Coach Corey Gainz here, and I'm going to let ya'll in on my staple X-Factor exercise: The Trap bar Deadlift. Also known as the Hex bar Deadlift, it is a variation of the Barbell Deadlift. In this blog, we will be focusing on the Romanian variation of the lift. Before we go into the movement itself, let's familiarize ourselves with the Trap Bar, or Hex Bar.
The History of The Trap Bar
The Trap Bar was invented in the 1980's by Al Gerard, a competitive powerlifter. Gerard used this bar to work around back and mobility problems that prevented him from squatting and deadlifting heavy weights with a barbell (Wood and Gerard, 2017).
Specifications of The Trap/Hex Bar
This is a hexagonal (6 sided) barbell, hence the name The Hex Bar. The bar's weight variesfrom 40-70 lbs, with most standard bars being between 45-55 lbs. The weight is loaded on the sides, and it fits any standard-sized plate. There are two sets of neutral (vertical grip) handles: one set at the level of the bar, the bar (low handles), and one set elevated inches above that (high handles). You stand inside of the hexagon when performing lifts - you're "trapped" in, alluding to the name Trap Bar. It is also thought to have been named after the trapezius muscles, which are heavily activated due to the neutral grip and weight distribution of the bar.
Pro-tip: I would recommend using bumper, olympic, or even rubber plates for just about any exercise with this bar: iron does not absorb shock well for deadlifting and 6 or 12-sided plates should not be used. Also, do not attach chains to this bar when deadlifting…
The Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift (Trap Bar RDL)
This is a variation of the Traditional Deadlift, known as the Romanian Deadlift or RDL performed with a Trap Bar. It is a compound exercise, requiring movement of multiple muscles and joints. It is a hip-hinge movement pattern, a pull, and also a closed kinetic-chain movement. The hip-hinge aspect makes this one of the "truest" movements.
Pro-tip: Deadlifting is a necessary movement, and should be programmed into every exercise routine unless an injury does not permit. These can be used as a basic, auxiliary, or power exercise.
How To Perform
Stand in the middle of the trap bar, feet hip-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back to push your chest out slightly. Bend your knees slightly and set this at a fixed angle. Without changing the angle of your knees, hinge forward from your hips and stand up with the bar, engaging your core and glutes. Maintain chest high and that your head is an extension of your spine. Engage upper abdomen for thoracic stability by slightly crunching upper abdomen while keeping the spine eutral. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your knees and hips to return to the starting position.
Getting the Form Right
Here's a simple breakdown of the proper form:
1. Positioning: Stand inside the trap bar with your feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward.
2. Grip: Hold the top handles, strong grip.
3. Hinging: Initiate the movement by hinging at your hips, pushing your hips backward. Keep your back straight and chest up.
4. Lowering: Lower the bar while maintaining the straight back. You'll feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Since we are doing a "start-stop" or a "dead" version of the TBRDL, you're going to completely lower the bar while still holding and stabilizing until you ascend for your next rep. Be sure to use that momentary drop to release tension in the lower back & reset, recalibrate and re-engage your muscles.
5. Stretch and Contract: As you lower, focus on the hamstring stretch. Push through your heels to return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.
6. **Control:** Keep the motion controlled; avoid using momentum or rounding your back.
Pro-Tip: I personally believe you should never sacrifice safety. The TBRDL is a great exercise to use accessory equipment to maximize safety, engage proper muscle activation, and enhance stability. I would suggest trying a lifting belt, especially if you suffer from low back discomfort when performing compound lifts (or in general) and if you have a weak/inactive core. The lifting belt applies pressure to the abdomen activating and engaging the muscles. When you breathe the transdiaphragmatic pressure further engages core muscles and causes decompression in the vertebrae of the lumbar spine. So if you have herniated, slipped, or bulging discs, this can provide support. Also - Wrist straps or wrist hooks work excellent if you are limited on grip strength. Wrist hooks work a bit better and are easier to use. The wrist hooks transfer the load that typically would be taken up by the forearms and hand muscles and relocate and spread out the load to the trapezius and other posterior chain muscles. It also allows for you to lift heavier weight without worrying about holding or dropping the bar.
Advantages of Hex Bar RDL
1. Back-Friendly: The hex bar design encourages a more natural movement, putting less strain on your lower back than traditional RDLs.
2. Glute and Hamstring Focus: This exercise effectively targets your glutes and hamstrings through the hip hinge motion.
3. Functional Benefits: Hex Bar RDLs replicate everyday movements, making them useful for overall strength.
4.Variation: Incorporating this exercise adds variety to your regimen, preventing workout plateaus.
The trap bar deadlift is less stressful on the low back than barbell deadlifts due to the resistance being in closer proximity to the midline. Since this version of the lift is less stress on the spine, the Trap Bar Deadlift is likely a better choice for lifters who experience low back pain (Lake and Jason, 2017).
Integrating Hex Bar RDL Into Your Routine
Since it is a pull movement that has high activation of the hamstrings and glutes, you'll want to add these to your Pull days if you do a Push/Pull split. If you do a body-part or "bro-split" you can incorporate these into Leg and/or Back days. Start light with 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps. Gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable and stronger.
Pro-Tip: Once you have the lift mastered and are going onto heavier weight, I would suggest switching to 5 sets of 5 reps (5x5). Prioritize quality reps over quantity and pay attention to your form throughout. 5x5's have shown to work the best for my clients and myself. Since it is a compound lift, lower rep ranges are safer and sometimes with the deadlift pattern, less is more (regarding reps/set).
Prioritize a warm-up before heavy lifting and be attentive to your body's signals. If you have any concerns or injuries, consult a fitness professional before trying this exercise.
The Hex Bar RDL is an effective lower body exercise that can help you build strength and muscle. It's an opportunity to refine your lifting technique while enhancing your overall fitness level.
I suggest all lifters utilize the Trap Bar RDL. Once you start incorporating these into your routine you will notice the positive impact it can have on your posterior chain. Remember, consistent effort is key to achieving your fitness goals. Keep up the hard work and stay dedicated to your journey of self-improvement.
Learn the Trap Bar Deadlift and many other movements with Corey at our training studio located in South Austin! You can come in for a free session to get started, it includes:
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Swinton, Paul A., Stewart, Arthur, Agouris, Ioannis, Keogh, Justin WL, Lloyd, Ray A. (2011) Biomechanical Analysis of Straight and Hexagonal Barbell Deadlifts Using Submaximal Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (25)7, 2000-2009.
Lake, Jason et al. “Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance.” Sports (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 5,4 82. 24 Oct. 2017, doi:10.3390/sports5040082