Bored with the same old lifts? This piece of equipment can shake up your barbell deadlifts in some really cool ways.
There are multiple types of deadlifts. From dumbbells deadlifts, bilateral single-leg deadlifts, and the various styles of barbell deadlifts, you may think you’ve tried them all. But, there’s an interesting piece of equipment hanging out in the gym that could change up your stale exercise routine on leg day: the hex bar.
What Is the Hex Bar?
The hex bar is a multi-purpose bar that can be used for squatting, hinging, and carrying movement patterns, including the deadlift, explains Roxie Jones, certified functional strength coach, NASM-certified trainer, and Alo Moves instructor.
As the name implies, the hex bar (or trap bar) is a hexagon-shaped barbell, in which you stand inside of the hexagon rather than behind, as you would with a straight barbell. Typically, there are two places to grip the trap bar — a lower handle and a higher handle — both are inside the bar and offer a neutral grip positioning. This means your palms will be faced toward your body on either side of you.
Benefits of Using a Hex Bar for Lifts
- More Balanced Weight Distribution
The unique shape allows for a more even weight distribution, opposed to the straight barbell, which places all the weight in front, explains Jones. “This even weight distribution can help decrease the risk of injuring your back,” she adds. Beginner lifters who are still getting the hang of proper form technique or potentially loading too much weight too quickly can be at risk for injury, such as a low back injury, while deadlifting, she explains.
- Allows You to Lift Heavier
Hex bar deadlifts also “make it possible to hold very heavy weight,” says Jones. If you’ve been lifting with dumbbells for some time, you may have noticed you’ve maxed out on how heavy you can lift with free weights. Loading 100+ pounds on a barbell of any kind, including a hex bar is much easier than trying to do so with a set of heavy free weights.
- Smart Option for “Carry” Exercises
The farmer’s carry or farmer’s walk exercise has you hold weight in each hand and walk as you carry the load with you. This is a great functional training exercise that helps you move with ease during everyday life — think about carrying those heavy grocery bags into the house. “The handles [of a hex bar] are great to use as a farmer's carry, and this can be [used] for a very heavy load,” says Jones. “[Using a hex bar for carry exercises] also might be easier since it's one piece versus two heavy separate weights.”
- Offers Versatile Movement Patterns
As a reminder, there are two main lower-body training movement patterns: the hinge (hips back, slight bend in knee, generally greater engagement in the hamstrings) and squat (hips back and down, more significant bend in knee, generally greater engagement of the quads). A traditional deadlift is a mix between a hinge and a squat, with more knee-dominant movement, explains Jones. Whereas, a Romanian deadlift is more of a hinging pattern, with only a slight bend in the knee, she says. You can do both with the hex bar. The hex bar “also positions the load down by your sides making it very compatible for people with different types of limitations that may not be able to carry a load [higher] like during a traditional squat,” says Jones.
The only notable limitation with the hex bar is that it can’t be used for Olympic weightlifting-style exercises such as the barbell clean, which requires a straight bar being thrust in front of the body into the racked position near your shoulders and chest, explains Jones.
Who Should Use the Hex Bar for Deadlifts
Hex bar deadlifts “can be performed by most ages and levels unless they are very beginner since the bar weighs 45-70 pounds depending on the model,” says Jones, noting that those who have weak back muscles or limited strength in their core, as well as those rehabbing an injury may benefit most from using the hex bar for deadlifts. “The weight [on a hex bar] is evenly distributed around the body with the weights on the sides vs. the straight bar which puts a lot of strain on the lower back with all of the load directly in front,” says Jones. As with most load-bearing exercises, anyone with a current back injury should avoid lifting with the hex bar (or straight barbell for that matter), as it may exacerbate their issue, she says.
How to Load and Lift with the Hex Bar
Ready to give the trap bar a try on your next round of deadlifts? You load this hex-shaped barbell much like you would a straight barbell, adding weight plates to one side and securing with a clip or collar before adding the same weight (unless otherwise specified, such as for an offset lift) to the other side.
No matter what type of deadlift — traditional or Romanian — it’s really important to maintain tension in your upper body as well, when you come to standing, says Jones. “Before standing up, be sure to pack the shoulders down as if you're squeezing your armpits tight or think about tightening up the torso as if it's an airtight can about to explode,” she explains.
Jones suggests adding the hex bar deadlift to your workout routine once a week during pull-focused training (i.e. doing exercises that engage muscles used to pull rather than push — think: you pull with your legs during a deadlift, but you push the floor away coming up from a squat), leg day, or during a full-body workout. Beginners to the hex bar should opt for a reps and sets scheme of 3 sets of 10 reps, and intermediate hex bar lifters can do 4 sets of 8 reps.
No matter where you are in your training routine, adding in new equipment and techniques keeps your mind and body guessing and ensures your workouts never become boring.