Friday, November 9, 2012

The Trap Bar Deadlift

My new trap bar.
In my training practice, I work with a lot of different individuals with different goals, fitness levels, and body types.  I believe that strength is the one quality that transfers the most to other aspects of fitness and so strength training is a large part of what I do with my clients.  However, the challenge to find exercises that my clients can do both safely and effectively is one that I deal with on an almost daily basis.  The deadlift in particular can be a challenge to both teach and execute for a number of reasons and yet, it is my favorite loaded strength exercise for most people.

At full extension, Kelly's arms are at her sides,
not in front as they would be with a
traditional barbell.
The problem with the basic barbell deadlift is that for a lot of folks, they can be dangerous.  Now don't get me wrong, I love deadlifting and its the one lift I use most often, but a lot of my clients are older and inexperienced with barbell training.  They often lack the balance, kinesthetic awareness, and/or posterior chain strength to recruit the right muscles to deadlift properly.  As fatigue sets in, backs start to round, bodyweight shifts into the front of the foot, and the shoulders take a beating, even when using a mixed grip.  This is a recipe for disaster.  In short, in the face of inexperience and fatigue, the tendency to lift the bar with one's back extensors alone becomes more likely.  If you've ever done this yourself or watched someone else do it, its not only ugly, it can hurt or seriously injure you.

So, if only there were a way to deadlift where the bar path would not interfere with one's legs and make keeping one's center of gravity between one's heels easier . . .

Well, this is where a modified sumo deadlift with a kettlebell is very useful.  In fact, I usually teach proper deadlift mechanics this way because it encourages people to use their rear ends and not their quads to lift the bar.  I use this kind of deadlift a lot with the children I train as well.  However, with full grown adults, unless you have an extensive kettlebell collection, you are going to run out of useful weight very quickly.  My kettlebells only go up to 60 lbs so how do we keep moving the weight up while keeping my clients safe from injury?

At the start of this lift, Stephanie is able to
lift with the center of gravity of the bar close
to her own whereas a traditional barbell pitches
her forward.  
The trap bar deadlift of course!  I love this thing and have been wanting to get one for a while.  The trap bar is shaped like a hexagon and you stand in the middle of it to pull.  Therefore, there is no bar banging into your legs and you can simply focus on the movement.  Additionally, this bar is loadable, just like a barbell, so you can load it up for some good old fashioned heavy lifting.  One of the other great things about this bar is that the handles are perpendicular in orientation to a regular barbell.  This means you can use a neutral grip when pulling which is far kinder to the shoulders than a regular pronated or mixed grip.  

The truth is, being strong is really good for you.  However, lifting enough weight to get strong can be a challenge if you have some joint or flexibility issues.  A traditional barbell deadlift is only mandatory if your intent is to train for and compete in a powerlifting meet.  If you do not intend on doing this, you can use whatever tool you like.  Getting stronger is something most of us should strive for, especially as we get older, and we should use whatever tools that will enable us to achieve this goal.

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