When it comes to strength equipment, the barbell is still the most popular training tool out there.
Yet another implement is rapidly gaining traction among everyone from world-class athletes to functional fitness enthusiasts.
It’s called the trap bar.
A Quick History of the Trap Bar
The original trap bar was the brainchild of Al Gerard.
Gerard competed as a drug-free powerlifter in the 1980s and achieved an impressive 625-pound deadlift at age 40. Yet his training left him with crippling back pain.
In the book, Trap Bar Training: History … Workouts … Tips and Techniques, Gerard says both his deadlift and squat form at the time were far from optimal, which had taken a serious toll on his spine.
“My form was terrible in the Deadlift,” Gerard says. “I squatted the same way: I would bend over almost like doing a ‘Good Morning.’”
Yet Gerard was determined to find a solution. He envisioned a method or implement that'd help him improve his form and relieve his back pain while still training heavy. Gerard began doing squats while holding hundred-pound dumbbells by his sides. He loved the way it felt, but realized a total load of 200 pounds wasn’t enough stimulus to see serious improvement (dumbbells above 100 pounds were extremely hard to find back then). He realized he needed to create something totally new.
“(I) started thinking, ‘Well, if I were going to design something (where) I could stand in between two weights, how would I do it?’,” says Gerard, who also had a background in engineering.
“From a physics standpoint, I figured that if you could bring the resistance back closer to the body, then look how efficient your lift is going to be — so I should be able to lift more weight. (I) got the first trap bar ever built … when I put 500 pounds on that bar, it wasn’t much effort to pick it up. Right then and there I thought, “Well, I don’t care if I never deadlift with a straight bar again. This is the greatest thing that I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Gerard’s design took a traditional straight barbell and morphed it with a diamond pattern that allowed the lifter to stand between the weights rather than behind them.
He began training with his creation and saw impressive results both in terms of strength gains and pain reduction. Gerard decided to trademark and patent the trap bar and began advertising it in the magazine Powerlifting USA.
Powerlifters across America soon fell in love with the unique training tool. In the decades since, the trap bar (also known as a “hex bar”) has come to be appreciated by fitness enthusiasts of all stripes thanks to its effectiveness, ease of use, safety, and versatility. Many variations of Gerard’s original design have come onto the market over the intervening years.
Why a Trap Bar is (Probably) Worth It
The trap bar is first and foremost associated with the Deadlift.
Deadlifts with a traditional barbell (also known as Straight Bar Deadlifts) put the lifter behind the load.
This forces you to maneuver your body around the bar as it comes up. If you pull the bar too far away from your center of gravity, you’ll subject your lower back to an enormous amount of stress and your form will be highly inefficient.
Yet pull it too close to your center of gravity, and you’ll likely wind up with bloody shins or your knees will bump into the bar.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and nailing Straight Bar Deadlifts with good form requires a considerable amount of mobility, strength and technique.
Even if you’re in really good shape, some people’s bodies just aren’t built for deadlifting with a barbell. People with long femurs, for example, often find the exercise awkward and unforgiving.
It all adds up to make the Straight Bar Deadlift a great exercise for a relatively small group of individuals, but one that frequently causes injuries and frustration for others.
RELATED: Is a Barbell Actually Worth It?
Enter the trap bar.
The trap bar is the most accessible way to deadlift. It allows you to to stand inside the bar rather than behind it. This puts you at a considerable mechanical advantage, encourages proper form, and greatly minimizes the risk of low-back injury or bloody shins. You also don’t have to deal with the mixed grip hand position that’s commonly used for heavy barbell deadlifts and is known to be a frequent cause of bicep tears.
Translation: the trap bar helps most people deadlift with better form, less pain, and heavier weight.
But you shouldn't think of the Trap Bar Deadlift as the JV version of the Straight Bar Deadlift. World-class athletes like Christian McCaffrey and Rory McIlroy count the move as one of the most important exercises in their training arsenal, and Hollywood A-listers like Bradley Cooper use it to help get in insane shape for starring roles.
Research has found the Trap Bar Deadlift does shift a little bit of activation away from the hamstrings and onto the quads compared to the Straight Bar Deadlift, but the difference is rather minor. Most people will get a better overall workout on the trap bar thanks to the increased efficiency, improved form and ability to use heavier loads.
The applications of a trap bar don’t stop at the Deadlift, however.
It’s also a phenomenal tool for weighted jumps. The olympic lifts (the Snatch and Clean & Jerk and their derivatives) are similar in some ways to the straight bar deadlift awesome if you know what you’re doing, but can take a long time to master and aren’t always the most convenient option. Trap Bar Jumps are a simpler, more accessible way to enhance explosive power. The move is as simple as grabbing a trap bar (possibly with a bit of additional weight loaded on it) and performing a vertical jump as you hold the handles.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded Trap Bar Jumps are “a valid speed-strength exercise that relates significantly to jump and acceleration performance in rugby union players. Strength and conditioning coaches should consider the inclusion of (Trap Bar Jumps) in the development of peak power output.”
Mike Boyle, legendary strength coach and owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, is a big fan of Trap Bar Jumps. In an article for STACK, he recommends using a load that allows you to achieve 70-80 percent of your unloaded Vertical Jump max. If your most recent Vertical Jump PR is 28 inches, you’d want your Trap Bar Jumps to soar into the 19.5-22.5 inch range. When in doubt, go lighter than you think!
Other fantastic uses for a trap bar include:
- Weighted Carries (like Farmer’s Walks or Overhead Carries)
- Neutral Grip Presses (such as Bench Presses or Overhead Presses)
- Deadlift Variations (like the RDL or Kickstand Deadlift)
- Row Variations
- Lunge Variations (though these often require an open trap bar design)
We won’t dive into all the benefits of every movement listed here, but just know the trap bar offers some unique advantages for all these movements.
Weighted Carries with a trap bar, for example, can help you carry more weight while maintaining better posture. The handles on a trap bar also allow for a neutral grip (meaning palms facing one another) during different pressing exercises, such as Bench Presses and Overhead Presses, and many people find that grip more comfortable and less likely to produce pain or injury compared to the typical pronated grip used on a barbell.
You may need to get a little creative, but you can absolutely get a killer full-body workout with nothing more than a good trap bar and some quality weight plates.
Different Trap Bar Designs/Features
When Gerard created the first trap bar over thirty years ago, he probably didn’t envision the many different designs that'd exist today.
Let’s rundown some features you may or may not find in modern trap bars.
Unlike Gerard’s original design, modern trap bars often include a pair of high handles in addition to the standard handles. This allows tall lifters or those with limited flexibility to still perform moves like Deadlifts. On many models, the ability to switch between high or low handles is as simple as flipping the bar over.
Trap bars are now available in both closed and open varieties. Making one end of the trap bar open allows for greater exercise variety, including lunge-style movements like Bulgarian Split-Squats that would be highly awkward on a closed trap bar.
Many lifters can lift more on the Trap Bar Deadlift than they can on any other exercise. This can mean a good amount of time spent loading and unloading weight plates. The bar jack is a feature found on some trap bars (mostly of the open variety) that makes this process significantly easier. By jacking the loadable sleeves higher off the ground, you don’t have to bend down as far to load or unload the plates, and the plates themselves also slide on or off more easily.
Some trap bars feature swappable handles, allowing you to change the thickness of the grips to modify your training effect (thick grip training is known to help increase overall upper-body muscle activation, among other potential benefits). Some bars also let you manipulate how far apart the handles are from one another. This can help tune the bar to different builds or allow you to alter the associated muscle activation of a movement (a wider grip on a deadlift is believed to more effectively train the upper back and increase range of motion, for example).
Aside from these features, two different trap bars may vary in factors like bar dimension, materials, loadable sleeve length, knurling, color, and max weight capacity.
The True Cost of a Trap Bar
Just like barbells, the price for trap bars varies substantially by brand and model.
While there are plenty reasons to buy a trap bar, whether it’s truly “worth it” depends on the price of the bar in question.
The Kabuki Strength Trap Bar HD can be considered the Rolls-Royce of trap bars. It includes many of the aforementioned features and sports a max weight capacity of 1,500 pounds. Yet at $699.99, it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.
RELATED: Why are Barbells So Expensive?
Then there are options like the Bells of Steel Open Trap Bar/Hex Bar 3.0. It’s got a more accessible price point at $274.99 and some cool features, but with a loadable sleeve length under 10 inches, it’s difficult to load more than three 45-pound bumper plates on each side. That may be more than enough for some lifters, but a lot of dedicated enthusiasts can trap bar deadlift over 315 pounds (or can easily get there with some dedicated training).
The HulkFit Olympic 2-Inch Weight Lifting Trap Bar is a stellar option for the serious lifter who doesn’t want to break the bank. Don’t take it from us — take it from the over 3,000 people who’ve rated the trap bar five stars on Amazon.
The closed version of the HulkFit Trap Bar is one of the best deals on the market at just $129.99. For lifters who anticipate training with 400+ pounds in rubber bumper plates, the open model of the HulkFit Trap Bar features extra long loadable sleeve lengths over 20 inches. This enables you to add weight plate after weight plate without running out of sleeve space. This elite model deliver incredible performance for just $229.99.
Both models of the HulkFit Trap Bar feature a weight capacity of 1,000 pounds, deep knurling for a secure grip, and both high and low handles to accommodate lifters of all sizes and flexibility levels.