The Trap Bar Deadlift is Not Cheating

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The trap bar deadlift is not cheating.

Get over yourself if you think otherwise.

 

This train of thought is something I’ve experienced throughout my career on several occasions, first, when I was still at Cressey Sports Performance. Other coaches would stop by for the day to observe or shadow and inevitably one of them would inquire why we tended to solely use the trap bar for deadlifting.

Don’t you feel that’s sorta cheating?

Inside my head, whenever this was asked, I’d want to say something to the effect of:

Yes, because here at CSP we’re all about shortchanging our athletes and making them inferior in every way possible. Trap bar deadlifts, 1/4 squats, UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B,A, START, SELECT1, it’s all good.”

And if they didn’t pick up on my sarcasm I’d follow up with:

“I guess I’ll just go fuck myself. Ten points taken away from Gyffindor for being an inferioir coach and using the trap bar.”

I mean, really? Cheating?

Cheating?

That’s how you assume we (I) roll? Cheat?

In reality, I’d just smile and politely mention the trap bar deadlift was a starting point for pretty much everyone who walked through our doors, professional athlete or not.

Our version of “scaling” the movement.

I understood it was just a question, that it was harmless, and that there was (likely) no ill-intent on their end to be condescending.

But holy shit, it would take every ounce of restraint to not want to do this:

via GIPHY

 

And even now, on occasion, I’ll catch flak from other coaches via social media whenever I post videos of clients deadlifting with a trap bar.

The most egregious of the bunch will provide snide remarks like:

“1. Yeah, well, everyone in my gym performs conventional.”

My Response

 

“2. Trap bar is great for beginners, but only for a few weeks. Eventually they’ll have to progress to the straight bar.”

My Response

Says who? You? The tooth fairy?

Listen, no one has to do anything. Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter or OLY lifter you don’t have to use a straight bar.

If it’s someone’s goal to straight bar deadlift, cool, lets progress accordingly. However, lets be clear that no one has to deadlift with a straight bar.

Advantages of the Trap Bar

1. It’s More Joint/Back Friendly

Because execution of the exercise requires standing inside the bar – rather than the bar in front of the body – the axis of rotation (hips) is closer to the line of pull reducing much of the shear load on the spine.

In English: It allows people to maintain more of an upright posture.

Thus making the trap bar deadlift a much more joint-friendly way of deadlifting.

2. It Takes Into Account Mobility/Movement Restrictions

Those who lack the appropriate ankle dorsiflexion, hip flexion, and/or t-spine extension to get into proper (safe?) position to begin with will benefit greatly from the trap bar deadlift.

Likewise, from an anthropometric (individual differences in body types and levers) standpoint, the trap bar deadlift will lend itself more advantageous to those with longer torsos, longer femurs, and/or T-rex arms.

Basically, for taller individuals, in addition to those “stuck” in computer guy posture, the trap bar deadlift is a solid, almost long-term, fit.

3. Trap Bar Deadlift = Still a Deadlift

Correct me if I’m wrong: but the weight still starts from the floor, right? Someone still has to hinge from the hips with a neutral back position, lift the weight up, lockout, and reverse the action back down, right?

How is this not a deadlift?

How is this “cheating?”

Is an asterisk needed warranted upon the completion of each rep?

In the End

Relax. Take a deep breath. Get off your high-horse. If you’re a powerlifter or OLY lifter or Jason Bourne, then, yes, you should probably get really comfortable with straight-bar deadlift variations.

However, if you’re neither of those three, or if you work with athletes and general population clients who are not powerlifters, OLY lifters, or secret government assassins suffering from amnesia, then STFU.

The trap bar deadlift is not cheating.

Rather, you’re just being competent, well-intentioned coach who understands the balance between helping people get bigger, faster, and stronger AND keeping them healthy long-term.

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  1. For the non-nerds reading that’s the famous “Konami Code,” which granted you 30 lives in the game Contra when used.

  • Robbie

    Great article, Tony!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Why, thank you.

  • JesusSavesatTarget

    Hi Tony great observations as always: Thank you for airing this persistent, weird stigma or resistance among many Powerlifters/OLY lifters to regular, consistent use of the trap bar in replace of Sumo/Conventional.

    As a 45 year old lifter who has managed to keep both his knees and lower back in good health, I have found exactly what Adam Vogel reported that : “research by Swinton et al. on the biomechanics of the hex bar deadlift versus the straight bar deadlift confirmed what many coaches had theorized for years – that the hex deadlift produced lower peak moments on both the lumbar spine and hips, moving it several notches to the right on the risk-reward spectrum.” https://www.t-nation.com/training/trap-bar-deadlift

    It is almost as if the lifters who gravitate toward the trap bar have different priorities and values that may be threatening the status quo of the conventional Deadlift’s historical position as arguably “the one exercise to rule them all”. In any event, I’m excited to continue using the Trap Bar well into true middle age and beyond, I absolutely love it.

  • Felix Schmieder

    My favorite part of the trap bar is I can do more volume and feel (relatively) great the next day, even using the low handles. I don’t even use the straight bar anymore *gasp*

    • TonyGentilcore

      Exactly. If you FEEL better, and it allows you to still train like a savage……….how is that cheating?

  • Guzzy

    This made me laugh out loud. My trainers have been telling me all this for years. But and I say but, with all due respect, what if you just feel more bad ass with a straight bar? Rhetorical 🙂

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahahaha. There’s nothing wrong with the straight bar. I still use it. I have several clients who use it. The bigger message was that the trap bar is still a VERY viable option for many, many people to enjoy and reap the benefits.

  • Shane Mclean

    Trap bar is a great tool to have in the tool box. And has Dan John says the coaches main credo should be ‘do no harm’ and the trap bar certainly does that. A thing that you didn’t mention in advantages of using a trap bar is grip. With your wrists being in neutral , the trap bar always tears up my grip. Great article Tony.