I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it many times again. If you’re gonna buy a trap bar for your home gym, you should buy an “open trap bar.”
First introduced to the commercial market by Eleiko as their Öppen Bar, the open trap bar has taken the resistance training world by storm. Many manufacturers have copied the Eleiko design (even sparking patent infringement lawsuits along the way!) in recent years and for good reasons!
The open trap bar took the traditional trap bar (a highly effective training tool somewhat limited in scope) and made it useful in an almost unlimited number of ways the conventional design was not.
So, if you are in the market for a new trap bar and are wondering if the open trap bar design is worth the extra money, read on! Following is a complete list of all the ways I’ve found an open trap bar to be superior to the traditional trap bars I’ve trained with for many years.
What is a Trap Bar?
To know why an open trap bar is better, we need to quickly touch on the purpose of a trap bar in the first place.
“The Trap Bar, also known as a Hex Bar, was invented in the mid-80s by competitive powerlifter Al Gerard as a way to train around his lower back injury.” (source)
Specifically, the trap bar was designed for deadlifts. A straight bar is positioned in front of the center line of your body, where it can place undue “shear load” on your spine. (source)
A trap bar places the load directly in line with the center of your body. This lets your spine stay neutral and much more protected during the deadlift.
Because most gyms viewed the trap bar as a “one trick pony,” few gyms provided this specialty barbell to their members. While the traditional trap bar isn’t quite a “one” trick pony, its tricks are undoubtedly limited!
What Is An “Open” Trap Bar?
An open trap bar makes one simple design change to the traditional hex bar. It removes one side of the hexagon or trapezoid that gives the hex/trap bar its name.
Removing this section of the bar opens a world of possibilities! Some are more obvious than others.
While there are many more features on open trap bars than traditional ones, this single missing piece of metal makes all the difference.
5 Ways The Open Trap Bar is Better Than The Conventional Trap Bar
In addition to making extra bells and whistles more popular and useful, there are quite a few functional differences in what you can do with an open trap bar.
Here we’ll look at two groups of differences. First, we’ll look at added features that the open design makes possible. Then we’ll look at the exercises and movements possible with an open design that simply couldn’t be done with the original version of the trap bar.
Built-in Floor Jack
In my opinion, the single biggest problem with traditional trap bars is that they are darn near impossible to load and unload. It’s truly a miserable experience!
You have to lay the bar flat on the ground and then lift each end individually to load each plate. Since the bar is raised at an angle, plates usually don’t want to slide on or off easily. It’s such a pain that I’ve skipped many a trap bar workout simply because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of loading and unloading the bar!
Some companies, like Titan Fitness, came out with “EZ load hex bars” I used one for many years, and it was an okay solution.
But the built-in floor jack on open trap bars is the perfect solution. Modeled after the same idea as a “deadlift jack“, the built-in floor jack allows you to set the bar vertically easily.
This, in turn, raises the sleeves above the ground. The clearance provided allows you to slide plates on and off of the sleeves as easily as you can with a racked barbell!!!
This one feature makes open trap bars worth the investment.
You will use your bar more often by making it infinitely easier to use. I don’t care how much less a traditional trap bar costs. If you don’t use it, you’ve wasted your money!
Multiple Handle Options
One of the many benefits of a trap bar is that instead of grabbing a horizontal bar for lifts, you hold individual handles in a “neutral position.”
This means you grip the bar naturally without turning or twisting your hands. This is much healthier for your shoulders, wrists, and elbows.
Traditional trap bars typically had two handles welded in place, a “high” handle and a “low” handle. As you can imagine, one set of handles was higher than the others. This allows you to change the exercise’s impact and tailor the tool to match your abilities and body type.
With open trap bars (at least with the higher-quality ones), the handles are not welded on. Instead, they are attached with bolts. This allows you to change your handles to meet your body type and needs.
Companies like Rep Fitness offer multiple handle options (guide coming soon!) for your trap bar. Not only are different heights and diameter handles available, but different handle widths can be chosen based on your shoulder width.
This allows you to tailor this tool to fit you exactly. That simply can’t be done on a traditional hex bar!
Larger Diameter Bar Stock
Traditional hex bars are made from the same diameter bar stock all the way around. Open trap bars are often made from much larger diameter bar stock.
Doing this has several advantages, the first of which is durability and strength.
Most people can lift more weight with a trap bar than any other barbell type. This means that the bar must be robust and well-made. Larger diameter bar stock fits this need.
It also means you can grip the bar in other places besides the handles. You’ll see in the movements listed below just some ways this larger bar diameter comes into play.
A built-in floor jack works great when loading the bar at floor level, but what about for things like bench and overhead presses? These are movements that are very hard to do with traditional trap bars.
One common feature among open trap bars is that they are rackable. This means they are the same 84″ in length as a standard barbell. It also means there are specific segments on the sleeves made to rest in the J-cups of your rack.
By allowing the bar to be safely racked, you open up a vast array of exercises that simply couldn’t have been done with a traditional trap bar, even the rare rackable ones!
They Facilitate Many Movements Not Possible On Traditional Trap Bars
All of the above differences are nice, but it’s what they allow you to do with your bar that makes them important.
Deadlifts and farmer’s carries are the two main movements you can do with a traditional trap bar. Sure, there are some other exercises that you can force-feed, but they aren’t convenient.
You could also do a few accessory movements like shrugs and also some row variations.
By removing one section from the traditional trap bar, lots of things open up to you as you train with your bar. Here is a quick list of just some of the movements possible with an open trap bar that can’t be done (or can’t be done easily) with a traditional model.
- Overhead press
- Cambered overhead press
- Z press
- Bench press
- Cambered bench press
- Bent over rows
- Cambered squats
- Yoke walks
- Forward and reverse lunges
- Walking lunges
You can effectively train all six primary movement patterns with just this one implement and some plates! Make sure and check out our detailed guide to exercises you can do to train your full body with an open trap bar here! (resource coming soon!)
I’ve had a trap bar in my garage gym for years, but it sat there and collected dust for the most part. It was difficult to load and could only be used for a few things.
Replacing that conventional trap bar with an open-backed model is one of the best things I’ve done to upgrade my garage gym.
If starting from scratch, would you buy a straight barbell or an open trap bar first?
For me, I’d go with the trap bar. But either way works. I would go open trap bar because I prefer to deadlift with a trap bar. It’s easier on my back. I also love doing heavy carries; you can’t do that with a straight bar.
But those are my needs, not yours. Take a look at the training you want to do and make your decision that way.
What’s the best finish to buy for a trap bar?
At this point, you don’t really have a choice. Most companies make one version of their open trap bar. Typically, the sleeves will be hard chrome, and the bar itself will be either powder-coated or Cerakote.
A few manufacturers are offering other finishes, but beware. Those aesthetics fade quickly and leave your bar open to corrosion.
Can you use Fat Gripz instead of buying different handles?
Yes, you can! Fat Gripz are an almost essential home gym accessory.
Just ensure that you have the opening on top of the handles so that they don’t slip off as you pull.