How Do You Use the Trap Bar?


For those gym-goers that are looking to build the most size and muscle possible, a good plan is to turn to the so-called big three lifts. These three major movements are the bench press, deadlift, and squat. With just these three exercises a relative novice could become an absolute monster with enough dedication and time. And the nice thing about these mass-builders is that you don’t need much by way of equipment, usually just a basic Olympic style barbell and a rack or bench-combo system of some sort.

But did you know there’s another often-overlooked apparatus you could be incorporating into your training?  The trap bar. Most gyms I’ve belonged to had one, though it was usually pushed off into a corner somewhere and only occasionally used by someone – and usually the wrong way.  Let’s try to better understand how to use the trap bar, and you may find that it’s a tremendously useful way to switch up the motor patterns you’re engaging with your weight routine.

trap bar

The Deadlift


With a modified trap bar deadlift, you’re engaging several different parts of your thoracic chain that otherwise wouldn’t get worked by the traditional deadlift. While the deadlift is an amazing exercise, it is more or less primarily geared for those looking to powerlift (and maybe a few masochists who just like the lift). If you’re someone that is an athlete, soldier, or law enforcement officer, you need an exercise that is not only going to engage the back and lower body, but you want to ensure that it’s capable of really putting in the work that will translate to usable skills. Form is massively important with this movement but by keeping an eye on it, you’ll be able to see that with the trap bar deadlift, you’re tackling the lift with a slightly different range of motion.


With a traditional deadlift the bar is in front of you and the goal is to minimize that by dragging the bar against your legs on the move upwards. With the trap bar deadlift the bar is basically aligned with your spine and you’re able to stand straight up with it instead of leaning over the bar so much.

trap bar dead lift

Unlike the deadlift, you’re going to be engaging your low back less and your quads and hamstrings more, especially your quads. So instead of getting a primary glute or hamstring-oriented stretch when doing the exercise, it’s going to really emphasize your front of your legs . So essentially, the trap bar deadlift is taking the traditional deadlift range of motion and enabling you to follow more of a dynamic, sports-oriented pathway. This is a unique exercise and if you stick with it, it can even carry over and improve your numbers on the squat and regular deadlift, while possibly sparing your back from too much compression.


And without a doubt, it’s the most popular exercise people do with the trap bar. Aside from that, there are other great ways to get in shape via the trap bar.


Trap Bar Press


Most people’s chest training often suffers from lack of variety.  A great way to mix it up and stimulate new growth is to engage your pecs via the trap bar. Most have only ever bench pressed with either dumbbells or a straight Olympic barbell, and while this is a classic and effective exercise, with the trap bar you can attack your muscles from new angles. Because of the shape and length of the bar, you’re getting a very dynamic and unique stretch on the shoulder capsule and the triceps. This will enable you to not only press more weight if you do the exercises consistently, but you’re truly exposing your muscles and body to new stimuli that will result in much greater muscle hypertrophy.


So whether it’s just a basic press or the classic deadlift, with the trap bar you can incorporate new muscle emphasis to break up the monotony of your routine and even improve upon your time-tested, big three lifts.

Dumbbells vs. Barbells – Is One Better Than the Other?


This argument never goes away – and it’s just as prominent on bodybuilding and fitness forums as the old “machines vs. free-weights” debates. While most people use a combination of both, there are die hard fanatics who claim one’s superiority over the other.

Is there anything to it? Let’s look into the pros, cons, and possible limitations in each case.


So First we have Dumbbells


While some “experts” claim they’re potentially the more dangerous of the two, I think that dumbbells are just right for newbies. If you’re getting started with weight training, dumbbells will probably be better for you than barbells depending on your strength level. With dumbbells, you can start out as low as 2.5lbs in each hand and incorporate stabilizing the weight as well as just pushing or pulling it. This will assist you with improving your coordination and activating a range of muscle fibers. Consider that a standard Olympic barbell is going to weigh 45lbs with no weight added to it – this can be a limiting factor for noobs.dumbbells


Also dumbbells assist with evening out strength imbalances in the arms and legs. These strength imbalances are quite common among newbies and can actually be reinforced by the use of barbells.


Safety does play a part here too depending on the exercise. For example, if you find that you’re unable to make it through a rep because of muscle fatigue, you may simply drop your dumbbells. You’ll never get pinned under them, as you might during a failed bench press or failed squat with barbells.


In terms of drawbacks, a lot of commercial gyms have a limited supply of dumbbells handy, and they may not be in the weight increments you need at the time. If you’re trying to equip your home gym with all the dumbbells you’ll need for various exercises – and especially if you’re a big burly man – be prepared to shell out $1,000=plus for a comprehensive set.

Forget adjustable dumbbells – they’re a pain in the butt, especially when you need a quick-change like with conditioning-type workouts.


And now for Barbells


If you’re going for massive lifts barbells are going to be a requirement for your training, arguably more so than dumbbells. You simply can’t build your bench press without doing bench press. And while I’ve seen dumbbells go up to 200lbs apiece – have you ever seen someone try to wrangle one in each hand?  That’s the territory of the super elite – and event they usually require 2 spotters.

Think about trying to do lunges with heavy dumbbells – the bruising and friction of those things banging into my thighs is not what I call fun!

However, as we mentioned ease for noobs with dumbbells, there is a component to that with barbells as well. The fixed range of motion of barbell lifting allows a relatively stronger noob to work out proper exercise form without dumbbells swaying from side-to-side.


One key “pro” of barbells is their versatility. You may perform rack pulls, cleans, dead lifts and squats all with barbells. When you try to same moves with dumbbells, you may find that the weight is too difficult to hold. Barbell design means that it’s possible to use bigger weights with a higher degree of comfort.barbell


Barbells are awesome when it comes to doing exercises of the “explosive” type, including snatches and power cleans. You just can’t get this type of explosive action on dumbbells.


In terms of the downside, using barbells can be dangerous. We don’t recommend using them alone. It’s always better to have a fitness buddy to spot you while you train with barbells.


Which “Bell” is Right for You?


Now you probably see that the argument is a silly one – both should make their way into your workouts. Most gyms have plenty of both. If you’re not currently a member at a gym, check out a free intro class trying out dumbbells and barbells – especially if the gym will give you access to a trainer, which is a fairly common “hook” these days. This will be helpful even if you plan to buy this kind of equipment for yourself in the future. You’ll be able to try before you buy.


Your fitness level and level of experience with weight training, as well as your fitness goals and current programming, will be important factors to dictate when and how often you include dumbbells or barbells.