Get It Right: Low Handle Trap Bar Deadlifts

Being brutally strong is a prerequisite to having an impressive physique.

That’s a fact, not my personal opinion.

And there’s no movement more effective at building real world strength than lifting heavy stuff off the floor.

I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone start ripping barbells off the floor, but it is important to find the right deadlift for you. How you choose the right deadlift variation for you depends on a number of factors:

  1. height
  2. mobility
  3. goals
  4. injury history
  5. training experience

Given this, I often lean towards the low handle trap bar for most of my clients and athletes.

The weight is evenly distributed around the body, so these are more back friendly and have a little bit of a lower learning curve than conventional deadlifts.Some lifters may say the trap bar is cheating, but unless you’re entering a powerlifting competition, there’s no specific exercise you need to do, so they can F right off.

That doesn’t mean that there’s no technique necessary to ensure that you stay safe and keep progressing forward. Here’s how to make sure you get the most benefit from them without jacking yourself up:

  • Set yourself up in the middle of the trap bar with you feet hip width apart. Your foot position is going to be just like if you were going to do a vertical jump.
  • Grip the handles in the middle like you’re trying to choke the bar out. A tight grip is going to set the stage for keeping your whole body tight throughout the entire movement. If you don’t grip in the middle, the bar will start to spin a bit mid rep.
  • Take a big breath into your belly, then squeeze your abs like Mike Tyson is going to punch you in the gut.
  • PULL your butt down like you are going to squat while simultaneously pulling up against the bar to “pull the slack out of the arms.” At this point, your should have tension between yourself and the bar. You also want your hands to be in line with your ankles.
Pulling the slack out of the bar in slow motion
  • Now, it’s showtime. Think about pushing the ground away through the middle of your foot instead of pulling the bar up. This will ensure that your chest rises at the same rate as your hips. The last thing you want is your butt to shoot up first, because then your back will round over.
  • Exhale as you start to get stuck, but do so as if you were slowly taking the cap off of a shaken up soda. Don’t blow it all out at once! Instead, release as little pressure at a time as necessary to keep your tightness and keep moving.
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze your kneecaps towards your hips, your glutes, and your abs. It’s almost like doing a vertical plank.
  • Get another big breath in, brace, and lower. Rinse and repeat. Just be careful not to bounce the weight off the floor on subsequent reps because this will cause you to get loose.

Often, I see people just try to grip it and rip it. While it’s imperative to bring the heat when you’re moving heavy weight, this usually results in the hips shooting up first. Again, this will tend to put unnecessary stress on the low back and will limit your lift.

This is why learning to squeeze the slack out of the bar initially is one of the most important parts of deadlifting, but one of the most challenging things to learn how to do. Think about applying 90% of the force necessary to lift the bar as you pull your chest up, then put the last 10% into it to get it moving.

The other big mistake I see frequently is trying to deadlift from an overly extended low back position. This cranks on the low back as well. This is where learning to brace comes in. Your pelvis is like a bowl, and your rib cage should sit directly on top of it, forming an egg. Getting a big breath into your belly and squeezing your abs hard ensures that you don’t crack your egg by extending too hard through your back.

Deadlifts often get a bad rap as being dangerous, but it’s just like anything else: how you do them and which variation you use for your situation is what matters. Follow these steps and you’ll be crushing PR’s, which leads to not only stronger legs, but a stronger body all around from your ears to your heels.

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