The hex bar deadlift, or trap bar deadlift, is a great way to learn to deadlift, as it doesn’t require as much hip and ankle mobility to get to the bar and puts less stress on the spine. 1
It also allows you to lift more weight than the traditional deadlift, which can make it a more effective exercise for developing overall lower-body strength.
The traditional deadlift is more effective at strengthening the erector spinae and hip muscles, however, the hex bar deadlift is more like a squat because of the increased load on the quadriceps.
What is the Hex Bar or Trap Bar Deadlift?
The hex bar deadlift (HBD), also known as the trap bar deadlift, is a variation of the deadlift performed with a hexagonal barbell that aims to build strength and power. In a barbell deadlift, the bar is in front of you, whereas with a hex bar you stand with the grip parallel (palms in) to the outside of the feet.
It is actually a bit safer for your back, and it is better for beginners to get the hinge pattern down. This creates a more balanced position and increases safety because it exerts less shearing force on your low back, prevents lumbar hyperextension and allows for a neutral grip that can benefit shoulder protection.
Some lifters have discontinued the hex bar because they believe it somehow contaminates the exercise or makes it easier. The handles on either side reduce the distance required for the lifter to lower the weight and the distance required to lift it off the ground.
Some researchers believe that the hex bar deadlift may be more effective at developing maximal strength.
The study compared specific mechanical variables of interest derived from straight barbell motion during deadlift performance with conventional barbell (CBD) and hexagonal barbell (HBD). Studies have shown that heavier HBD loads can be lifted faster through the same range of motion, and that the load accelerates for a significantly longer period of time. The strategies used to achieve these differences can have a significant impact on training results. 2
So why are so many lifters willing to ditch it? It seems to depend on messaging, because lifts with a hex bar are more efficient, you can usually lift more weight at the same or faster rate than with a barbell. From one point of view, that is cheating, from our point of view, this is a great way to train with more weight without the risk.
Hex bar deadlift properly
- Load the hex bar with a weight of your choice, ensuring you maintain good technique.
- Begin by standing straight at the center of the hex bar with your feet hip-width apart, squat and grab the handles.
- If you’re a beginner to the move, start by using a bar with no added weight.
- Your shoulders should be directly above the hips, with a neutral head and neck position.
- Your chin should remain stationary throughout the movement, as if you are holding an egg under the chin.
- The weight on the feet should be evenly distributed over the entire foot.
- Grasp the floor with the feet to form a stable leg position. The arms should remain long by your sides with a slight bend in the elbows.
- Putting a little more weight on the heels than on your toes, bend at the hips and knees to lower your body toward the hex bar as you grip the hex bar handles.
- Keeping the back flat and neutral spine, lift your hips slightly (the hamstrings will feel tight) to create tension in the backs of the legs.
- Keep the hex bar in the middle, and relax the shoulders, driving the heels into the floor as you begin the upward movement.
- Squeeze the glutes and allow the hips to slide forward at the top of the lift, making sure you get full hip extension.
- Keep the arms long as your hips hinge forward, and continue to grip the handles as you lower the weights to the floor with control while maintaining your neutral spine position.
- Hinge from the hips, allowing the knees to bend to lower the hex bar back toward the floor.
- Be sure to keep your chest open and back flat and at the end of each repetition, the shoulders should end up directly over your hips.
- Deadlifts work on the muscles of the back by forcing them to remain in isometric contraction, meaning you are resisting the motion, and thereby strengthening these muscles.
- Never allow spinal alignment to change during the entire movement, this is how back injuries happen.
- If you can’t maintain spinal alignment, you’re using too much weight.
- Lower the weight and work on hex bar techniques.
- This exercise puts a lot of stress on both the hips and knees, your knees should stay aligned with the toes, or even slightly outside your toes.
- When viewed from the side, the hips and chest should rise together.
- If you notice that the butt is shooting into the air before the hex bar leaves the floor, you need to reduce the weight and work on technique.
- Try starting slightly above the hips, and focus on driving the feet into the floor and moving forward with the chest and upper body.
About ten years ago, the hex bar deadlift (HBD) began to receive more attention thanks to the growth in personal training. The hex bar is now a hybrid replacement for deadlifting and squatting with coaches looking to bulk up the numbers, so it looks like athletes are building strength.
It is a total body compound exercise that has wide applicability in all strength, power, and fitness activities. Additionally, it is a great deadlift variation for beginners and high-level lifters alike.
The primary purpose of hex bar lifting is to reduce (slightly) lumbar strain compared to the traditional barbell deadlift. 3 Incorporating a hex bar makes the most sense for loaded jumps, teaching spinal positioning for pulling, and during pressing variations.
Athletes often perform deadlift exercises without any eccentric tension. As athletes use hex bars more, teaching traditional barbell exercises becomes an added responsibility, and we end up in a situation where we are not building on experience.
- Swinton PA, Stewart A, Agouris I, Keogh JW, Lloyd R. A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):2000-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e73f87. PMID: 21659894.
- Jason Lake, Freddie Duncan, Matt Jackson, and David Naworynsky. “Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance”. Sports (Basel). 2017 Dec; 5(4): 82. DOI: 10.3390/sports5040082. PMCID: PMC5969032. PMID: 29910442.
- Camara KD, Coburn JW, Dunnick DD, Brown LE, Galpin AJ, Costa PB. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 May;30(5):1183-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001352. PMID: 26840440.