Master This Move: Trap Bar Deadlift
This safer-for-the-back deadlift variation also helps you build explosive power
We'd like to introduce you to the Trap Bar, a bizarre-looking piece of gym equipment you may not be familiar with. It's a hexagon-shaped iron contraption to which you can add weight plates, and it looks a little terrifying, which is probably why you haven't picked it up-yet. It was back in 1985 designed by power lifter Al Gerard, who was seeking a way to continue training despite a back injury. The Trap Bar was his solution-and it's now used by lifters everywhere as a safer-for-the-back way to do deadlifts and squats. (Check out 5 Pieces of Gym Equipment Trainers Hate.)
Don't be intimidated by the bar-it actually makes a squat easier. Rather than hold the weight out in front of your body like you would with a barbell, step inside the trap bar, so the weight is closer to your center of gravity. "Think about it this way: Would a sack of potatoes feel heavier if you were hugging it to your chest, or if you were holding it away from your body at arm's length? It would feel heavier if it as held farther away from you," says Pat Davidson, Ph.D., Director of Training Methodology at Peak Performance in New York City. Same thing with the barbell versus the trap bar. That makes the trap bar particularly great for those new to deadlifts because there is less room for (accidental) error.
Safety aside, a study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the trap bar deadlift is also a more effective way to enhance power, since you're able to lift the bar faster and more explosively. That means that, in addition to strength gains from this total-body exercise, you'll also see improvements in your other fitness endevors-for example, building up the explosive power can help you become a faster runner, for example. (Try the Plyometric Power Plan.)
Here's how it works. One note of caution from Davidson: Be sure to grip the bar tight enough with the hands and "own" the floor with your feet. "If you push the floor with the heels and squeeze the bar tight with the hands, the middle of the body typically does what it should in a safe and effective way," he explains.
Work this move into your routine two to three days a week. Each time do three to five sets of six to twelve reps.
A Load the trap bar with weights (start with an empty bar or very light, standard-sized 17.75" weight plates. (You can add weight as you master the exercise.) Bend down and grip the bar tightly with both hands. Feet should be flat on the ground with the weight on the heels. Hips should be shifted back with the chest held up. The shin angle should be fairly vertical, rather than the knees going forward over the toes.
B Push down into the floor hard with the feet to drive the body into a standing position. Focus on pushing the ground rather than trying to pull the bar with the upper body/back. Squat back down to starting position and touch the bar to the floor, then repeat.