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