As I mentioned on Friday, last Monday I maxed out on my deadlift. Last time I maxed, a couple months ago, I walked away from that lift feeling absolutely perfect. No undue soreness, no actual pain, nothing. This time, however, even though I only added 5 pounds to my previous max, I felt it immediately. I wish I had video of my max, because I’m sure something happened to my form on my final (but successful!) attempt at 230.
This is my previous max – 225lb, about two months ago.
My mid back was extremely fatigued after that lift, leading to back spasms which were not comfortable, to say the least. I ended up modifying my training plan for the rest of the week, pushing my heavy bench day to Friday from Thursday because of this fatigue. It’s all good, and I feel great now, but it did leave me wanting something a little less stressful for this weeks deadlift session. Enter: The trap bar.
The trap bar is one of my favorite pieces of gym equipment, although it’s something that I see used very rarely. Although it’s an excellent training tool, it seems as though a lot of people at my gym are afraid of it. To be honest, though, it’s probably one of the things to be least scared of, because it’s a tool that actually makes lifts like deadlifts a little bit more idiot proof.
The trap bar, also called a Hex-bar, is a sometimes hexagonal, sometimes diamond shaped barbell which you stand inside, instead of behind, when you’re using it. A quick review of physics and levers shows us why the trap bar places less stress on your spine than a traditional straight bar deadlift. Standing “inside” the bar, instead of behind it, changes the lever arm when doing movements such as deadlifting. Because the load/weight is closer to the axis of movement due to the side handles (instead of grasping the bar in front of your ankles), it places less stress on the spine, and requires a little bit less mobility and technical prowess than a traditional deadlift or squat. Basically, the load is easier to lift because it’s closer to the axis — your hips.
Not to mention, the positioning and load changes actually allow you to lift more weight with a trap bar than you generally can with a traditional, straight bar deadlift. Who doesn’t want to lift more?
This week, in order to give my back a little bit more time to rest, I’ll be replacing traditional deadlifts with the trap bar variation in today’s session. This will allow me to continue my training, while protecting myself after overdoing it last week. I can still train heavy deadlifts, but can put less stress on the muscles surrounding my spine that were so royally pissed off at me last week. Sounds like a win to me!
Things to remember when doing a trap bar deadlift:
- Step inside the bar with feet equidistant from the front and back of the bar, a little bit wider than hip-width apart.
- Just as in traditional deadlifting, keep your chest up, core engaged, and lats engaged — pull those scapulae into your back pockets!
- Remember — this is still a deadlift. Most of the movement should come from a hip hinge, not from your knees coming forward. Stand with your hands by your side, and push your hips back in order to lower yourself to the handles. If the movement starts with you bending your knees and pushing them forward, you’re doing it wrong. You can do more of a quad dominant trap bar lift by bending your knees a little bit more, but this turns it into more of a squat like movement than a deadlift/posterior chain movement. Remember what your goals are, and correct your form accordingly.
- Use those glutes! Just like in a traditional deadlift, squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Thrusting your hips forward at the top of the lift without contracting your glutes will put a lot of undue (and dangerous) stress on your lumbar spine. Squeeze those glutes, and keep your hips underneath you. No air humping at the top of your lift, please!
Readers: Do you use the trap bar? What’s in your workout plan this week?