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Trap Bar Deadlift vs Squat – Which One Is Better (The Answer)

Sep 26, 2017

the great debate trap bar deadlift vs squatTrap bar deadlift VS Squat …

Have you ever wondered which one is the better performer when it comes to overall muscle growth, strength, and development

Well to start, deadlifts and squats are both fantastic exercises that build lower body strength, muscle mass, and power.

However, the drawback is they are both highly complex actions that require the movement of multiple joints simultaneously, using both a large amount of balance and motor coordination.

This makes them difficult to learn, and to be performed correctly, so that they may not be suitable for everyone.

But the great debate is out there: trap bar deadlift vs squat

Which one is best?

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The Origins of the Trap Bar

origins of the trap bar deadliftTo start the great debate of the trap bar deadlift vs squats let’s first start with the trap bar.

The trap bar deadlift (or hex deadlift) is an exercise that requires the use of a trap bar, they often look like the one pictured on the left.

The trap bar was originally patented in 1985 by a powerlifting aficionado named Al Gerard, who was trying to find a way to train around a recurring lower back injury.

Since then it has gained widespread support among numerous coaches as a back-friendly option to both traditional straight-bar deadlifts and squats.

The trap bar deadlift is ultimately a squat-deadlift hybrid that many believe is more beneficial than the traditional squat and deadlift exercises.

When we first start working out at the gym we might find that our bodies perform certain movements more easily and naturally than others.

This is often the case with the squat and the deadlift, since there are those who find the squat more comfortable and easier to perform and the deadlift difficult to master, and vice versa.

When it comes to the trap bar deadlift vs squats, The trap bar deadlift has various ways to do it and it is much easier to learn. So for those who prefer deadlifting, the exercises can be performed with more hip flexion, making it more like a traditional deadlift.

For those who find squatting a more natural movement, their torsos can be at a more upright angle, which is more like a squat.

Related: Trap Bar Deadlift vs Regular Deadlift: A New King?


Let’s compare the trap bar vs the squat as we focus specifically on three areas:

  1. Which Muscle Group Does each exercise target?
  2. What results does each exercise have on the body?
  3. What is the overall benefit of each exercise?

Which Muscle Groups Do The Trap Bar and Squats Target?

trapbar deadlift muscle group targetBoth trap bar deadlift and squats are great for building lower body muscle mass:

Squats are probably one of the most demanding exercises out there.

Unlike a deadlift that allows you to rest briefly when the weights touch the ground, squats force you to remain fully active and engaged throughout the entire exercise as you fight to push out each rep while carefully balancing a weighted bar on your back.

Even though there is a slightly smaller range of motion when performing a trap bar deadlift due to the height of the bar, you can lift more weight with this movement than with a more traditional deadlift.

You can also read: 4 Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift

The amount of weight lifted, and its impact on muscle development is known as “mechanical tension.”

Mechanical tension is one of the three key components of muscle growth, and by increasing it our capacity to build muscle mass is significantly improved.

This is extremely important to remember when deciding the trap bar deadlift vs squats overall benefits

The trap bar deadlift and squats create a huge amount of mechanical tension on the following muscle groups:


Trap Bar Deadlift Squat


Gluteus Maximus




Erector Spinae




squats muscle group targetThe quadriceps, a group of four muscles, functions to extend the knee during the deadlift to straighten the legs.

Like the hip-extensor muscles, they contract eccentrically during the downward-movement phase of the squat and concentrically during the upward-movement phase.

Eccentric contractions usually occur when a muscle opposes a stronger force, which causes the muscle to lengthen as it contracts.

A concentric muscle contraction is a type of muscle activation that increases the tension on a muscle as it shortens. You can often see your muscles bulge with this type of contraction.

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle of the buttocks. The gluteus maximus extends the hip during the deadlift, to guide the back to the upright position.

It facilitates hip extension along with the hamstrings on the back of your thigh.

The gluteus maximus contracts eccentrically–while lengthening– to control the speed of the downward-movement part of the squat, and concentrically–while shortening–to extend your thighs during the upward-movement part.

The three muscles that make up the hamstrings muscle group are also active when you perform deadlifts and squats.

The hamstrings help the gluteus maximus muscle with hip extension, so they function in the same way when you perform squats–eccentrically during the downward-movement phase and concentrically as you return to the starting position.

Although you may not think of these exercises as back exercises, the erector spinae muscle group contracts isometrically–without shortening and lengthening–during both the downward-movement and upward-movement phases of each of these exercises.

Although the muscles don’t contract concentrically or eccentrically when you perform the squat, they are the primary spine extensors and also assist with lateral, or sideways, spine flexion and torso rotation ranges of motion.

What Results Does Each Exercise Have on the Body?

trapbar deadliftWhen it comes to the trap bar deadlift vs squats they do have different results on the body.

A trap bar deadlift will enable us to gradually improve our ability to either squat or deadlift without losing any of the strength and muscle gains you expect from these movements.

A trap bar’s design leads to a much more upright torso position, enabling us to “sit” into the movement with fewer technical requirements than a traditional straight bar deadlift.

It also allows the knees to move forward more and the hips to sit lower than normal, avoiding the shin scrapes at the bottom of the movement.

For more information, you can read: How Often Should I Deadlift?

Trap bar deadlifts provide a super way to build the strength and integrity of the posterior chain. The group of muscles that sit on the back of our bodies (calves, hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors).

By focusing on these muscles, we can limit our risk of developing lower back pain as well as improving our potential for athletic movements such as jumping, bounding, sprinting, and the ability to move those heavy weights around at the gym.

By performing jump squats using the trap bar, you don’t have to worry about resting the bar on your back.

This makes it easier and safer to perform. An additional bonus to this is that you can often use more weight than you would with a traditional jump squat, which is likely to further improve the power developed from this movement.

A huge advantage of the trap bar is the neutral grip (palms facing in towards each other) handles.

This is easier on the joints and provides a stronger grip than a double-overhand pronated grip with a straight bar.

Squats are probably one of the most demanding exercises out there.

Unlike a deadlift that allows you to rest briefly when the weights touch the ground. Squats force you to remain fully active throughout the entire exercise as you fight to push out each rep. And to carefully maintain balancing the bar on your back.

Throughout an entire squat, the muscles of your core are forced to work extra hard. In order to keep your body upright and to support your lower back.

This improves your overall core strength, which carries over to improved strength and performance on other compound exercises. It also stimulates muscle growth in your abdominals and obliques.

What is the Overall Benefit of The Trap Bar Deadlift vs Squat?

squatsSince the trap bar design allows you to step inside it rather than behind it. The long lever is shortened along a horizontal axis. Thus, significantly reducing the amount of sheer force on the spine.

The biggest drawback of both the straight bar deadlift and the barbell back squat is the amount of harmful stress it puts on the lumbar spine.

Both exercises require the weight to be some distance away from the axis of rotation where the work is being performed (i.e., the hip), thus relying on the back to act like a crowbar to move the weight.

As a result, your training weights are limited to the capabilities of your back extensors to resist flexion as much. If not more, than your legs’ ability to produce maximum force.

You may also read: Can Deadlifts Help Lower Back Pain – The Short and Simple Answer Is…

And as you might expect, when things don’t go strictly according to plan, it’s your spine that pays the price.

A trap bar deadlift is a tool which is safe and effective to strength-train professional athletes. And now, it’s starting to become popular. As more and more people are starting to use it as an alternative to traditional squatting. Which to choose: trap bar deadlift vs squat?

“Because the bar is running through the body, the load stays center and requires less of a posterior load on the hamstrings and lower back,” says Gregg Bertsch, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist.

And since the weight isn’t loaded on your shoulders, you’re less likely to round your back.  It puts you at risk of a serious back strain.

“I can have an athlete who has limited ankle and hip-mobility trap bar deadlift almost immediately,” Bertsch says, “but with an injury, you simply can’t back-squat like that.”

Jump squat is a common exercise to develop explosive lower body power.

Unfortunately, the squatting movement can be somewhat difficult to learn and master, making explosive squatting movements impractical.

You can use the trap bar in the exact same way. Also, makes it much easier to learn the right form.

Related: Trap Bar vs Conventional Deadlifts, Which is Better?

How to Incorporate Trap Bar Deadlifts Into Your Workout Program?

  • As the primary, knee-dominant exercise of the day, in place of squats, especially for those with back or shoulder injuries.
  • With the main hip-dominant exercise of the day, in place of traditional deadlifts, especially for those with a history of back problems.
  • As a hybrid hip-knee exercise to use as a stand-alone on days when you are not performing squats or traditional deadlifts.
  • With the supplemental exercise on days where squats or deadlifts are the primary lifts of the day.
  • As an assistance exercise on dynamic effort days where speed and power are the primary focus.

Final Verdict: Trap Bar Deadlift vs Squat – Conclusion

When it comes to the trap bar deadlift vs squats if you can consistently include both of of these exercises in your routing you may reap additional side benefits as well while developing the power and strength in your lower body.

Overall deciding on which one to add to your routine is up to you.

However if you are only going to do one then master the squat. Everything else you do in the gym will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.

Squats not only improve your ability to produce power, but they also improve your ability to absorb it. This means that you’ll be able to jump higher. You will decrease your chances of injury on the way down as well.

There are sports where vertical jumping is of particular importance. Such as track and field, basketball, volleyball or even football. Or if you just like the idea of having a bigger vertical jump. Then increasing your squatting strength should be a central focus in the gym.

Squats will enhance your sprinting speed. Not only does this improvement in leg drive allow you to jump higher. But you’ll also be able to run faster as well.

Many studies show a direct correlation between maximal squat strength and sprinting performance.

You can’t miss the quad, hamstring and glute development of most world-class sprinters.

Squats build mental toughness. Combine that with a large number of muscle groups engaged and the heavyweights involved. This is one exercise where you’ll really need to bear down and focus.

Squats are versatile. There are still a ton of different squat variations that you can do. Although you don’t have the right equipment for a traditional barbell squat.

To name a few you can try dumbbell squats, split squats, goblet squats, Zercher squats, or barbell hack squats.

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The benefits of both trap bar deadlift vs squat are clear. Deciding on which one to add to your routine is up to you.