Last updated on August 4th, 2022 at 12:26 pm
If I were only allowed to have one barbell of any kind in my garage gym, it would be a trap bar. Also known as a hex bar, it’s one of the most versatile, effective, and easy-to-use bars you can own.
I’ve been using a trap bar for well over ten years. When I trained in the gym where I worked, I purchased a trap bar with my own money since they didn’t have one (and it’s still there to this day!). That’s how important I think using one is.
With the right trap bar, you can train the squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry movement patterns (https://drjohnrusin.com/6-foundational-movements-that-every-person-on-earth-needs-to-master/). That’s every movement needed to build strength effectively. You can do all that more safely and with a smaller learning curve than a standard barbell.
If you don’t currently have a trap bar in your garage gym, you need one. Not quite ready to buy one yet? Read on. You will be surprised at how many benefits a trap bar will bring to your garage gym! I use my Rep Fitness open-back trap bar several times a week, and it’s one of my absolute favorite ways to train!
What is a hex/trap bar?
A trap bar, aka hex bar, is shaped like a trapezoid or hexagon (thus the name). By standing inside this open shape, the weight being lifted is aligned with the centerline of your body. This position makes movements like deadlifts, shrugs, carries, and many others much safer and easier to do.
The trap bar was invented in 1985 by Al Gerard (source). He intended to devise a way to continue to lift weights while dealing with a back injury at the same time.
When using a standard barbell, the load is always in front of or behind your centerline. This places a lot of undue force on your spine and other joints, especially if lifting heavy. The trap bar eliminates this, making it a safer and more comfortable option for those with back issues. It’s also very good at preventing those without back problems from developing them!
Since its inception, three distinct trap bar variations have been created. I’ve owned and used all of them, and each has its place and uses. You don’t need all three, but it’s nice to know the differences so you can pick the ideal trap bar for your gym.
The Three Types of Trap Bar
Following is a brief description and images of each type of trap bar. While I have my preference as to which is the “best,” don’t let that stop you from buying the one you think is right for you. You don’t need more than one, so pick the one that meets your needs and go with that.
The Standard Trap Bar
The standard trap bar has either one or two sets of handles. These handles are referred to as “low” and “high.” These handles are either closer to or further from the ground, depending on how you orient the bar. You’ll find multiple handle options a common feature across all trap bars.
Multiple handle options are a massive advantage of a trap bar over a standard barbell.
The standard trap bar can be challenging to load and unload but is also the least expensive and easiest to find. Usually coming in at 55 lbs, this bar is available in both short (must be used and loaded on the floor only) and rackable (allows you to place the bar on your j-hooks for ease of loading) lengths.
One note on this and other types of trap bars is that they take up a lot of room. I find that hanging them on the wall (see my complete guide to barbell storage here) is the most convenient and space-saving option.
If you think this type of bar is right for you, check out the basic hex bar that Titan fitness sells. If you want a rackable version (highly recommended if you have a rack), then Titan’s rackable hex bar is the best way to go.
The EZ Load Trap Bar
One of the most significant drawbacks to a standard trap bar is loading plates. To put it nicely, it’s a pain. Holding a 55 lb bar up in one hand while maneuvering a 45 lb plate onto the end with the other is enough to keep your trap bar in a corner collecting dust.
And that’s exactly where mine lived in my garage until I bought an EZ load trap bar.
An EZ load trap bar elevates the bar’s sleeves off the ground for ease of loading and unloading plates. It’s a game changer in the world of trap bars.
Another common feature of most EZ load trap bars is multiple handle diameters. The one I own and use has three options, all changeable on the fly.
There are two drawbacks to an EZ load trap bar. First, the sleeves are often shorter than a standard trap bar. This isn’t helpful since one of the many benefits of this bar type is the ability to move more weight than a standard barbell. I’ve maxed out the capacity on my EZ load bar and had to replace it with an open trap bar (see the next section) with longer sleeves.
The second drawback is that an EZ load trap bar does not have an open back. In my opinion, the open-back trap bar is the king of all trap bars. It’s also easy to load and has many other benefits that a standard or EZ load version does not.
If you think an EZ load trap bar is the right option for you, you cannot go wrong with Titan’s version, which you can see here. I’ve owned it and used it regularly for several years. It’s my number one recommendation in this category.
The Open Trap Bar
An open (aka open-back or walk-through) trap bar removes the portion of the bar that is behind you. The bar functions the same way as a standard trap bar, but removing the back opens up a host of new exercises for which the bar can be used. It also enables a built-in “floor jack” to make loading this type of trap bar exceptionally easy.
The open trap bar is a game changer originally made popular by Kabuki Strength. The problem with the Kabuki model, as with everything they make, is that it is ridiculously expensive.
Cost used to be a problem when Kabuki was the only game in town. The good news is that they are no longer the only company making this type of barbell. Multiple companies are now making an open trap bar design, each adding new features and design elements.
The open trap bar is easy to load and offers multiple handle options. They are also often rackable, which opens up many new exercise options.
If you currently own a standard or EZ load trap bar, it’s time to upgrade. If you don’t have a trap bar, a rackable open-back model (if it fits your budget) is the best possible choice. I’ve recently upgraded to the brand new Rep Fitness open-back trap bar, and it’s hands down my favorite piece of gear right now!
12 Reasons You Should Have a Trap Bar in Your Garage Gym
Hopefully, I’ve driven home the point that the trap bar is versatile. Versatility is critical in the garage gym world as space and budget are often tight. But versatility isn’t the only reason to own a trap bar.
Here are twelve reasons I often recommend a trap bar as the first (and sometimes only) barbell someone should buy for their home gym. Even if it isn’t your first bar, it should be your next bar if you don’t already have one!
It’s The Most Versatile Barbell You Can Own
The trap bar, in my opinion, is the single most versatile barbell you can buy. While many pigeonhole the hex bar as only useful for deadlifts, you can do a ton of other exercises!
With only a trap bar, you can train every important movement pattern (squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry). Not only that, but you have quite a few different exercises to pick from within each movement pattern.
The trap bar is so versatile that I put together a separate resource showing over thirty different exercises you can do with a trap bar (link). Those 30+ movements are not the only exercises you can do by a long shot, and you can train your entire body effectively with just a handful of them!
It’s A Safer Version of Many Popular Barbell Movements
Training at home can be dangerous. Training at home, alone, with heavy weights has resulted in numerous injuries and even some deaths. I can think of few other implements that add a layer of safety as well as the trap bar does.
If you fail during a lift, simply drop the bar. You don’t need a power rack or a spotter. This isn’t true with standard barbells where you need a rack with safeties or a spotter!
It’s also safer because it forces you to be in the proper position when lifting. Unlike a standard barbell which encourages people to lift with a rounded back, the trap bar reduces injuries by making it very easy to lift with a neutral spine.
It’s Easier On Your Back
This is true for both deadlift and squat variations done with a trap bar. Using a trap bar makes it much easier to keep your spine organized properly and also limits your ability to hyperextend at the top of a deadlift.
The trap bar significantly reduces the chance of injury while lifting and allows people to perform lifts they previously couldn’t. I’ve suffered significant back issues in my life, and one of the keys to putting them behind me was training regularly with a trap bar.
Deadlifting and squatting with a trap bar also reduces the spinal compression inherent in loading an Olympic barbell on your back. If you’ve ever back squatted your bodyweight or more, you know the feeling of spinal compression. While the proper squat form can alleviate most of this type of strain, very few people lifting at home have the correct form when squatting.
Another significant factor is that most people tend to hyperextend their back at the top of the deadlift. Regardless of what some online fitness gurus say, this is not healthy or safe! A trap bar allows you to naturally avoid hyperextending your back at the top of the lift by locating the load on your centerline instead of in front of you.
The trap bar was explicitly invented to allow people with back issues to train more safely than they can with a standard barbell. As someone with consistent back pain and four bulging discs in my back, this is one of the benefits I appreciate the most!
You Don’t Need a Squat Rack To Use One
In a recently published article, I outline how to build a garage gym you’ll love without a rack. Many people lack the room and/or budget to add a power rack to their garage gym.
Unlike most garage gym sites would have you believe, you don’t need a rack in your gym to have an outstanding gym. You simply need to find ways to train the same movement patterns without one. And that’s where pieces of gear like the trap bar come in.
With just a few highly versatile pieces like the hex bar, you can get great results and never have to set foot inside a rack.
That said, I do prefer a rackable open-back trap bar. Having a rack along with your trap bar does open up other uses. But make no mistake, a rack is not necessary at all!
Combines the Squat and Deadlift Into One Movement
Some people will disagree, but I think this is an essential point for 95% of the folks out there training with weights at home.
In my opinion, the trap bar deadlift can replace both barbell squats and deadlifts. The hex bar deadlift has always been called a “squatty” deadlift. That’s because it’s a hybrid movement encompassing both squatting and hinging simultaneously.
Is it the exact same as a traditional barbell back squat or deadlift? No. Purists will always tell you that you should use a straight bar for both movements and train them separately.
But it is close enough to both for average home lifters to replace both movements with the hex bar deadlift. If you supplement heavily loaded trap bar deadlifts with some single-leg accessory work like Bulgarian split squats and single-leg RDLs, you have a complete lower body workout that eliminates the need to ever squat or deadlift with a straight bar again!
Most people lifting at home will never see a difference in results substituting a trap bar deadlift for the barbell squat and deadlift. In addition to getting the same results (with a much safer implement), you’ll also save time every week by training only one exercise instead of two!
Multiple Handle Heights and Diameters
One of my favorite barbell accessories are Fat Gripz. I own three different sizes and use them all the time. Fat Gripz allow you to change the diameter of a barbell or dumbbell. This has many benefits, from injury prevention and comfort to simply allowing the bar to fit in larger hands better.
The same is true of the multiple handle options you’ll find on some trap bars. You can pick from different handle diameters (all done on the fly!), and you can also change the handle height.
When working around a painful back, not having to squat/hinge down quite as far to grab the handles is a godsend. There was a time when I simply didn’t have the lower back mobility to grab a barbell from the ground. The raised handles of a trap bar allowed me to continue to train while I worked to improve that mobility.
Neutral Grip Handles
When training with a straight barbell, your hands are often placed in an unnatural position. As you bring the bar closer to and further from your body, the natural motion of your hands is to turn to a more neutral orientation.
A straight bar forces your hands out of this natural position. Using a bar with neutral grip handles like a trap bar, you take a significant amount of strain off your wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
These neutral grip handles are another way a trap bar helps prevent acute and chronic injuries! It also makes lifting a lot more pleasant and less uncomfortable.
Easy To Learn
Barbell squats and deadlifts are high-skill movements. There is a long and steep learning curve to do them correctly without risk of injury. Even with one-on-one coaching, developing the skills needed to squat and deadlift safely can take months.
I want to make it clear that I love to barbell squat and deadlift. But I also hired a coach to work with me, so I knew what the heck I was doing. I was shocked at how much is involved with both movements. There is no way I could have taught myself to do either correctly.
That’s not the case with a trap bar. Because of the location and orientation of both the handles and the plates, using a trap bar is very natural, and most people can use one safely within just a few practice sets.
Great For Beginners
Barbells can be intimidating to those who are new to weight training. This is especially true when they are used for higher-skill movements like squatting and deadlifting.
In fact, barbells can be so beginner unfriendly that many people choose not to train with weights at all. I have talked to countless people who are intimidated by heavy resistance training. This is one of the primary reasons that for every squat rack at your local gym, there are 50 cardio machines.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to put those people’s minds at ease is to get them to lift with a trap bar. The combination of neutral grip handles, safety profile, and ability to load it subjectively heavy make it a great introduction to weight training.
When you add versatility and the fact that you don’t need a huge rack to use one, the trap bar is often the first (and sometimes only) barbell I recommend to inexperienced garage gym owners.
You Can Lift Heavier Weights
Because of the handle positions and location of the load, most people are able to move more weight with a trap bar than they can with a straight barbell. This is true of both the squat and the deadlift.
Training with heavier weights means you’ll build more strength. More strength means more resilience. This is one of the biggest reasons I recommend a trap bar over an Olympic barbell to so many people.
Not only can you lift more weight, but you can also do it more safely. I’m much more comfortable with 300+ lbs loaded on a trap bar than with a barbell on my back. This is a huge advantage for most people out there training in their garage or basement!
Less Damage to Your Shins
One of the coaching cues for a barbell deadlift is to drag the bar up the front of your legs. This is done in an effort to keep the weight as close to the centerline of your body as possible.
Using this technique has destroyed more than a few people’s shins. This is such a big problem that special shin guards are made just for deadlifting (I own and use this set I bought on Amazon). Call me crazy, but doesn’t it make more sense to train that movement pattern without scraping all the skin off your shins?!
With a trap bar, you’ll never scrape a bar up your shins again. And as a bonus, the weight is naturally lined up with your centerline, so no special coaching cues are needed!
Safer For Pressing Movements
One of the dangers of pressing, both horizontal and vertical, with a straight Olympic barbell is that it puts your hands in an unnatural position while lifting. This locked-in hand position, in turn, puts a lot of stress on your wrists and elbows.
Many address this with good mobility and careful form. But it’s easier to lift with bars with neutral handle positions like a trap bar. This is why specialty bars like cambered swiss bars exist. The problem with bars like that is that they are far less versatile than a trap bar!
Bench presses and overhead presses done with a neutral grip bar like the hex bar allow your wrists and elbows to stay in a more natural position. This, in turn, puts a lot less stress on them. Over a lifetime of training, this can make a huge impact!
Drawbacks of a Trap Bar
While the trap bar is probably my single favorite type of barbell, and I recommend that everyone training with weights have one, they are not without drawbacks.
They Are Very Large
The most notable “negative” of the trap bar is its size. These things are huge and take up a good amount of space in your basement or garage gym. This is especially true for EZ load trap bars and rackable trap bars.
They are huge and take up a lot of space!
Stored horizontally on the wall (where I recommend barbells are stored), a trap bar can take up the room of 4-5 other bars. Stored vertically, they are awkward and end up being in the way.
If you are tight on space, a trap bar may not be an ideal solution for you.
It’s An Unfamiliar Implement
Trap bars can also be intimidating because they are new to a large number of people. Most commercial gyms don’t have them, and many people, even those who have trained for years, have never seen one.
Like all new things, this can dissuade some from buying one, and instead, they go with a standard barbell. After all, it’s often easier to stick with what you know, right?
If this is you, don’t be discouraged. The trap bar does, indeed, have a much smaller learning curve than a standard barbell!
They Can Be Hard to Load
This is what kept me from using my standard trap bar for many years. Standard trap bars must be set flat on the ground to load. You then lift each side independently to load and unload the weight. Anyone who has loaded a straight bar on the floor for deadlifts knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Rackable trap bars, EZ load trap bars, and most open back trap bars address this issue by allowing you to elevate the bar for ease of loading. Of those options, the open-back version works the best.
This is why I don’t recommend buying a standard trap bar unless you are on a tight budget. Instead, go with an open back design like this one from Rep Fitness. You’ll be happy you spent the extra money the very first time you load and unload plates!
Too Many Variations
It seems like everyone and their brother now have some type of trap bar variation. As I was researching and testing for my best trap bar article (check it out here) (link), I was amazed at just how many oddball variations there are.
With so many bars that are slightly different than one another, it can be challenging for someone to know if they are buying a quality bar or just a gimmick. Hint, most of these bars are more gimmicky than good.
Don’t be swayed by people adding extra bends, attachments, or other gadgets to their trap bar. In the end, you want a well-constructed bar with great handles, a durable finish, and backed by a company that’s been around for more than a few weeks.
Which Trap Bar Should You Buy?
This wasn’t an easy question to answer as little as a few months ago. The trap bars I really liked were ridiculously expensive. The cheaper versions were, well, cheap.
Enter the Rep Fitness open back trap bar. Several years in the making, Rep got this one incredibly right! I’ve used and tested 16 different trap bars, and this one is the best, hands down.
You can check out my best trap bar article here for more details (link), or check out my full review of this bar here (link).
If you just want to pick up the best trap bar on the market, head on over to Rep Fitness and get yours ordered today!
Every garage gym should have a trap bar. There, I said it. If you’re going to train with weights, then you are missing out without one. In fact, if I could only have one barbell in my garage gym, it would be an open back trap bar.
A lot of the recommendations I post here on GymCrafter are based on your needs. I’m a huge fan of never buying anything unless it specifically helps you move closer to your goals.
But there are a few pieces of gear that I genuinely believe everyone training with weights should have. The trap bar is one of them. If you don’t have one, make it the next thing you add to your gym!
I’ve read that straight bar squats and deadlifts are “better” than the trap bar version. Is this true?
To answer this, we need to define “better.” Squats and deadlifts with a traditional barbell focus the load in more specific places. There is more quad activation in a standard squat than in a trap bar squat. There is more posterior chain activation with a traditional deadlift than with the trap bar variation.
But that doesn’t make them “better”, especially for the average person training at home. The shorter learning curve, better safety profile, and injury prevention found while using a trap bar far surpass a straight bar.
I’ve also found that people enjoy using a trap bar much more. This leads to more consistency. And consistency is king when it comes to getting results.
So, in a lab with experienced lifters, the traditional straight bar squat and deadlift may be “better.” But for the other 99% of people training at home, this is not the case at all!
Is an open-back trap bar really worth the extra money?
Yes! Every company out there making barbells has either already made one or has one in the works. You don’t often see a new piece of weight training gear improve the previous version.
But the open back trap bar is noticeably more versatile than its predecessor. If it at all fits in your budget, the open back trap bar is 100% the way to go!
Does a trap bar prevent all injuries?
No! Even though the trap bar is considered exponentially safer than a straight bar, you can still get injured using one. It’s essential always to lift safely!
Learning to brace properly, maintaining proper form, and never lifting past the point that your form breaks down are all critical to injury prevention regardless of the tool you use.