Of all of the big compound lifts, the deadlift is the best exercise to strengthen the posterior chain muscles.
Although the conventional barbell deadlift is the go-to deadlift exercise for competitive powerlifters, as is the standardized deadlift form for weightlifting competitions, another popular variation is the hex bar deadlift, also called the trap bar deadlift.
But, what muscles do hex bar deadlifts work? Are the “hex bar deadlift muscles worked” different from the muscles worked by barbell deadlifts?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss the hex bar deadlift muscles worked, the benefits of trap bar deadlifts vs barbell deadlifts, how to perform them, and whether there are differences in trap bar deadlifts muscles vs barbell deadlifts muscles worked.
We will look at:
- Are Trap Bar Deadlifts Better than Barbell Deadlifts?
- How to Perform Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Hex Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked
- How to Vary Trap Bar Deadlifts
Let’s get started!
Are Trap Bar Deadlifts Better than Barbell Deadlifts?
Hex bars are so named because there is a hexagonal shape with an open frame that you can step within, and then the ends of the bar for the weights extend off of the sides next to the grips.
Hex bars are also called trap bars because many of the hex bar exercises are used to strengthen the trapezius muscles.
Although the hex bar deadlifts muscles worked are essentially the same as barbell deadlifts muscles, the exercises feel differently and target different muscle fibers within the same primary deadlifts muscles.
This occurs because of the differences in the ergonomics of using a straight barbell or Olympic barbell vs. a hex bar or trap bar for deadlifts.Hex bar deadlifts decrease the stress and strain on the lower back relative to using a barbell for traditional deadlifts because the trap bar allows the weight to be directly in line with your center of mass rather than in front of your body.
Another benefit of the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift is that the hex bar design better supports the optimal range of motion by helping to prevent hyperextension and locking out at the end of the deadlift.
Additionally, the improved weight distribution for a hex bar deadlift vs barbell deadlifts allows you to deadlift more weight using a trap bar than with a traditional barbell, helping you make greater improvements in your strength, hypertrophy, and power.
Trap bar muscles worked don’t necessarily vary significantly from the barbell deadlift muscles worked.
However, the workload on these muscles strengthened by deadlifts can potentially be higher with trap bar deadlifts vs straight barbell deadlifts due to the better ergonomics, weight distribution, comfort, grip position, and joint angles.
How to Perform Trap Bar Deadlifts
Here are the steps for how to perform hex bar deadlifts or deadlifts with a trap bar vs barbell:
- Stand inside the loaded trap bar with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing forward.
- Brace your core as you sit your hips back to squat down and grasp the handles on either side of the trap bar. Make sure to keep your chest up, shoulders down, and back straight (do not round your back).
- Contract your glutes and hamstrings as you press through your heels to extend your hips and knees to stand upright, keeping your back straight.
- Allow the front of the trap bar to travel up near the shins like a deadlift, but sit your hips back and bend your knees to 90 degrees like a squat.
- Slowly lower the bar back to the floor by sitting your hips back and allowing a gentle bend in your knees. Remember to keep your chest up, your core tight, and your back straight.
Note that bracing your core and locking your shoulders down will help stabilize your spine.
Hex Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked
So, what muscles do hex bar deadlifts work?
As you might expect, the hex bar deadlift muscles worked list is quite similar to the list of barbell or even dumbbell deadlifts muscles, which are mainly the posterior chain muscles and the quads.
The reason that these muscles are referred to as the “posterior chain muscles“ is that they occur on the backside of your body, which in anatomical terms is referred to as the posterior, and the muscles function as a sequential unit in a chain-like fashion.
Here are the main muscles worked by trap bar deadlifts:
- Erector Spinae Muscles (low back extensors)
Additionally, synergistic muscles worked by hex bar deadlifts to provide stability or assist the main deadlift muscles include the abdominals and other core muscles, lats, rhomboids, and smaller and deeper hip muscles.
How to Vary Trap Bar Deadlifts
Of course, by default, hex bar deadlifts are already one of the most popular variations of the traditional straight barbell deadlift or the barbell Romanian deadlift, but there are other ways that you can vary deadlifts with a trap bar to isolate or target different muscles.
One of the best ways to shift the workload on the muscles worked by hex bar deadlifts is to elevate your toes or heels on a weight plate while you perform hex bar deadlifts instead of keeping your foot flat on the floor.
Heel-elevated trap bar deadlifts or hex bar deadlifts performed with your toes elevated up on a weight plate and your heels on the floor will still primarily work the same muscles of the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back extensors).
However, each of these hex bar deadlift variations will isolate different primary deadlift muscles groups.
Performing a trap bar deadlift with your toes elevated up onto a weight plate so that you are sinking into your heels helps isolate your hamstrings.
Putting your heels up on a weight plate or bumper plate changes the trap bar muscles worked more dramatically so that instead of being largely a posterior chain exercise, you will actually activate more of the quads and hip muscles.
Heel-elevated deadlifts can also be helpful for those with limited ankle mobility.
Keep in mind that because you are narrowing your base of support, either of these trap bar deadlift progressions is more challenging than deadlifts done with regular foot positioning.
This is not only something to be mindful of in terms of focusing on maintaining your balance and being careful not to fall or injure yourself but also in terms of having relevance to the discussion of the muscles used by trap bar deadlifts.
This is due to the fact that the instability and smaller base of support require greater activation from your core muscles, as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles in your ankles and hips.
For these reasons, you might not be able to lift as much weight with hex bar deadlift modifications, particularly at first.
Here are the steps for performing trap bar deadlifts for the hamstrings:
- Grab a 25- or 45-pound weight plate or bumper plate and set it on the floor.
- Prop the balls of your feet and toes up onto the edge of the weight plate so that you are weight-bearing with just your heels on the floor.
- Your feet should be much closer together than with a standard deadlift.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down and your sides and your palms facing the wall behind you.
- Hinge from your hips, reaching the dumbbells down towards your feet, imagining the dumbbells tracking up and down a vertical line that is extending above your toes rather than tracking along your shins with a typical Romanian deadlift.
- Move as slowly as possible as you lower the way down, pausing at the bottom position.
- Think about contracting your hamstrings to stand back up to the starting position, hinging back up at the hips rather than rounding your spine.
You can do the same hex bar deadlifts steps but put the weight plate under your heels to shift the trap bar deadlift muscles more to the quads and anterior muscles.
Ultimately, you can use a standard straight barbell or Olympic barbell for deadlifts, but a trap bar or hex bar allows you to use a neutral grip, which reduces stress on your shoulders, elbows, and wrists and allows you to lift more weight.
The more weight you’re able to deadlift, the greater the load on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back extensors, which better stimulates the muscles worked by deadlifts to get bigger and stronger.
For more tips to maximize your muscle gains, check out our muscle-building guide here.