At Elevation Fitness we do not subscribe to any specific exercise Dogma, we believe all exercise modalities may be used as a tool. The application of exercise is specific to the needs and wants of the client.
So, what’s better, the trap bar deadlift or the straight bar (barbell) deadlift? I find it strange that this question comes up and debates arise from it. I personally am not smart enough to answer that question without first needing to answer a question myself: “For who?” Who are we talking about here, and what are their needs and wants? The truth is one is not better than the other, remember that it is not the exercise rather the application of the exercise that matters.
I am going to touch on a few things any trainer or athlete should immediately understand when utilizing these exercises. There are many more considerations than the ones I will touch on in this article, but I I will save those for one of our trainers to touch on in a later article.
A research study by Camara, et al. looked at differences between the trap bar and straight bar deadlift and provided some interesting findings. Researchers found that the trap Bar (also referred to as a Hex BAR for its hexagonal shape) produced a greater increase in force production (2%), velocity (10%), and power (13%) as compared to the straight bar deadlift.
Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26840440
In regards to muscle activation, the study showed a 20% greater activation of the quadriceps muscle with the trap bar deadlift, when compared to the straight bar. This finding makes a lot of sense to me as the trap bar deadlift allows for a much more vertical torso position and a more acute knee angle: ultimately calling the quads into play more so than the straight bar would.
As would be expected, with the straight bar, as compared to the trap bar, the researches found a 14% greater activation of the hamstrings and 20% greater activation of the erector spinae musculature. Again, this makes complete sense as the torque about the erector muscles and the rest of the posterior chain is much greater with the straight bar deadlift. This is because there is a larger moment arm when the bar is out in front of the body.
So which is better?
Seriously? Let’s consider each. I have found the trap bar (Hex bar) deadlift to be one of the most useful tools in my facility, as many clients have pre-existing spinal pathology and poor motor control. For many, the straight bar creates too much of a learning curve and the initial risks out-weigh the benefit to the client, until proper motor control and strength is achieved. We have to understand the bio-mechanical alteration that takes place when the barbell is used and the weight is out in front of the body. The increased torque on the lumbar spine is often the decision maker for me when designing exercise programs for many individuals. Conversely, if my goal is to improve strength and endurance in the lumbar spine and posterior chain - I may prioritize the straight bar deadlift into the program (it should be noted that strength and endurance in the posterior chain can certainly be gained with the trap bar).
After you read the aforementioned research study consider the findings on force, velocity, and power. Remember each of the three showed larger increases when training with the trap bar. I wonder if this has anything to do with less of a demand on the nervous system to learn the movement pattern as the straight bar deadlift may result in a much larger learning curve for some. Something to consider, right?
Either way the study provides some useful information when looking for a scientific rational for training athletes, rehabilitating spinal pathology, or just general health and fitness training.
The truth is both exercises are useful on a client defined basis and one should not be considered the same as the other. The straight bar deadlift is NOT the same as the trap bar deadlift.
I hope this short article was useful for you. Please share this with your friends.
Camara, et al. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 May;30(5):1183-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001352.
Peter Lombardi is a performance enhancement coach and the Owner of Elevation Fitness, a 20,000 square foot Fitness, Wellness, and Performance Center located in the heart of Babylon Village, NY.
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