The leverage advantages and versatility of the trap bar make it a great tool. The incorporation of trap bar work into any program will enhance training results, training enjoyment, and training excitement. Very often a slight change in the performance of an exercise can yield significant improvement in both the performance of the specific movement and the forthcoming results. Through over two decades of training with the trap bar, our athletes and competitive lifters have found that certain exercises are definitely improved and have brought about unexpectedly positive results.
1) The Trap Bar Deadlift
Performed in place of a conventional deadlift done with a standard Olympic or Power bar, the trap bar deadlift showcases the very best advantages of this unique piece of equipment. The leverage advantages of bringing the resistance closer to one's center of gravity with the added bonus of utilizing a parallel grip makes this the obvious primary movement whenever the trap bar is utilized. substituting the trap bar in place of the standard barbell and performing the same sets and reps one would have used in any routine can be very advantageous for a six or eight week period of time. A favorite sequence that we have had success with is the performance of 20-15-10-5 reps, increasing the weight on each successive set, and taking timed rest periods of 30 seconds between the sets of 20 and 15 reps, 45 seconds between the sets of 15 and 10 reps, and 60 seconds between the sets of 10 and 5 repetitions.
2) The Trap Bar Shrug
Like the trap bar deadlift, there are advantages to using the trap bar for any shrugging movement. A conventional barbell rubs against the anterior part of the thighs, hindering movement. Using dumbbells requires the use of relatively heavy implements and many facilities do not provide dumbbells above the 120 to 150 pound range. Using very heavy dumbbells often requires the use of straps or assistance in lifting them from the floor for proper shrug placement.
If one cannot first deadlift the dumbbells into position for the shrug exercise, the hand-off from a partner can be awkward or dangerous. Even with dumbbells, the impediment caused by the friction of the implements rubbing on the body or clothing surface can be an obstacle. The trap bar can more easily be lifting from the floor into proper starting position, and/or set on elevated boxes or power rack pins to begin the movement.
The trap bar shrug brings the resistance closer to the body's center of gravity, making it a safer movement relative to the barbell or dumbbell shrug, and there is no contact with the body as the trainee elevates the scapulae. Our training reminder of "tip" for this movement is to "bring the points of the shoulders to the ears" and while our trainees understand that this is a theoretical construct, it is always helpful when a full range of motion is desired. The parallel grip also seems to help the ability to elevate the scapulae. Our trainees will usually perform one or two sets of 12-20 repetitions.
3) The Trap Bar Pull
When athletes and lifters think about pulling from the floor, Olympic weightlifting immediately comes to mind. Many strength coaches have found that the utilization of dumbbells in place of the standard barbell can provide a very different and effective type of stimulation but for many, the movement is awkward and may be dangerous. It is often necessary to use straps in order to hold dumbbells that are heavy enough to provide adequate resistance to stimulate the trapezius, lumbar, glute, and thigh regions. The trap bar pull once again brings the resistance to a safer starting point and line of travel relative to a barbell or dumbbells. If one thinks about doing a rapid deadlift with a finishing shrug, that may be the best way to visualize this seldom seen yet very effective movement. Our athletes will often do the trap bar pull as we term it, in place of a deadlift and/or shrug in that specific day's workout. One or two sets of 12-15 reps has worked well.
4) The Trap Bar Press
The trap bar press may at first appear to be an awkward movement, but the advantages of using a parallel grip when doing overhead or bench pressing is significant. A palms-parallel grip reduces the degree of internal rotation of the humerus, making it less likely to cause rotator cuff irritation, inflammation, and/or impingement. The grip allows for a stronger pressing movement relative to a "regular" palms-facing-away grip as is used on a standard barbell. If one sets the trap bar on elevated boxes or a rack and steps within its confines, takes the parallel grip, straightens up and then presses , the movement is surprisingly comfortable and very effective. On all of the machines we use for pressing movements and with any dumbbell involved pressing movement, we insist upon a parallel grip and the trap bar is perfect for this application. It is perhaps more important to utilize a palms-parallel-grip when bench pressing due to risk and statistical probability of potential rotator cuff problems.
One of our favorite program constructs is to use one or two pieces of equipment and go through a "cycle" of a few movements, done at a high level of intensity to a point of momentary muscular failure/fatigue. Incorporating the trap bar one can effectively train with a program similar to the following:
1) Trap bar deadlift x 20 reps
2) Trap bar pull x 15
3) Trap bar shrug x 12.
Rest two minutes.
4) Trap bar deadlift x 15
5) Trap bar pull x 12
6) Trap bar shrug x 10.
reset the bar for:
7)Trap bar press x 7
Rest 60 seconds
Trap bar press x 3
8) Forearm and neck work of choice.
This is an extremely effective and difficult routine that will take perhaps 20 to 30 minutes to complete and, if done once per week in conjunction with a varied program that includes one or two other training days per week, will certainly bring satisfying results.