can do.
Always find the trap bar deadlift alternative that feels best for you if you want to try new exercises and remember to never train through pain and to always focus on form over weight.