The trap bar deadlift is one of my favorite pieces of equipment in the gym due to its versatility. A lot of lifters, especially beginners, neglect how versatile the trap bar can be for accomplishing different goals.
From low-handle trap deadlifts to trap bar Romanian deadlifts, there’s typically a trap bar variation that can help you progress toward your training goals. A trap bar’s usage is only limited to your imagination.
In this article, I’m going to discuss some of my favorite trap bar deadlift variations that I’ll program for myself and clients for different goal-focused reasons.
The trap bar is so much more than a tool to do trap bar deadlifts with. Depending on the variation you program, you can use a trap bar to build the hamstrings, glutes, quads, back muscles, traps, and even forearms.
From a coaching point of view, I’d suggest mastering the high-handle trap bar deadlift first. This will help you acclimate to this training tool and help you adjust to the grip changes required for trap bar variations.
In many cases, the trap bar could technically fully replace barbells in your program if you really wanted to go barbell-less for a while. It could be worth doing some A/B testing with trap bar variations over traditional barbell exercises.
When programming new trap bar variations, I’d suggest starting light with whatever exercise you choose and working with a slower tempo while recording yourself. This will help you with form and give you valuable video feedback.
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Variation 1: Stiff-Leg Trap Bar Deadlift
What Is It: The first trap bar deadlift variation that I want to cover is the stiff-leg trap bar deadlift. In my opinion, this variation is severely underutilized when a lifter wants to improve strength off of the floor.
The barbell stiff-leg deadlift is awesome for multiple reasons. However, I feel that the stiff-leg trap bar deadlift can actually be easier for newer lifters to perform that are wanting to build their posterior muscular strength.
Why It’s Great: Since the hands are to the sides of the body in the stiff-leg trap bar deadlift, it can sometimes “feel” easier to get more work for the posterior because can focus on driving the hips through and not worrying about clearing the knees.
It can also feel easier to establish a consistent hip position with the stiff-leg trap bar deadlift because there is less deviation regarding grip and setup. For example, it’s easier to establish a consistent grip with a trap bar due to its handle than with a barbell.
Outside of being awesome for the posterior muscles, the stiff-leg trap bar deadlift can also have a nice carryover to your barbell stiff-leg deadlift and barbell deadlift performance.
How to Use It: When it comes to programming the stiff-leg trap bar deadlift, I find they work best as a primary exercise or a B/C) style accessory. Basically, they can work when programmed toward the beginning of workouts because you can give them more energy.
- Primary Exercise Sets and Reps Example: 5 x 8 | Ascending load from 3-4 RIR to 1-2 RIR
- Accessory Exercise Sets and Reps Example: 3 x 10 | 8/10 effort across all sets
Variation 2: Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift
What Is It: The trap bar Romanian deadlift (RDL) is another awesome trap bar deadlift variation that doesn’t receive nearly enough love and attention. This variation can be useful for lifters at all skill and strength levels.
The trap bar RDL is exactly what the name suggests, it’s a variation that will take the same form as dumbbell and barbell RDLs but with a trap bar. This changes the dynamic of this movement which can be great for some lifters.
Why It’s Great: At times, the barbell RDL can be tricky to perform at heavier weights and higher intensities. With the hands by the sides, it can be easier for some lifters to fully focus on their hinge with trap bar RDLs.
This is great because the trap bar RDL can support training at higher intensities with a lower skill threshold. You can focus on the task at hand AKA hinging, extending, and moving weight without worrying about clearing the knees and other traditional RDL form nuances.
The trap bar RDL is also great because you can use the handles as a range of motion limiter. For example, if you’re prone to “doing too much” with your RDL range of motion then using a high-handle setup can be a really useful tool.
How to Use It: I’ve found a ton of success programming the trap bar RDL following traditional trap bar deadlift sets or using it as a primary accessory exercise for posterior-focused days.
- Following Trap Bar Deadlift Sets and Reps Example: 4 x 7 | 3-sec eccentric, 1-sec pause at the bottom. 1-2 RIR all sets.
Variation 3: Trap Bar RDL With a Band
What Is It: The trap bar RDL with a band is quite possibly one of my favorite hinge-focused exercises. This variation is similar to a traditional trap bar RDL but with a significant tweak to each rep.
To perform the trap bar RDL with a resistance band you’ll anchor a band to something like a squat rack and place it around your waist. This will make this variation slightly more difficult than traditional RDLs.
Why It’s Great: When performing trap bar RDLs you’re mostly working against gravity to lift the weight. For example, your posterior muscles and torso have to work to stabilize the body, flex the hips, and extend the hips.
This means that your glutes and hamstrings will get a nice stimulus when lengthening in the eccentric, and they’ll also be trained during the concentric. When you add a band to your RDL, you now get an additional stimulus for the glutes when standing back up.
The glutes have to actively work against the horizontal pull of the band which is great because it forces muscles like the glute maximus to work harder when going through hip extension.
How to Use It: I’ll program trap bar RDLs with a band similar to how I program trap bar RDLs. They can be an awesome accessory following trap bar deadlifts when you’re after creating a higher glute focus.
- Following Trap Bar Deadlift Sets and Reps Example: 4 x 7 | 3-sec eccentric, 1-sec pause at the bottom. 1-2 RIR all sets.
Variation 4: Mid-Shin Paused Trap Bar Deadlift
What Is It: Much like the trap bar RDL with a band and trap bar RDL, the mid-shin paused trap bar deadlift is an awesome variation from the traditional trap bar deadlift.
This variation will look similar to a traditional trap bar deadlift rep but utilizes a mid-shin pause for about 1-3 seconds during the concentric or lifting portion of the movement. The pause changes the effort needed for reps and the intent of this exercise.
Why It’s Great: The paused trap bar deadlift is awesome because it’s going to help you do two things. First, it’s a great tool for improving form and building positional awareness. If I asked you to stop mid-deadlift rep, could you do it and hold that position?
The power to stop movement and momentum and own positions is great for both sports and daily life. The pause trap bar deadlift is also great because it tends to be easier from a form and fatigue context compared to traditional paused barbell deadlifts.
Second, the pause trap bar deadlift can have carryover to your barbell deadlift performance. If you’ve hit a deadlift plateau, then it may be time to load up the trap bar and hit some pauses. This can be great for teaching you to “push” hard through the floor to create momentum in your pull.
How to Use It: I’ll program paused trap bar deadlifts similar to traditional trap bar and barbell deadlift sets. Remember, the pause will likely need you to drop weight a little bit.
- Top-End Strength Sets and Reps Example: 6 x 3 | 1-sec pause, ascending load from 2-3 RIR to 0-1 RIR
- General Strength Sets and Reps Example: 5 x 6 | 1-2 sec pause, ascending load from 3-4 RIR to 1-2 RIR
Variation 5: Low-Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
What Is It: The low-handle trap bar deadlift is the variation that involves lifting a trap bar from its lower handle setup. Some trap bars will only have a “low-handle setup” while others will have the option to be flipped to use a high or low-handle setup.
The low-handle trap bar deadlift is a great variation for lifters at all skill levels wanting to improve their deadlift abilities and lower body strength as it’s an exercise that is somewhat of a hybrid between deadlift and squat movement patterns.
Why It’s Great: The low-handle trap bar deadlift is great because it creates a higher demand on the legs and more specifically the quads compared to a high-handle trap bar deadlift setup.
Most lifters, especially tall lifters, will have to move through a large degree of hip and knee flexion to properly perform low-handle trap bar deadlifts. This is also why this variation can be great for replicating and teaching squat mechanics to newer lifters.
Outside of being great for developing the legs, glutes, and back, the low-handle trap bar deadlift can be useful for teaching the skill of using the legs to pick things up from the ground from a dead stop position. Real-world carryover, for the win.
How to Use It: When it comes to programming low-handle trap bar deadlifts, I typically use them as a primary exercise for a workout or as a conditioning tool if I’m feeling sadistic.
- General Strength Sets and Reps Example: 5 x 6-8 | Ascending load from 2-3 RIR to 0-1 RIR
- Conditioning Sets and Reps Example: 4 x 15 | 6-7/10 effort. Move quickly and smoothly.
Variation 6: Trap Bar High Pulls
What Is It: Trap bar high pulls are essentially the cousin of traditional barbell clean pulls. I call this variation a trap bar high pull because you’re obviously not cleaning the trap bar, and the goal is to “pull” high for power.
The high pull can be an awesome variation for athletes and beginners that are already using the trap bar in their workout and want a variation that can be biased toward power production.
Why It’s Great: The trap bar high pull can be an awesome entry-level variation to power-focused pulling variations. This exercise is typically easier to learn compared to the barbell clean pull due to the hand position used with the trap bar.
If you’re wanting to improve your lower body power and focus on violent hip extension, then programming lighter trap bar high pulls could be a good choice based on your training goals.
They can also be a great option for lifters that are already training with the trap bar and don’t feel like setting up a barbell for clean pulls. I know this is my laziness bias speaking, but either way, they can be a convenient option post-trap bar deadlifts.
How to Use It: When programming trap bar high pulls the name of the game is to move fast. You don’t want the weight so heavy on the bar that you lose out on velocity and power production.
- Power Development Sets and Reps Example: 5 x 3 | 50-60% of your 1-RM or what is normally a heavy single.
Variation 7: High-Handle Trap Bar Deadlift
What Is It: When you think “trap bar deadlift” you likely naturally think about high-handle trap bar deadlifts. This is the deadlift variation in which you’ll use the higher handles and you’ll have less total ROM with them.
This variation is useful for lifters from all walks of life with different goals and is usually one of my favorite variations for beginner lifters that want to expose themselves to heavier pulling.
Why It’s Great: The high-handle trap bar deadlift has a plethora of benefits. For starters, it’s a great trap bar deadlift variation for every skill level as the learning curve with this exercise tends to be really low.
It’s also a great variation for strength because you can load high-handle trap bar deadlifts pretty heavy and perform them for high volumes compared to traditional barbell deadlifts.
From a muscular point of view, you’ll get a nice quad, glute, back, traps, and forearm stimulus from high-handle trap bar deadlifts. They’ll also be a little more quad-friendly compared to traditional barbell deadlifts which are more posterior muscle dominant.
How to Use It: When it comes to programming high-handle trap bar deadlifts, it’s really the dealer’s choice with these, too. I typically use them as a primary exercise and build the rest of a workout around them since they’re often used in a higher-stim context.
- Top-End Strength Sets and Reps Example: 6 x 2 | Ascending load from 2-3 RIR to 0-1 RIR
- General Strength Sets and Reps Example: 5 x 6 | Ascending load from 3-4 RIR to 1-2 RIR
Coach’s Note: These are only seven of the most popular trap bar deadlift variations you can perform. I tried to limit this list of variations to exercises that will target the lower body from a power, strength, and hypertrophy point of view.
For example, I didn’t include upper body variations with the trap bar because I wanted to focus on variations that directly and indirectly shadow traditional barbell deadlifts (high-handle variation) and barbell deadlifts.
Why the trap bar deadlift is superior?
The trap bar isn’t necessarily superior compared to a barbell and other training implements. However, it can make more sense contextually based on your program, and trap bar deadlifts typically have a more athlete and beginner-friendliness to them.
Is it harder to deadlift with a trap bar?
Most lifters and athletes typically find that trap bar deadlifts are a little easier to perform as they don’t require you to clear the knees like the barbell deadlift and there’s less of a skill component to them, relatively speaking. You can also better leverage the quads with trap bar deadlifts.
What is the best trap bar deadlift variation for beginners?
If you’re just starting out your lifting journey, then I’d suggest getting really good and strong with the high-handle trap bar deadlift. Once you’ve nailed this exercise’s form, you can play with your positioning to tackle other variations.
The trap bar is a seriously versatile training tool and its use in your programming is only limited by your imagination. Whether you’re a beginner or a weathered lifter there’s likely a trap bar variation for you and your goals.
Again, I tried to make this trap bar deadlift variation article on variations that will more closely benefit your barbell deadlift and lower body strength.
If you have additional questions on any of the trap bar variations featured in this article, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).
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