By Tony Gracia, Head Coach and Co-Founder at Industrial Strength.
I have been a full-time professional in the fitness industry for 12 years, and over that time I have seen a lot of people come in with pre-conceived notions about what exercises are good and what they should be doing for their training. While many of these exercises are ones that I would also consider good, unfortunately sometimes people are a little closed-minded about trying other exercises that are also awesome, and in many cases would be a better fit for that person in terms of meeting their goals & needs. This series of articles will highlight fifteen of my favorite exercises that I think are awesome and do not get the appreciation they deserve.
UNDERRATED EXERCISE #3 = Trap Bar Deadlift
The deadlift is an exercise that has been around as long as strength training has been in existence, and for good reason: it is one of the most practical, functional measures of strength that exists. That said, traditional barbell deadlifts may be overvalued as the deadlift for today’s adult. That is not to say that traditional deadlifts are always bad – far from it. In fact, given the right person (meaning the right level of preparedness and the right goals) they can be outstanding. However, both in terms of goals and especially preparedness many people struggle to perform traditional deadlifts in a way that is productive, safe, and sustainable. For example if someone has short arms relative to their torso, poor hip mobility, poor spine posture/mechanics, and/or lacks core stability, then traditional deadlifts can pose a problem. Of course, many of these things (except short arms) can be improved over time, yet reality shows us that most people are interested in strength training right away, and do not want to dedicate extended periods to only working on mobility before they lift.
With that in mind, the trap bar deadlift (especially when performed with the higher set of handles, abbreviated from here on as HH TBDL) is a fantastic solution that makes deadlifts immediately approachable and beneficial for almost everybody. The handles are now a few inches higher off the floor, making them easier to reach without compromising the integrity of the spine position for a lifter with short arms or lacking mobility. In other words, because the lifter can stand inside the bar (rather than behind it), someone who needs a notable amount of knee bend for their start position (again, short arms and/or lacking hip mobility) will still be able to deadlift safely because the bar will not roll away from them when they bend their knees; by comparison, a power bar will often roll away because the lifter bumps it with their shins.
One additional safety benefit is that the lifter can maintain neutral position with their grip. With a straight bar, the weights will eventually get heavy enough that the lifter needs to use a mixed grip (or “over/under” grip) because a standard double-overhand grip is not strong enough to hold it. The mixed grip is strong, but also introduces several new problems. First, it imparts an unavoidable asymmetry into the lift, even if everything else goes beautifully. Second, the hand that faces away from the lifter has a tendency to “helicopter” out away from the lifter, which can be dangerous. Third, the arm facing away from the lifter has an increased risk of suffering a biceps injury, especially if the lifter has a (bad) habit of bending their elbow during the lift. The HH TBDL addresses all these concerns by keeping both arms in a strong, safe, neutral position.
So, the HH TBDL has some pretty awesome benefits: it is approachable for nearly everyone and in many ways it helps solve a few notable safety concerns that come with traditional deadlift. Best of all, you can get really strong with the HH TBDL. In fact, many people find they can handle more weight with less strain on their joints using the HH TBDL compared to traditional deadlifts. In general the point of the any kind of deadlift is to learn to apply force into the ground using the hip and leg muscles, have that force transfer through a rigid core, and result in lifting a weight held in the hands. The HH TBDL checks all those boxes and can actually allow many people to generate more force than other popular deadlift variations.
HOW TO DO THEM
- Lift in either bare feet or firm, non-compressive shoes
- Stand centered in the bar with your feet either straight ahead or slightly angled outward (no more than 15° for most people)
- As a guideline, the sleeves of the bar (the parts of the bar you slide the weight on) should line up so that they would intersect your foot over the arch, not over the toes
- Maintain a neutral spine at all times
- As you descend to make your grip, make sure that your shoulders always stay above your hips, your hips always stay above your knees, and your entire foot remains in contact with the floor (do not let the heel or the toes come up)
- When you make your grip, double check that it is in the center of the handle and not skewed to the front or back
- Before you lift, ask yourself what muscles you feel the most: gluts, hamstrings, or quads
- If you have too much knee bend, you will likely feel your quads the most
- If you have too little knee bend, you will likely feel your hamstrings the most
- If you have hit the sweet spot and your knee bend is just right, you will probably feel your gluts the most, which is ideal
- Initiate the motion to stand up by “driving the earth away from you”
- Stand up all the way to a full lockout, meaning your knees are straight (quads squeezed), your hips are fully extended (gluts squeezed), your spine is neutral and you are looking straight ahead
Thanks for taking the time here. Stay tuned this week for more on the list of 15 underrated strength and power exercises. If you like what you see, please do us a huge favor and share, comment and repost. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or DM us.
Tony Gracia / Head Coach / Co-Founder @industrialstrengthgym