Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Trap Bar - By Jim Duggan

I was first introduced to the Trap Bar back in 1992, when I joined Iron Island Gym. Prior to that, my only exposure to the Trap Bar was through the pages of Powerlifting USA Magazine. I remember advertisements, and even an article written by Dr. Ken Leistner extolling the benefits of this unique piece of equipment. However, until I finally tried it for myself, I was still "in the dark" as to the advantages of using it.

I'm not going to chronicle the entire history of the trap bar, but I will review a few relevant facts. To begin with it was developed and invented by a gentleman by name of Al Gerard. Mr. Gerard was a powerlifter- and a damned good one at that- as well as an engineer. The original design was diamond-shaped, whereas today's models are hexagonal in shape. In fact, many people refer to it today as a "hex bar." I prefer to call it by its original name: The Trap Bar.

When the trap bar hit the market, the advertisements listed several advantages of using it. I will list a few here:

When deadlifting with a trap bar, the weight is located in a more efficient- and safer- position, relative to the center of gravity. By standing inside the bar, the weight is located to the rear of its normal path of movement. This reduces lower back strain, thereby lessening the chance of injury.

During a trap bar deadlift, the spine is closer to vertical than when using a straight bar. For most people, this will result in vastly improved leverage. Moving the wright closer to the body improves balance, and less effort is required to move the weight off the ground. Most conventional deadlifters find that they can use more weight using a trap bar than they can with a straight bar. In my own experience, my best contest deadlift was 688 Lbs, but using a trap bar, I was able to pull 715 Lbs.. Sumo-style deadlifters may find that they have a different ratio between the two movements.

The Trap Bar is quite versatile. In addition to Deadlifts, other movements can be performed using this strength-training tool. Obviously, deadlifts are the primary trap bar exercise. But, just as with a straight bar, there are many ways to keep it interesting. High reps, low reps, or any combination of rep schemes, can prevent boredom or becoming stale. If you are a competitive powerlifter, the trap bar is an excellent adjunct to your deadlift training. Naturally, if you are preparing for a contest, you must use a straight bar. But the trap bar is a great way to build useable strength, particularly during the "off-season" when you are not training for a meet. High reps done to failure, will strengthen your back, without placing undue strain on your spine. Now, what exactly is meant by "high reps?" When I used to compete in powerlifting, I used to consider anything above five to be "high reps." Over the years, I've allowed myself to become a little more open-minded as to what "high reps" really mean. When I trained with Drew Israel, we would sometimes do sets of ten, with one minute between each set. Other times we would do one all-out set of twenty reps. Another popular rep scheme which we did was to do three sets. Two sets of fifteen, then a set of ten. With only one minute between sets, you can imagine how wiped out we felt at the end of the workout. Incidentally, the most reps that I've ever done on a trap bar were done at contest. One year, at a trap bar "rep-off" contest, I did 400 Lbs. for 28 repetitions. Another time, at another contest, I did 460 for 22 reps. Somehow, over the years, I have never been able to break the elusive thirty rep barrier. At least not yet!

At the opposite end if the spectrum, you can do partial reps with very heavy weights. Recently, I've been doing deadlift lockouts using a trap bar. My friend Steve Weiner introduced me to this, and the results have been impressive to say the least. Steve has an extra long trap bar which fits in a power rack, but you can perform these off of elevated blocks with a regular trap bar. There should be no need to mention the merits of doing heavy rack work. The time and effort that you devote to heavy partials will pay off in the form of great strength. The type of strength that cannot be developed through toning and pumping.

Speaking of the power rack, there is another great exercise that you can do with a trap bar. Overhead Presses. By placing the trap bar in the power rack, resting on the pins set at just below shoulder level, you can grab the handles with the palms of your hands facing each other. In other words, the parallel grip. Similar to when you do dumbbell presses. But, unlike dumbbell presses, it's easier, and safer, to do trap bar presses inside the rack. And by standing inside the trap bar, you can lower the bar to a point that is below that which is possible when doing Standing Presses with a straight bar.

Shrugs are another exercise that can be done with a trap bar. As with overhead Presses, standing inside the bar will make the movement smoother and safer. There is no need to drag the bar up the body, as you would when shrugging with a straight bar. There is also a tendency to cheat, or use excessive "body english" when doing regular barbell shrugs. The Trap Bar eliminates this since the weight will be moving in line with the spine, producing a smoother movement.

Deadlifts, Presses, and Shrugs. These exercises should be part of every Lifter's routine. The Trap Bar provides a safe - and interesting- alternative to these movements. Any experienced trainee will tell you that sometimes a change of pace is needed. For a competitive lifter, the trap bar provides that change with a little something extra. It's just outright effective.

In the decades since the trap bar burst on to the lifting scene, there have been many variations to the original design. I've already mentioned the change from a diamond shape to a hexagonal. There are also bars which are longer and heavier. Some of the newer models have raised handles, to shorten the range of motion when pulling off the floor. There are even new "open" trap bars which are not fully enclosed. I don't really go for these new gimmicks but there is one new version that I have really enjoyed. Last year, I purchased a thick-handled trap bar. The entire bar, including the handles, are two inches in diameter. It is a beast, and turns a deadlift workout into a brutal test of grip strength. Lately, I've been using it on alternate weeks. To make the exercise even more difficult, I place a five inch block inside the bar, and pull off a deficit. It makes for an interesting- and tough- workout.

So, the trap bar deadlift is less stressful on the spine, allows for the use of heavier weights, is easy to learn how to use, and is quite versatile. Therefore, it may be safe to assume that a trap bar should be a staple in every commercial and home gym. Sadly, that is not the case. Just about every person who lifts weights can benefit from using a trap bar. If your gym does not have one, ask the owners/ managers to invest in one. If you train at home, a trap bar is one of the best additions you can make to your gym.


   
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