Barbell Back Squat vs Trap Bar Deadlift – Introduction
Trap bar deadlift vs squat: what are the differences, pros, and cons, plus which is better for you?
When it comes to planning your workouts, it makes sense to use the best exercises available.
After all, your time and energy are valuable commodities, and it would be a shame to waste either of them on unproductive training.
So, as a rule, most of your workouts should be built around compound exercises that work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously, such as;
These exercises provide the biggest bang for your training buck.
Whether you want to build muscle, get stronger, or lose fat, compound movements are almost always your best choice to transform your body.
That said, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of productive exercises you can use, so it’s always worth weighing up the pros and cons of each one to ensure that you’re making the best possible choices.
This article compares and contrasts two fantastic exercises – trap bar deadlifts and barbell back squats – so you can decide which one is right for you.
Trap Bar Deadlift 101
A trap bar is a hexagonal barbell with two parallel handles.
They are also known as hex bars, Gerard bars, and squat-lift bars.
Gyms often have trap bars, and they’re available for home lifters, too.
Depending on the design, manufacturer, and quality, they vary in weight from about 15kg 35lbs to 50lbs+.
Most trap bars are made to be used with bumper plates.
Trap bar deadlifts are performed a lot like conventional deadlifts but feel more like squats.
Standing between the handles means the weight is directly over your feet rather than in front of your shins, which increases quads activation compared to barbell deadlifts.
The muscles involved in trap bar deadlifts are:
- Quadriceps – the muscles on the front of your thighs
- Hamstrings – back of the thigh
- Gluteus maximus – back of the hips
- Erector spinae – lower back
- Core – muscles of the midsection
- Trapezius – upper back
See the Top 10 Hex Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked You Need to Know for a deeper dive into the muscles used by trap bar deadlifts.
How to Do Trap Bar Deadlifts
Compared to conventional barbell deadlifts, trap bars are relatively straightforward.
However, you still need to pay attention to how you do them so that you get the best possible results with the lowest risk of injury.
- Load your trap bar, so the handles are about nine inches above the floor.
- Stand between the handles with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart.
- Bend down and grab the handles with your palms turned inward, i.e., a neutral grip.
- Drop your hips, lift your chest, brace your core, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Your arms should be straight.
- Drive your feet into the floor and, without rounding your lower back, stand up straight.
- Bend your knees, push your hips backward, and lower the weight back to the floor.
- Reset your core and grip and repeat.
Inverted Trap Bar Deadlifts
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Trap Bar Deadlift Pros and Cons
Not sure if trap bar deadlifts deserve a place in your workouts? Weigh up these pros and cons and then decide!
A versatile exercise
You can use trap bar deadlifts to build muscle size, strength, or endurance depending on how much weight you use and how many reps and sets you perform.
High-rep trap bar deadlifts could help you burn fat and lose weight.
Easy to learn
The trap bar deadlift is relatively straightforward and easy to learn.
As such, it’s suitable for beginners.
No need for a spotter or a squat rack
Each rep starts and finishes with the weight on the floor.
You can’t get pinned under the bar if you are unable to complete a rep and can train to failure in relative safety.
With no need for a squat or power rack, trap bar deadlifts are ideal for small home gyms.
A more upright torso for less back stress
Conventional deadlifts tend to involve a pronounced forward lean, which can place a lot of shearing force on your lumbar spine.
In some cases, this can make it all but impossible to maintain a neutral spine.
Trap bar deadlifts involve a much more upright position, making them more lower-back friendly.
An excellent quadriceps builder
Trap bar deadlifts are much more quads-dominant than conventional deadlifts.
As such, they’re a bonafide alternative to squats.
Whether you want to build bigger or stronger quads, trap bar deadlifts can help.
Build a stronger grip
Similar to the tremendous benefits of conventional deadlifts, holding and lifting a trap bar will improve your grip and increase your forearm strength and size.
The same cannot be said for squats.
You need a trap bar
While you can replicate this exercise with dumbbells, it’s much, MUCH better with a specialist trap bar.
Trap bars can be expensive and are not as versatile as barbells.
There are dozens of exercises you can do with a barbell, but just a few decent trap bar exercises, including farmer’s walks, overhead presses, and floor presses.
Grip strength may be a limiting factor
Unless you have an immense grip or resort to using lifting straps, your hands may fail before your legs, bringing your set to an early end.
Holding a heavy trap bar can make it hard to breathe.
While this is not really an issue for low-rep, heavy weight training, it could be prohibitive for high-rep sets, for example, 20-rep trap bar deadlifts.
The barbell back squat is one of the most productive exercises you can do with a barbell.
Working your entire lower body and several upper body muscles, too, the squat is often called the king of exercise, which is a title it deserves.
Squats are such an effective exercise that entire workouts have been designed around them, including the 20-rep squat routine.
The main muscles involved in squats are:
- Quadriceps – muscles on the front of the thighs
- Hamstrings – muscles on the back of the thighs
- Gluteus maximus – muscles on the back of the hips
- Adductors – muscles of the inner thighs
- Abductors – muscles of the outer hips and thighs
- Core – the muscles of the midsection
How to Do Squats
- Set a barbell in your squat or power rack at just below should-height.
- Duck under the bar and rest it across your upper back – the trapezius, and not your neck.
- Hold the bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Unrack the bar and take a step back.
- Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out.
- Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Look straight ahead.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees.
- Squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
- Take care not to round your lower back.
- Stand back up and then repeat.
- Walk back into the rack and place the bar down on the supports to finish your set
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Squat Pros and Cons
Can’t decide between trap bar deadlifts and squats? Consider these additional pros and cons:
One of the powerlifts
While trap bar deadlifts use similar muscles to squats, and the trap bar was actually invented by US powerlifter Al Gerard, trap bar deadlifts are not a recognized powerlifting exercise.
If you want to train for powerlifting, you should mostly stick to barbell back squats.
No grip issues
With the barbell resting on your upper back, you won’t have to worry about your grip failing mid-rep and bringing your set to a premature end.
This may mean you can use heavier weights or do more reps, making your workout more effective.
High Rep Squats
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You’ll need a squat rack
For safety and convenience, it’s usually best to do barbell squats in a squat rack.
That way, if you are unable to finish a rep, the bar won’t come crashing down and cause injury.
All you need to do trap bar deadlifts is the bar itself, weights, and a little space.
Less upper body engagement
While your upper body gets some work during barbell back squats, those muscles are much more active during trap bar deadlifts.
As such, trap bar deadlifts are more of a total body exercise than barbell squats.
Trap Bar Deadlift vs Squat – Comparisons
Now you know a little more about trap bar deadlifts and squats, it’s time to judge these two exercises by a few different criteria:
Trap bar deadlifts and squats can be done using heavy weights for low reps.
As such, both of these exercises can be used to develop strength.
The movements are very similar, so there really isn’t much to choose between these exercises.
That said, the barbell back squat is the more common test of strength and is one of the three big powerlifts.
So, if you are a budding powerlifter, the squat is the exercise you should concentrate on.
Winner: It’s a draw, unless you are a powerlifter, then squats are the best choice for you!
Hypertrophy (muscle building)
Squats are often called the king of exercises, but trap bar deadlifts can be just as helpful for hypertrophy (building muscle).
You can train to failure in relative safety, so you may be able to push yourself even harder than with barbell squats.
Because of this, trap bar deadlifts may be slightly better for building muscle.
Winner: Trap bar deadlifts!
Despite their obvious differences, squats and trap bar deadlifts involve very similar movements.
They both feature knee and hip flexion/extension and replicate running and jumping movements.
If you are an athlete training for sports, both of these exercises could help improve your performance.
Winner: It’s a draw!
See these 11 Best Steph Curry Deadlift and Training Secrets You Didn’t Know for an inside look at how the trap bar deadlift contributed to his becoming an NBA superstar.
Ease of learning
Squatting with a barbell on your upper back can feel unnatural, and some people find it uncomfortable.
Trap bar deadlifts are a lot like bending down to pick up a couple of grocery bags, so they’re usually somewhat easier to understand and master.
It’s also easier to balance weight when it’s in your hands.
Winner: Trap bar deadlifts!
Squats should be done in a squat rack so that, if you cannot complete your rep, you won’t get crushed by the barbell.
Squats also tend to put a lot of shearing force on your lumbar spine.
You can’t get crushed under a trap bar, and trap bar deadlifts tend to involve a more upright, back-friendly posture.
So, trap bar deadlifts are potentially safer than barbell squats.
However, done with too much weight or with poor form, both these exercises can cause injury.
Winner: Trap bar deadlifts!
Trap Bar Deadlift vs Squat – Wrapping up
Trap bar deadlifts aren’t really deadlifts.
Instead, they’re squats done with the weight down by your sides.
As such, squat lift is probably a more appropriate name.
Trap bar deadlifts are a knee-dominant exercise like squats, work your quads like squats, and keep your torso relatively upright like squats.
This means that barbell squats and trap bar deadlifts are pretty much interchangeable.
Both exercises can help you build lower body muscle size and strength.
The most significant difference is safety, with trap bar deadlifts being ideal for solo trainers and lifters without squat racks.
You won’t get pinned under the weight if you cannot complete a rep, and you don’t need to spend more money on a squat or power rack for your home gym.
All you need is a trap bar and some weight plates.
If trap bar deadlifts have a disadvantage, it is that the bar itself is not very versatile.
There are definitely more barbell exercises than trap bar exercises.
But, in terms of productivity, trap bar deadlifts and squats can both help you reach your lower body training goals.
When it comes to conventional deadlifts vs back squats – which is better?
They are two of the most powerful compound exercises on the planet – but if you had to select only one, learn how to choose the best!
See Deadlifts Vs Squats: Which is Better for Strength and Fitness? for the answer.