6 Best Trap Bar Exercises That Aren't Deadlifts or Shrugs

The trap bar was invented by Al Gerard back in the late 1980s as an easier way to do shrugs and that’s how the trap bar got its name. And who doesn’t like training the traps, the biceps of the upper back? A big pair of traps a like a cherry on top of a…

The trap bar was invented by Al Gerard back in the late 1980s as an easier way to do shrugs and that’s how the trap bar got its name. And who doesn’t like training the traps, the biceps of the upper back? A big pair of traps a like a cherry on top of a great build but adding trap bar training to your routine can open a new pathway to so much more.

Here this article will explain trap bar design, benefits, and six great trap bar exercises that aren’t deadlifts or shrugs.


Trap bars usually have two pairs of handles: One pair projects upward in a squared D shape from the bar called D handles and one pair that’s level with the bar. And the bar can be flipped over to make either pair available. The D handles shorten the range of motion needed to pick it up from the floor while the level ones lengthen it. The stubs (where the weight goes) on either side are at right angles to the handles.

The hex design of the trap bar combined with the stubs allows you to step inside the bar which aligns the weight move with your center of gravity. This is a godsend for lifters who have a history of low-back pain or those lifters looking to minimize their injury risk while still lifting heavy.


Besides making it easier to train your traps hard and heavy, there are a few important benefits of training with the trap bar over the barbell.

The neutral grip of the trap bar reduces the risk of biceps tears versus a mixed grip on a barbell. This allows you to go heavy without the risk of injury. Plus, the neutral grip is easier on the forearms and elbows versus a pronated or supinated grip, helping you build awesome grip strength too. The neutral grip is our strongest grip.

There is less shearing force on the spine because the axis of rotation is almost in-line with the weight on either side. This reduces the amount of shearing force on the spine which is great if your lower back is an issue.

The trap bar makes it easier to learn complex movements such as the deadlift and squat, over the barbell. As long as you keep a neutral spine doing trap bar squats and deadlifts, it’s very forgiving.

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Trap bar deadlift and shrug variations are great but that’s not the only exercises you should be performing with a trap bar. Here are 4 trap bar exercises that deserve a spot in your routine for variety and gains.

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Trap Bar Floor Press

Most floor press exercise variations stop the shoulder joint from too much excessive external rotation, and this is great if you have any shoulder issues. The trap bar floor press with the neutral grip is easier on your upper body joints if the wrists, elbows, and shoulders if any of these are an issue. Another advantage of the trap bar floor press is the loading potential over dumbbells for added strength and muscle.

Muscles Trained: Anterior Shoulder, Chest, and Triceps

Benefits: If bench press shoulder pain is an issue for you, the trap bar floor press variation allows you to still train the pressing movement in a pain-free range of motion hard and heavy.

How to do it: Set up the trap bar on the squat rack with the D handles down and with space for you to get underneath the trap bar. Grip it and unrack with your wrists in neutral and feet and back flat on the floor. Slowly lower until triceps touch the floor and then press back up until lockout. Reset and repeat.

Programming Suggestion: This exercise is best used to increase lockout strength and to build muscle. Three to five sets of six to 12 reps works well here.

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Trap Bar Bentover Row

The trap bar bent over row with its neutral grip and your center of gravity more in line with the weight makes it easier on your joints in comparison to the barbell version. Plus, the setup is a little easier too. The wider neutral grip will challenge the muscles of your upper back to keep a neutral spine with less stress on the lower back. This is a win-win for your posterior gains.

Muscles Trained: Forearms, biceps, posterior shoulder, upper/lower back, and lats

Benefits:  A great accessory exercise for deadlifts and chin-ups, due to the grip strength demands and being in the hinge position for time.

How to do it: Step inside the trap bar and hinge down and grab the D handles. Get your chest up, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and row until the back of the bar touches your glutes. Make sure your elbows are angled at about 45 degrees throughout the exercise. Lower down slowly until your elbows are extended and reset and repeat.

Programming Suggestion: A great exercise to increase strength and build posterior muscle. For strength, three to five sets of 6 reps, and for muscle two to four sets of 12-15 reps is a good starting point.

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Trap Bar Elevated Split Squat

You all know splits squats are great for you even though they’re difficult. If you’re looking for your split squats to suck even more then trap bar splits squats are for you. The trap bar version forces you to keep constant tension on your legs as you can’t lock your knees out because the back of the trap bar will bang against the thigh. This creates constant muscular tension for more gains and to make you love splits squat even more.

Muscles Trained: Forearms, quads, glutes, and upper back

Benefits: This variation helps to reinforce better form. Too many lifters keep an upright torso which makes the elevated split squat more difficult than it needs to be. But when you don’t lean forward with this variation your back thigh will butt into the trap bar way too early.

How to do it: Set your back foot flat on a bench and the other foot inside the trap bar with D handles up. Squat down with a forward lean and grip the D handles and squat up until the back bar runs into your thigh. Then slowly lower down and stop before the weight plates touch the floor and squat up. Repeat for reps.

Programming Suggestion: Use as an accessory exercise after squats or deadlifts to improve strength imbalances and leg drive. Three to four sets of six to 12 reps will give you all you can handle.

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Trap Bar Elevated Squats

The biggest disadvantage of trap bar squats is the limited range of motion, although a limited ROM allows you to lift more weight. But standing on a small, elevated surface and using the low bar handles this disadvantage is overcome. This allows more knee flexion, putting more emphasis on your quads as a squat should. Although grip strength is an issue here, this is a solid variation if you cannot do belt or hack squats.

Muscles Trained: Quads, glutes, forearms, and upper back

Benefits: Builds leg and grip strength at the same time and the narrower stance of this variation hammers the quads.

How to do it: Place the small, elevated surface inside the trap bar and step inside the trap bar. Keep your shoulders down and chest up, squat down and grip the low handles. Keeping a neutral spine, squat up by pushing your feet through the floor, and finish with your glutes. Lower down to the floor and reset and repeat.

Programming Suggestion: Best used as an accessory exercise to build quad and grip strength. Three to four sets of 6 to fifteen reps will have other lifters looking at your quads with envy.

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Trap Bar Tall-Kneeling Shoulder Press 

Barbell overhead presses are great but not every lifter has the mobility and stability needed to do them.  This is where the tall-kneeling shoulder press comes in. The neutral grip is easier on your wrist and elbows because heavy overhead presses can cause wrist hyperextension. The tall-kneeling position engages the core and hips and gives you instant feedback on your pressing mechanics.

Muscles Trained: Hips, hamstrings, lower back, deltoids, and triceps

Benefits: If there is anything off about your overhead pressing form you will receive instant feedback because the tall-kneeling position will force you out of position.

How to do it: Set up the trap bar in the squat rack with enough space to get under it. This should be just above shoulder height.  Get into a strong tall-kneeling position and grip the high or low bar handles with your wrists in neutral and grip tight.  Press up until your elbows are locked out and slowly lower back down to the pins. Reset and repeat.

Programming Suggestion: You can train this for strength, but it is best for building muscle and improving overhead pressing form. Three to four sets of six to 12 reps works well.

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Trap Bar Suitcase Carry 

All suitcase carries are great grip and core strengtheners because you walk with a load in one hand. The trap bar suitcase carry takes this to another level as the weight is more off-center forcing your obliques to work harder. Plus,  you can load a lot more weight onto a trap bar than any dumbbell variation to further your strength gains.

Muscles Trained: Forearms, deltoids, obliques, and glutes

Benefits: This variation allows you to load this heavier than any dumbbell variation for improved grip strength. 

How to do it: Stand the trap bar up on its side as this makes for an easier and then load the plates on both ends. Grab the center of the bar and lift the trap bar off the ground. With your shoulder down, chest up, and shoulders level,  walk slowly while keeping an upright posture. Once you have gone your programmed distance put the trap bar down and rest it on the side of your leg. Then hold with one hand as you turn around. Swap sides and repeat. 

Programming Suggestion: Train near the start of your training when you are fresh. One to two sets of 40 yards on each side will do the trick.

This story originally appeared on: Muscle & Fitness - Author:vkim

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