In the world of commercial exercise, training the lower body is typically limited to leg presses, knee extensions, and calve raises. An adventurous person may half squats. Sometimes, a young, ‘fit’ guy will tell me that they’re scared to get hurt, so they run to make their legs stronger. A similar response from the ladies is that yoga takes care of the toning for them. There are usually puzzled or fearful looks when the topic turns towards lifting, and when it comes to deadlift, I sometimes get this response:
In competitive circles, there’s plenty of debate over which deadlift is better:Conventional vs. Sumo. A biomechanics lab may say that the sumo position may be more advantageous, but the big world records are set conventional. Some powerlifters will say that sumo is for sissies, and conventional stance is the way to go. Regardless of your biases, or your preferred pulling style, you’ll probably agree: Deadlifting is awesome.
What about for the average person, the one that the fitness industry classifies as “general population”? The person that wants to be healthier, move better, and feel more comfortable when they get naked. These folks don’t care about what they’re doing at the gym, they just want to do something that works. For them, it’s not about progress, and success, and that’s why I prefer the trap bar deadlift over barbell variations when people are learning the deadlift.
The trap bar deadlift offers several advantages to deadlift n00bz when they’re learning the lift, allowing for easier set up and execution. Implementing the trap bar deadlift into a program allows most people to learn a full-body compound movement in a relatively short time frame, which translates to more effective workouts and training success. Barbell deadlift variations call for more mobility than the trap var variety, which most people will develop as they progress through a program. The trap bar allows them to develop confidence pulling off the floor while they address ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility limitations.
It’s common to see either spinal flexion or ankle dorsiflexion when untrained people address a barbell, which can lead to a variety of spinal injuries and awkward lifting. The trap bar allows for forward knee movement, a lower hip position, and ultimately makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise. Hip-hinge purists may argue that this isn’t a true deadlift, that this is instead a quarter squat; there is dorsiflexion and no posterior weight shift. Can we bastardize the deadlift like that? Sure, who the hell cares.
They’re deadlifting, and they feel like a boss. If transitioning to a straight bar is important to them, then include mobility work and exercise progressions to move from the trap bar to a straight bar. Perhaps they’ll use a sumo stance, then transition to a conventional stance. Maybe they’ll stick with the trap bar forever. This depends on their biomechanics, physical limitations, and overall goals. If you’re training yourself or others, it’s important to not marry an exercise over a strategy or idea. There should be specific reasoning and logic for using a specific lift into a program, and it’s important to not pick deadlift variations and progressions all willynilly with no respect for the human body.
Regardless of the implement being used, one should focus on pushing their hips back when they deadlift, which allows the lifter to use their posterior chain musculature. While the mirror monkeys are busy staring at their abz, pecs, and biceps, the smart lifters are training the backside of their body. In the video below, Eric Cressey demonstrates trap bar deadlift technique:
If you’ve been one to let basketball or Bikram count as your lower body training, you’re missing out on a few things. Strength training will not only provide a better bang for your training buck, but it will also make those activities seem a lot easier. The trap bar deadlift is one of the most effective exercises you can use, and it’s my go-to variation to introduce people to the deadlift. Grab yourself a trap bar, sit your hips back, pull your chest nice and tall, and push your heels into the ground. Happy deadlifting!