Technique Tuesday: Trap Bar Deadlifts

I wrote this about 5 years ago and just came across it on my computer the other day. It’s still relevant and something that I still see regularly, so now’s as good a time as any for a repost.

I love trap bar deadlifts for building total body strength. If a squat and a deadlift had a baby, that illegitimate little bastard would be a TBDL,  as it’s really a hybrid of the two. It’s a big bang for your buck lift that you can load up and has a lower learning curve than a conventional deadlift. That’s why it’s a staple in my programs for myself, my personal training clients, and my athletes.

While a TBDL is generally easier to get comfortable with, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with it’s own set of common technique flaws. The most common mistake I see isn’t the low back rounding typically seen with an ugly conventional deadlift though.

bad-deadlift-form

Instead I often see people stop short of fully extending their hips at the top of each rep. Just as you wouldn’t do half a squat and count it as a full rep, you can’t do a half of a TBDL and expect to reap 100% of the rewards. There are 2 common reasons why people do this:

1. Lack of body awareness: When you lock out a deadlift with a barbell, the bar touches the front of the quads, giving a natural endpoint of a rep.

images-2

At the top of a TBDL, however, there is space between the front of the body and the trap bar, causing some people to lose track of where they are in space and stop short of full extension, leaving their ass behind:

ant-pelvic-tilt-tbdl

Some people will do the opposite and thrust their hips towards the front of the bar, hyperextending and hanging on the low back. This is no good for a bunch of reasons-the increased risk of injury with a hyperextended, loaded spine being the most obvious.

hyperextended-tbdl

These technical problems can typically be fixed pretty quickly with an easy cue like butt and belly tight when you get to the top, as if you were doing a plank:

good-tbdl

2. Short and/or jacked up hip flexors: Part of your hip flexor complex attaches on your lumbar spine, so if they don’t have the proper length and/or your tissue quality sucks, they will literally pull your lumbar spine forward towards your hips into an anterior pelvic tilt-aka stripper back. Your pelvis get pulled forward (as in the middle picture below) so your glutes aren’t able to extend your hips fully, and again your lower back is taking a beating.

postures

Simply put, if you want to get stronger and stay healthy, you’ve gotta take the steps to fix that. The 3 pronged approach that I’ve used with a lot of success with a lot of my hockey players, who have notoriously brutal hip flexors, goes like this:

1. Roll the glutes, the junction where the IT band and quad meet, and into the front of the hips, with some apparatus, whether it’s a foam roller or a baseball.

2. Stretch the hip flexor complex in a way incorporates internally rotating the hip. This allows the psoas, which is the part of the hip flexors that attaches on the lumbar spine, to be stretched. Here’s a box hip flexor stretch, as shown by Coach Kevin Carr of MBSC and Movement as Medicine.

3. Perform a few Cook Hip lifts to work the extend the hips through the new range of motion created. I prefer to do a 3-4 on each side, holding each one for 5-10 sec, and really focusing on squeezing the glute and pushing the hip to the ceiling.

Go back to your TBDL and see how much better your positioning is at the top. A better position means more strength, so stop leaving your ass behind so you can get bigger, stronger, jump higher, run faster, and fill out those goddamn jeans!

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