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Although there are many variations of the deadlift, the trap bar deadlift and conventional deadlift are two of the most common.
I’ve been successfully using both deadlift variations for the last seven years, both in my training and with hundreds of clients. But before deciding whether you should do one over the other, you should learn more about their pros and cons and how they can adapt to your personal goals.
So, what are the main differences between a trap bar deadlift vs. a conventional deadlift? The trap bar deadlift is a knee-dominant variation that targets your quads more, and it’s easier to learn with lower injury risk. Conventional deadlifts are more hip-dominant and will recruit more glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and lats.
By the end of this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the trap bar and conventional deadlift to help you decide which suits your goals better. Here’s a sneak peek of what we’ll cover:
- Trap Bar vs. Conventional Deadlift: Main Differences
- Trap Bar vs. Conventional Deadlift: How to, Muscles Worked, Common Mistakes, Benefits, and Drawbacks
- When You Should Do Trap Bar Deadlifts vs. Straight Bar Deadlifts
- The Ideal Trap Bar to Conventional Deadlift Ratio
Let’s dive in!
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Conventional Deadlift: 9 Differences
There are more similarities than differences when discussing the trap bar vs. barbell deadlift.
Both have their strengths and weaknesses, benefits and drawbacks. To help you decide which is best for you, we assembled the nine main differences between these two movements.
1. Trap Bar Uses a Different Type of Barbell
The biggest difference between the two deadlift variations is the use of a deadlift trap bar vs. a barbell.
The trap bar deadlift (also known as a hex bar deadlift) uses a hexagonal-shaped barbell that allows you to step inside and perform the movement. A conventional deadlift uses a straight barbell.
The trap bar has a few different characteristics from a regular barbell, such as having handles that enable you to hold the bar with your hands at your sides instead of in front of you. This alters how your muscles are activated and how your technique can adapt.
This bar allows a more upright torso position, with less hip hinging and more quad dominance. There is a six-degree increase in knee flexion (i.e., bending of the knee) on the trap bar deadlift compared to the conventional deadlift.
Wondering what the differences are between a deadlift barbell vs. a trap bar? Learn more about them and other deadlift bars in 5 Different Types of Deadlift Bars & Their Uses.
2. Trap Bar is Easier to Learn
The trap bar deadlift has a more vertical trajectory, a more upright body position, and less range of motion. Those characteristics make learning the movement easy, even if you’re a beginner, and is one of the greatest trap bar deadlift benefits.
Most people only need to think about standing up and going back down, which takes less attention and focus, making it a convenient alternative to the conventional deadlift.
We discuss which deadlift variations are easier and harder than others in Which Type Of Deadlift Is The Hardest? (7 Examples).
3. Trap Bar Deadlift May Be Safer for Your Spine
During a conventional deadlift, there’s more hip hinging and less quad dominance, and the torso is almost facing the ground compared to the trap bar deadlift.
The body position of the conventional deadlift will put more pressure on your spine when pulling up the barbell, which could compromise your lower back stability if you’re not strong enough.
Although this is not the case for everyone, it could increase the injury risk if you don’t take care of the technique first.
Some back rounding in specific scenarios during the conventional deadlift should not occur with every deadlift rep. Learn more in Is It Okay To Deadlift With a Round Back? (Powerlifters Say Yes).
4. Conventional Deadlifts Could Scratch Your Shins
To be more efficient at deadlifts, keeping the bar closer to the body is better. But this increases the chances of skin-to-bar contact during conventional deadlifts, making shin scratches and bruises an ordinary happening.
This is different from the trap bar deadlift, which has your legs further away from the bar.
That’s why some lifters use longer socks or shin guards when doing conventional deadlifts. It’s also why powerlifting competitions require athletes to wear knee-high socks during deadlifts.
5. Trap Bar Uses a Different Hand Placement
The trap bar has two settings, high and low handles. Both settings use a neutral grip, meaning that the palms of your hands face the outer part of your quads. The high-handle setting has 22 degrees less vertical displacement than a conventional deadlift.
The neutral grip is the only grip available for the trap bar deadlift.
On the other hand, the conventional deadlift has multiple hand placement options, such as the following:
- Overhand: palms of the hands face you with the knuckles pointing down. It’s easy to learn, but the bar might slip during heavy loads. Some lifters also use a hook grip with an overhand grip.
- Mixed grip: the palm of one hand (ideally your dominant hand) faces toward you, and the other points away from you. It requires more mobility, but it’ll prevent the bar from slipping when doing heavy reps.
Learn more about the different grip styles in the conventional deadlift in How to Maximize Your Deadlift Grip (Never Fail Again On Grip).
6. Trap Bar Allows for Heavier Loads
During a trap bar deadlift, the bar travels less distance from the starting to end position. It needs less range of motion to complete the movement, making it easier to work your way up to heavy loads while minimizing injury risk.
Another factor is the upright torso position and the ability to use more of your quads. These two elements are crucial for injecting power into the movement and moving heavier loads more easily.
7. Trap Bar Is Better for Sport-Specific Training
The body and hand positioning in the trap bar deadlift allows for explosive movements that are impossible with a conventional deadlift, such as jumping.
The trap bar perfectly suits athletes who want to maximize their peak power, velocity, and force.
8. Trap Bar Deadlift Requires Less Joint Mobility
When comparing the trap bar deadlift vs. the barbell deadlift, the trap bar deadlift requires less mobility on your ankle, knees, and hip joints. This is due to the body positioning being more centered in the trap bar, which is the opposite of the conventional deadlift, where the bar is in front of you.
This difference makes the trap bar deadlift ideal for people with limited joint mobility, such as injured, elderly, and beginners.
9. Each Deadlift Activates Different Muscle Groups
Because the trap bar allows for a more upright position, it predominantly targets the quads and traps.
On the other hand, the conventional deadlift has more hip hinging, which is why it recruits more muscle fibers from the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and lats.
These muscles, independent of the deadlift variation, are responsible for keeping the body strong and stable throughout the complete range of motion.
Muscles can’t be completely isolated. However, the amount of fiber recruitment differs between the barbell vs. trap bar deadlift. It’s important to mention that because even if one variation favors one muscle group over the other, it doesn’t mean that other muscles are not being targeted.
Trap Bar Deadlift: How To, Muscles Worked, Tips, Common Mistakes, Benefits, and Drawbacks
Trap Bar Deadlift: How To Do It
Although the movement seems straightforward, some people need help mastering the basics and tend to make mistakes that could increase injury risk.
Follow these simple steps to make sure your trap bar deadlift technique is clean:
- Step inside the trap bar and place your feet hip-width apart.
- Hinge your hips and adopt a squat position.
- Hold the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
- Keep a neutral neck and spine.
- Lift the bar until you reach a standing position with your hips and knees locked.
Depending on your training intentions, you can use the high or low handles. For example, if you’re looking to work on your strength, power, and speed, I’d recommend using the high handles since they’ll allow you to execute the movement faster and more explosively.
However, if your goal is hypertrophy, using the low handles will benefit you the most. The low handles will give you more range of motion so that your muscles can stretch and lengthen more, creating the right stimulus for your muscles to grow.
Trap Bar Deadlift: Muscles Worked
The trap bar deadlift targets the following muscles:
- Spinal erectors
These large muscles are responsible for keeping the body in the best position for maximal power output.
The quadriceps (quads) are four muscles on the front of your thighs responsible for extending the knee. These muscles are the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius.
The lats (latissimus dorsi) are a big muscle group located in the back of the body. Their function is to extend the arms (bring them down and back) and internally rotate them. They also help keep your chest upright while performing the deadlift.
Trapezius (traps) are a muscle group with three portions: upper, mid, and lower trap. They are responsible for elevating, bringing together, and lowering the shoulder blades. This is crucial for keeping the spine neutral during the deadlift.
The spinal erectors (erector spinae) are one of the muscle groups aiding in back extension. They help maintain a neutral spine and prevent the back from rounding throughout the movement.
The glutes are one of the strongest muscle groups in the body. They are formed by the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Their main function is to extend the hips. They also help in externally rotating and abducting the femur.
The hamstrings are a group of four muscles: biceps femoris long/short head, semi tendinous, and semimembranosus. These muscles are responsible for flexing the knee (opposite of the quads) but also help in extending the hips (along with the glutes).
Trap Bar Deadlift: Benefits
The trap bar deadlift is a fantastic movement for anyone interested in gaining strength and muscle mass. On top of that, there are other benefits of the trap bar deadlift, such as:
- Perfect for beginners
- Lower risk of back injury
- More quad activation
- Sports-specific training
Perfect For Beginners
As mentioned earlier, the trap bar deadlift is easier to learn than the conventional deadlift and requires less attention to detail. During this movement, the trap bar allows a more upright body position, with the bar traveling a more vertical trajectory.
These two elements make it more accessible for beginners. This also helps to increase exercise adherence. The fact that you can learn a movement faster will motivate you to return for more.
Lower Risk of Back Injury
During the trap bar deadlift, the bar is placed closer to your body center and has to travel less distance. Your body is in a more favorable position to lift the weight with minimal stress on your spine.
It’s an ideal variation for people with recurrent back injuries, the elderly, and sports athletes looking to gain strength with minimal risk.
More Quad Activation
This is one of the main benefits of the trap bar deadlift. Using a trap bar will put your body in a more “seated-like” position, automatically recruiting more muscle fibers from the quadriceps.
Although the trap bar deadlift will recruit other muscles (as shown above), some individuals can benefit from having this quad stimulus on top of the others because it may help with their daily life activities such as walking, running, and jumping.
The trap bar deadlift is perfect for athletes seeking speed, power, and strength. The trap bar setup will allow a faster and more vertical motion, which can easily translate to the sports environment.
Trap Bar Deadlift: Drawbacks
The main drawback of a trap bar deadlift is the need for a trap bar (or hex bar). This bar is not always available in commercial gyms, although you could buy one. We have a guide on the best trap bars if you need help choosing one.
Trap Bar Deadlift: Common Mistakes
According to Bengtsson et al., most deadlift-related injuries are due to chronic fatigue, heavy loads, and poor lifting technique.
Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid to prevent injury when performing trap bar deadlifts.
This is also known as “turtle back.” If your upper back is not activated before starting the lift, chances are you’re rounding your back on the way up.
To avoid this, think about spreading your shoulder blades apart to activate them and keep your chest tall.
In the starting position, your neck and spine should be neutral. This helps avoid unnecessary strain on your neck muscles and keeps your body tight and assembled from beginning to end.
Knees Caving In
Although this is not inherently bad, it could represent a “power leak” during the trap bar deadlift since the muscles that extend the hips and externally rotate the femur are not properly activated.
Trap Bar Deadlift: Programming Recommendations
Depending on your training goals, you can add trap bar deadlifts to your programming up to three times per week. Although it could be more, it all boils down to how much volume and intensity your body can tolerate.
Pick one day for heavier loads (70-85 % of your one rep max), one for lighter loads (50-65% of your one rep max), and one for speed (40-60% of your one rep max). Over time, you’ll notice rapid progress while keeping injuries at bay.
Conventional Deadlift: How To, Muscles Worked, Tips, Common Mistakes, Benefits, and Drawbacks
Conventional Deadlift: How To Do It
The conventional deadlift requires more mobility on your ankle and hip joints, making the technique more critical than the trap bar deadlift.
However, following these steps should put you in the position for a clean execution with low injury risk.
- Load the barbell with your desired weight.
- Place your feet hip-width apart and get closer to the bar until your shins almost make contact.
- Hinge your hips and adopt a squat position, sending your torso forward and down.
- Hold the bar with an overhand grip (knuckles down).
- Keep a neutral neck and spine.
- Lift the bar upwards until you reach a complete standing position with your hips and knees locked.
You don’t have to load the bar if you don’t feel like it. I’ve seen many practicing with broomsticks or even PVC pipes.
The goal here is to become familiar with the movement pattern. You can worry about the weight later.
Conventional Deadlift: Muscles Worked
The conventional deadlift is known for developing the posterior chain muscles, such as the glutes, hamstrings, lower back (spinal erectors), lats, and trapezius.
During the movement, the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors are mainly responsible for extending the hips and keeping a neutral spine.
The lats and trapezius will aid in maintaining an upright torso and bringing the shoulder blades closer together.
Conventional Deadlift: Benefits
Conventional deadlifts have many benefits, including more glute, lower back, and hamstring recruitment.
These deadlifts will also target your core muscles due to the high hip hinge position.
Conventional Deadlift: Drawbacks
One of the main drawbacks of conventional deadlifts is the technique. It requires more mobility on your hip and ankle joints, which could be a setback for some people.
Another potential drawback is the more significant stress it puts on your lower back. Although this is not inherently bad, it does represent a slight concern for people with recurrent back pain.
Conventional Deadlift: Common Mistakes
Although the trap bar and conventional deadlift have slightly different body positioning, the movement pattern is the same.
Therefore, the common mistakes in conventional deadlifts are technically the same as the trap bar deadlift mentioned above.
Conventional Deadlift: Programming Recommendations
Your training goals will determine how you include the conventional deadlift in your program. If you’re a powerlifter, you should deadlift around three times per week with a different volume and intensity.
- Day 1 (high volume – high intensity): 5 sets of 5-8 reps at 80-90% of your one-rep max
- Day 2: (low volume – medium intensity): 3 sets of 3-5 reps at 70-80% of your one rep max
- Day 3 (high volume – low intensity): 5 sets of 8-12 reps at 50-60% of your one-rep max
Although this could (and should) vary, it’s a solid start for new powerlifters looking to gain momentum while progressively increasing strength.
For the general population, including deadlifts twice a week is enough to enjoy a healthy balance between intensity and rest.
I’d recommend having at least one full day of rest between sessions and playing with the load. Alternate between higher weights/lower reps and higher reps/lower weights.
That way, you’d get the best of both worlds without taxing your body too much.
Is the Trap Bar Deadlift or Conventional Deadlift Better?
Whether the trap bar deadlift vs. regular deadlift is better depends entirely on your personal goals. The trap bar deadlift is a safer choice if you’re a sports athlete looking to improve power and speed with lower injury risk. The conventional deadlift is the right go-to if you’re interested in developing more muscle mass in your glutes and hamstrings.
Either way, both variations are phenomenal and will do wonders for your overall strength, power, speed, and muscle mass.
We also discuss whether trap bar deadlifts or front squats are better in Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Front Squat: Differences, Pros, Cons.
What Is a Good Trap Bar Deadlift to Conventional Deadlift Ratio?
Most lifters will notice a significant difference between their trap bar deadlift vs. deadlift weight. A healthy trap bar to conventional deadlift ratio is 2:1 for most of the population.
Each scenario should be addressed individually, but this ratio works effectively. You want to be exposed to both movements while prioritizing those with higher returns and lower injury risk.
This and the heading below should discuss when in a training cycle; it’s ideal for adding the trap bar deadlift or specific scenarios where a lifter may want to do this lift over the other.
When Should You Do Trap Bar Deadlifts?
Trap bar deadlifts are excellent for developing speed, power, and explosiveness. These qualities are ideal for sports athletes, especially as the season gets closer.
In other words, you want to do trap bar deadlifts at the end range of a training cycle to bias more sport-specific adaptations.
In another scenario, if you’re coming off a spine-related injury, including a trap bar deadlift at the beginning of the training cycle is adequate. The trap bar allows for less range of motion and a more upright torso, putting less stress on your spine.
If you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder, adding trap bar deadlifts at the end of the training cycle can be beneficial, especially during deloads to allow for an active recovery session.
You’ll be able to rest while still keeping your posterior chain somewhat active.
When Should You Do Conventional Deadlifts?
If you’re an athlete working in the off-season, you should start your training cycle with conventional deadlifts. This will put the focus on building strength on your posterior chain.
Since conventional deadlifts require more joint mobility, it’s a solid strategy to emphasize that aspect early in training before moving on to more sport-specific training with the trap bar.
Any time is the right time to include this variation for the general population. For those interested in developing a more aesthetic physique, doubling down on the conventional deadlift is a must.
Conventional deadlifts will expose the muscles to a greater range of motion, adding more stress to the fibers and improving muscle quality and volume.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a Trap Bar Deadlift Easier Than a Conventional Deadlift?
Yes, trap bar deadlifts are more accessible than conventional deadlifts. When comparing a deadlift with a trap bar vs. a barbell, the trap bar allows for a more upright torso position while requiring less hip and ankle mobility, making it ideal for beginners and people with poor joint mobility.
Can You Deadlift More With a Trap Bar?
Most people can deadlift more with a trap bar. This bar allows for less vertical displacement with a lesser range of motion. Those qualities represent an opportunity to add more weight to the deadlift while preserving a solid technique.
About The Author
Mauro Castillo is a General Medicine doctor with a master's degree in Sports Training and Business. He's been working in the fitness industry for the last seven years. He practiced CrossFit for 4 years before owning his own CrossFit and personal training gym. He's currently working at a sports facility, helping athletes become better mentally and physically. You can connect with Mauro on LinkedIn, IG, or X.