The trap bar (aka hex bar) is one of the most versatile barbells you can own. It’s a bar I constantly recommend, often as the first and only barbell a person needs in their home gym. I wrote an in-depth article about the twelve reasons why that you can read here.
When I recommend a trap bar, I often get push back in a couple of ways. The first is from people who have never heard of a trap bar. They are entirely unfamiliar with its many uses and benefits (if this is you, make sure to check out my article here!).
The second is from people who have only seen the trap bar used for deadlifts. While this is a very common use, it’s not the only way you can use a trap bar. In fact, you can get a complete workout using only a hex bar and plates and nothing else! The number of trap bar exercises you can do is almost limitless!
What Makes A “Complete” Workout
A big mistake people make when training is getting attached to specific exercises. For example, quite a few people believe that the barbell back squat is the best and only real way to train the squat. If they find themselves at a gym without a squat rack, they are apt to skip leg day altogether.
This is why it’s critical that everyone training with weights understands that we are not out to train specific exercises. Instead, we need to focus on movement patterns (source).
When training our bodies with weights, we must place our attention on the human body’s six primary movement patterns. Those are the squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, and carry. With those six movements, you can effectively train your entire body. The cool thing about this approach is that you can use an almost endless number of exercises to train each of those patterns.
You are not locked into just one or two ways to train!
This knowledge becomes even more critical to those of us building and training in garage and basement gyms! That’s because it allows us to focus on buying versatile equipment.
Very few people have unlimited space and/or budget. That means we have to avoid one trick pony type of gear!
While there are many reasons I love the trap bar (12 of them, to be specific), versatility is number one on the list. People are often surprised when I tell them to start their gyms with a trap bar and plates instead of a standard barbell and rack.
Once I show them how to train all six movement patterns (and train them extremely effectively) with just a trap bar, that attitude changes. So, without further blabbering on my part, let’s get into exactly how to train all six movement patterns extremely effectively using just a trap bar!
What Type of Trap Bar Should You Train With?
A lot of people ask me which trap bar is the best. There are three basic types of trap bars on the market. You’ll need the most versatile of the three to train all six movement patterns, an open-back trap bar.
While they are a bit more expensive than a standard trap bar, they are exponentially better in almost every way. In my opinion, this will be the only type of trap bar being sold in the not too distant future. Yes, it’s that much better than the other types.
Almost every company out there is now making an open-back trap bar. I’ve tested 16 trap bars over the last few months, trying to narrow down which is the best. You can read my full review of the best trap bars here (link), or you could just head over to the Rep Fitness website and pick up their new open-back model.
Rep’s version of the open-back (aka a walk-through hex bar) trap bar came out ahead of all others by a good margin in my testing. There were some very good competitors, but this is the one that now lives in my garage. I use the Rep bar almost daily and love it every single time!
What Trap Bar Exercises Can You Do With an Open Trap Bar?
I mentioned the ability to train all six primary movement patterns with a trap bar. Every worthwhile strength training program address all six (squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, carry). An open-back trap bar can literally be your only barbell, and you won’t miss a beat!
Identifying the primary exercises you can do with a trap bar in each category is essential. As I mentioned, I firmly believe that many people don’t own a trap bar because they are unaware of how versatile it is. Below are multiple ways to train each movement pattern with a trap bar. The trap bar exercises are individually linked to YouTube videos showing how to do each movement.
Squat Pattern Training With an Open Trap Bar
The traditional barbell back and front squat are typically the first and only things most people think of when they hear the word “squat.” While these are both excellent exercises to train the squat pattern, they are often hard to do for most people.
Those two squat variations also require a power rack and safeties to be trained safely. The back squat, in particular, also places a lot of compressive force on your spine.
Training the squat pattern with a trap bar eliminates the difficulty, learning curve, and potential injury that can come from traditional barbell squats.
Both front and back barbell squats are amazing and safe exercises with proper form. The problem for most people training at home is getting to a place where they can train with that all-important proper form.
Here are just a few of the ways you can train the squat pattern with an open back trap bar.
- Cambered squat
- Zercher squat
- Split stance squat
- Bulgarian split squat
- Front foot elevated split squat
- Trap bar deadlift/squat (this is considered a “squatty” version of the deadlift and trains many of the same muscles and movements as a standard squat). This is also my favorite way to train both the squat and hinge pattern using my trap bar!
Hinge Pattern Training With An Open Trap Bar
Hinging is most often trained with the barbell deadlift or RDLs (Romanian deadlifts). These movements, like the squat, are high-skill movements. If performed with proper form, they are safe and highly effective.
Unfortunately, like the squat pattern, most people do not have proper (or safe) deadlift form. Developing adequate mobility and technique to safely barbell deadlift can take months or even years!
Using a trap bar presents a much shorter learning curve and a significant reduction in injury risk. That’s a powerful 1-2 combo when equipping your garage gym! Here are a few ways to train the hinging movement pattern with a trap bar.
- Trap bar deadlifts (you could do just these and cover both the squat and hinge movement pattern!)
- Romanian deadlifts (RDLs)
- Single leg RDLs
- Cambered good mornings
- Single leg deadlifts
- Stiff-legged deadlifts
Lunge Pattern Training With an Open Trap Bar
The lunge is one of the most overlooked movement patterns. One of the reasons for this is the difficulty people have doing them with a barbell on their back.
By placing the load lower, the trap bar makes it easier to balance and, therefore, easier to keep everything in safe alignment during this movement.
The trap bar also allows you to use much more weight than dumbbells. Here are a few ways to train the lunge pattern with an open trap bar.
- Walking lunges
- Forward lunges
- Reverse lunges
- Front or rear foot elevated lunges
- Zercher lunges
Push Pattern Training With an Open Trap Bar
Here is one area where I think it’s worthwhile to continue to bench press with dumbbells or a barbell. That said, in keeping with the idea that you could train with only a hex bar, there is still a lot you can do in the area of pushing.
In fact, I prefer overhead pressing with an open trap bar and think it’s fantastic for shoulder work! Here are a few ways you can use a hex bar to train the push movement pattern.
Pull Pattern Training With an Open Trap Bar
Rows are a crucial part of balanced strength training. In fact, you should be pulling 2-3 times more than you push! (Source)
That means there should also be 2-3 reps of horizontal pulling for every rep of horizontal pushing. That goes for vertical pushes too!
Fortunately, the open trap bar is an effective horizontal and vertical pulling tool. Here are a few ways to train the pulling movement pattern with a hex bar.
Carry Pattern Training With an Open Trap Bar
Carrying heavy loads demands full body tension and is extraordinarily taxing. Having loaded carries as part of your regular programming is critical to joint health and overall stability. It’s also one of the best core training tools around.
The key here is doing heavily loaded carries. Since most garage gyms don’t have 100+ lb dumbbells or kettlebells, it’s hard for many people to use a meaningful load. This is where the hex bar comes in. Here are some of the ways to train the carry pattern with an open-back hex bar.
Using an open-back trap bar has quickly become my favorite way to train this movement pattern!
Ready to go get after it with a trap bar? I don’t blame you. When I first started using one (only for deadlifts), I quickly fell in love with this implement. When I added one to my garage gym (the EZ load trap bar by Titan Fitness), I started using it almost every day I trained.
I’m all in now that Rep has entered their open-back trap bar to the mix. This trap bar is not only a daily driver for me; I use it as much and sometimes more than my standard barbell.
Is the Kabuki Strength Trap Bar HD worth the $700 price tag?
No! While Kabuki makes some excellent equipment, I don’t like this bar at all. The bar itself is square instead of round, which makes using for cambered movement impossible. This takes away a ton of versatility.
I also don’t like the knurling as it is far too aggressive for most garage gym lifters. It’s the same thing I don’t like about the Rep deep knurl power bar EX. If it hurts to use, you won’t end up using it!
Lastly, while it is technically “rackable,” you need to add clamps to the sleeves to do this and add weight safely. Something you don’t need to do with most rackable trap bars, including the Rep model (my top choice).
Are you saying to buy a trap bar and NOT to buy a barbell?
No! I’m saying that you could definitely get by with just a trap bar. This is a great way to go if you are on a budget. But that said, I still use my standard Olympic barbell all the time.
Whether or not you should get one, the other, or both depends on your training goals and your budget. No two people have the same needs, so it’s important to tailor your garage gym to you instead of simply stocking it with a bunch of gear you may or may not use!
The Rep open-back bar is too expensive for me. Do you have a lower-priced recommendation?
I’ve tested 16 different trap bars and every open-back model I could find. Most of the cheaper ones were, well, cheap. Every bar on Amazon that I tried was a complete disappointment.
The only lower-priced open trap bar I’d recommend is this one by Bells of Steel. It’s $100 less than the Rep model and made well. It’s got nice knurling, a built-in jack, and a quality finish.
That said, it’s missing many features and the comfort of the Rep bar. If you can hold off and save up that extra $100, it’s totally worth it!