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October 12, 2021 8 min read

The hex bar is a great way to run through safer deadlift reps that are generally as effective as traditional barbell deadlifts.

Hex bar deadlifts are a forgiving exercise, which is great for safety but also means some lifters continue performing the move incorrectly without knowing.Use this guide to learn how to do hex bar deadlifts for maximum mass and strength gains, plus a reckoning of how the hex bar stacks up against barbells.


Barbell and kettlebells on the ground for strength training

What Is A Hex Bar?

Also called a trap bar because that’s what it was invented to strengthen, the hex bar is a hexagon with handles and weight bars on both sides. When the weight plates are on, it kind of resembles a small trailer. Some models have four places for weights.

You’re meant to stand in the middle of the hexagon and use the handles on either side to lift the entire contraption. The weight is distributed around the lifter rather than being in front or on top of them like it is in most barbell exercises.

American lifter Al Gerard came up with the idea for the hex bar back in the 1980s as he was trying to develop a way to increase his deadlift max without so much strain on the lower back. Squats and rack pulls in a power cage helped somewhat, but he wanted to make an even more efficient lift.

The bar was immediately effective but it didn’t start to really catch on until the early 2000s. Now it’s a common sight in gyms all over the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s totally without controversy.

The Great Hex Bar Debate

Some weightlifters have sworn off the hex bar because they believe it somehow corrupts the exercise or makes it easier. The handles on either side do reduce the distance the lifter needs to go down to the weight and the distance they need to lift it off the ground.

A few researchers believe that the hex bar deadlift might be more effective at developing maximal power. So why are so many lifters dead set on avoiding it?

It seems to depend on messaging. Because lifts with a hex bar are more efficient, you typically can deadlift more weight at the same or faster speed than you could with a barbell. From one perspective, that’s cheating. From our perspective, it’s a great way to train with more weight without the risk.Let’s break down the hex bar deadlift so you can decide which camp you’re in.

Muscles Worked In A Hex Bar Deadlift

Deadlifts work your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves primarily. Your hip and back extensors as well as your core muscles and lats also get some attention.A hex bar deadlift is the same kind of hip-hinge exercise and works the same muscles and muscle groups with some notable differences.

Quadriceps

In a barbell deadlift, you have to break your knee and get that bar up off the ground. Your quads are the principle power source for this effort.The height between the bar and the floor removes most of that first part of the exercise. Hex bar deadlifts still work the quads but not necessarily to the same degree.You can change up your stance to keep your quads working hard. Two easy ways to do this are to either flip the hex bar over so you don’t have the advantage of the handles or do deficit deadlifts from a raised platform.

Glutes

Hip hinge movements like deadlifts concentrate on the posterior chain where the glutes play a significant role.

In fact, hip thrusts were found to provide higher gluteus maximus activation than traditional deadlifts in one study.

If you want to maximize glute development during a hex bar deadlift, you can place the hex bar on a raised platform or in a power rack at about knee height. Lift the bar as you would in the second half of a deadlift but make sure to tilt your pelvis forward before you lock out. This prioritizes glute activation.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are worked on the descending second half of a hex bar deadlift. To maximize your hamstring gains, go slowly on the downward motion in the second half of your hex bar deadlift. You can also insert a strategic isometric pause on the way down.

Deficit deadlifts are also great for the hamstrings because you have to come down a little bit more than you would with a deadlift on level ground. Just make sure you aren’t breaking your shoulders and rounding your back if you have to get the bar down really low.

Erector Spinae

The muscles that control the movement of your hips come into play as you start to lift weight off the ground. We’ve already touched on the gluteus maximus and biceps femoris (part of the hamstrings) so let’s talk about the remaining one: the erector spinae.

Your erector spinae run the length of your spine and help maintain posture as well as power side-to-side rotation. They’re hard at work when you deadlift any kind of weight. Since hex bars put the weight closer to your body’s center of gravity, your erector spinae are at less risk of injury while still getting a workout as the weight comes up.

Traps & Lats

It should be no surprise that a piece of equipment commonly called a trap bar works your traps. Whenever you shrug your shoulders, that’s your traps working.Lats work to stabilize your back and extend your shoulders, which is what happens when you lower your arms so that your hands are at your hips.

Both of these motions occur during a hex bar deadlift. Your traps are activated right at the start while the shoulder extension that activates your lats comes in during the second half of the move.

How to Do A Hex Bar Deadlift

 

Follow these steps to execute a trap bar deadlift. We’ll move on to some important form notes in the next section. 

  1. Select your weight. Newbies, learn the form with just the hex bar before you start packing on weight plates. If you’re not using high handles, make sure your hex bar is flipped over.
  1. Step into the middle of the hexagon and get into the starting position. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. 
  1. Hinge forward at your hips so that your butt moves out behind you. Then bend your knees slightly so that you can grab hold of the hex bar. Keep your back flat and your chest up.
  1. Grab the high handles or the outsides of the hexagon with a shoulder-width grip. Use a neutral grip with your palms facing your body.
  1. Push through the soles of your feet to get the hex bar off the ground. You do not want your knees to move during this first part of the move - keep your shins perpendicular to the floor. 
  1. Once your upper body is almost completely straight, unbend your knees. The weight should be held in front of your thighs. 
  1. Lower the weight following the same pattern: hip hinge, butt out, bend the knees.

Common Form Mistakes During a Hex Bar Deadlift

One form error we see all the time is backing up during the first part of a deadlift. This happens because the knees straighten out too early or the push through the heels to lift the weight is slightly forward. Doing a hex bar deadlift with proper form puts less stress on the lower back but if you lift knees first and put your butt back your lower back will be doing most of the work.

Another form error is sticking your knees out too far. This is often a carryover from conventional deadlifting where the forward weight distribution makes the lifter’s body want to lean in, though even beginners make the same mistake. In a conventional deadlift, you want your knees to be over your toes and the bar right up against your shins. Some taller and lankier people might have their knees out a bit further. The same position can be used for a hex bar deadlift. 

Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart as well. If you’re unsure, go with a slightly wider stance than you think. It helps maintain a straight back during the lift. One slight drawback to using a deadlift bar (hex bar) versus an Olympic bar (barbell) is that you don’t have a straight line to orient your foot position. We recommend learning the foot position with a bar or simply imagining a straight line through the middle of the hexagon.

As with conventional deadlifts, you want to push the ground away and pull on the bar. When you’re first trying to get the hex bar up, focus on bracing your lats and pulling in your shoulder blades. Focus on accelerating all the way to the hip extension at the end of the exercise.

Finally, make sure not to initiate hip extension too early.

Your back will take on more of the weight if you do, putting you at a greater risk for injury. Don’t extend your hips and stand up straight until you have nowhere else to go. If you find this challenging, it could be a problem with your foot position or you might be straightening out your knees too early. Get a spotter or personal trainer to help work out the kinks in your deadlift form.

Benefits of Hex Bar Deadlifts

Hex bar deadlifts are a great strength training exercise that should definitely be part of your weekly workout routine.

Here are a few reasons why:

    • Full-Body Exercise: Like conventional deadlifts, this variation works muscle groups in your legs, core, arms, and back. Pair them with other exercises like pull-ups, bench presses, and squats and you’ll have a well-rounded routine that will sculpt your entire body. The last thing you want is to get those sculpted muscles and have no power behind them. Hex bar deadlifts are great because the hand position is at your sides, a common way of holding objects that you're likely to replicate in real life. 
    • More Comfortable Grip: That neutral grip doesn’t twist the torso like a mixed grip will and it’s much easier to maintain than an overhand grip.
    • Transferable Strength:You can build strength for other strength training exercises like bench presses and squats with hex bar deadlifts. Since it targets back muscles, it can also help prepare you for pull-ups to some degree. 
    • Less Back Stress: The hex bar does what its inventor wanted it to: work out all your deadlift muscles with a reduced chance of back injury. Your lumbar spine, the section in your lower back, is under notably less stress during hex bar deadlifts than during the traditional ones. 
    • Weightlifting For Leg Day: Lots of bodybuilding enthusiasts find most typical leg day workouts boring. Although lunges are a great way to build lower body strength, they don’t have the same appeal for people who want to go full beast mode during their routine. Hex bars let you put even more weight on the bar and hit your glutes and hamstrings super effectively. 
    • Forgiving on Form Errors: Lots of beginners start with hex bar deadlifts and then move onto sumo deadlifts before tackling the traditional barbell deadlift. That’s because the first two are more forgiving. Hex bar deadlifts make it easy to learn and keep lifting even if you’re committing small errors. Be careful, though. You should still start with less weight on the bar because there is still some risk of injury if your form errors are serious.

    Programming Hex Bar Deadlifts

    You can use them as part of your leg day or back day routine. Make sure you knock out your reps by around the midpoint of your daily routine and move on to isolation exercises to exhaust particular muscles. You don’t want them failing in the middle of a hex bar deadlift.

      Hex Bar Deadlifts For The Win

      We’ve made our case for the hex bar deadlift. It’s a super-effective exercise that builds functional strength with a lower risk of injury, particularly in the lower back. People find it easier to do reps with a hex bar because the weight distribution is more agreeable and the neutral grip is easier to maintain.

      Some lifters look down on the hex bar deadlift because they think it’s a watered-down version of the traditional deadlift.

      But don’t let such purity tests keep you from including this fantastic hip hinge exercise in your workout.

      You can build tons of muscle and increase your deadlift max with the hex bar variation.