Last updated on May 18th, 2022 at 03:49 pm
It’s easy to get carried away when equipping your home gym. A quiet hour alone with your credit card on the internet can often result in quite a few purchases you don’t actually need. For me this is especially true when it comes to training gear!
A quick study of home gym blogs and You Tube channels shows the end result of these types of shopping sprees. Walls full of barbells, unused equipment stacked in the corners, and a good number of things listed on Ebay selling for far less than was paid for them.
So it makes sense that when you come across things like a hex bar, you might ask yourself, “is it worth the money?”. Considering the size and cost, this is a great question. And like most questions, the answer will depend largely on you and your specific needs.
Why I Discovered the Trap Bar / Hex Bar
The first time I ever heard of a trap bar was on line. I’d never seen one in a commercial gym. It was something I came across on a training blog when I was researching lifting with a bad back. I had been happily training for quite some time and then injury struck.
I hurt my back (outside the gym, not while I was training) and couldn’t deadlift without serious pain. I also couldn’t squat. I wasn’t great at either movement to start with (that might have been part of the problem), but they were key parts of my programming at the time. They still are.
At first I just did without. I did leg presses. I did single leg dumbbell RDLs. I made do, but I missed those lifts. My results in the gym missed them too. Not only was I enjoying my workouts less, but I wasn’t making the progress I had been either!
So, as with most problems in life these days, I consulted the great and powerful Google. Specifically, “how to squat and deadlift with a sore back?” was the question I entered. After combing through the usual internet type answers, I came across several people recommending the use of something they called a “hex bar”.
What is a Hex Bar / Trap Bar?
If you’ve never seen or heard of a trap/hex bar before, it’s like no other barbell you might have come across. Imagine a straight barbell. Then, instead of a single shaft between the sleeves, replace that with an open center area that has two handles welded to it.
This center section, which is hexagonal or trapezoidal in shape is what give the bar its name. “Hex” short for hexagon and “trap” short for trapezoid. There are a few different varieties, but all of them have this basic design element in common. For ease of reference, I’ll simply call it a hex bar for the rest of this article.
The open center section allows the lifter to stand inside the bar, placing the weights directly on either side of their body. Since the weights are centered on the lifter’s body, there is no forward or rearward shear force on the spine. Everything is loaded evenly front to back.
This even and much safer loading function is the main reason a hex bar is so useful in home gym applications.
Benefits of the Hex Bar
There are two particular ways the unique design of a hex bar can benefit you.
First, it allows squats and deadlifts to be much safer and easier on your back. With the weights centered on your body, not out in front or behind, the load is carried more stably by your body. You can squat straight down and stand straight up. No unnecessary bending under load. No compensation for the location of the weight is needed!
Second, it allows you to safely and easily pick up and carry a very heavy load. The hex bar is ideally suited for one of my favorite whole body exercises, the farmer’s walk.
Using a hex bar turned out to be one of the best things I’d done in a gym. I asked the gym I was using at the time if they would buy one and they actually did! I started light and worked with the hex bar for quite some time. Incorporating the hex bar into my programming is the single biggest reason I can still squat and deadlift with a straight bar!
I currently use a trap bar for a variety of things when working out. It’s become a staple in my weight training life even though I no longer use it for heavy deadlifting. I use it to warm up for both squats and deadlifts. Then I move on to those movements with a straight bar.
I also use it when I don’t have time to do both squats and deadlifts. It’s a really nice hybrid of both movements. It’s a great way to mix up your training and add in a movement pattern you simply can’t duplicate with a straight bar using a load you typically can’t duplicate with dumbbells!
And of course my absolute favorite use for the hex bar is still heavy farmer’s walks. If you aren’t doing heavy loaded carries as part of your training routine, you are missing out! If you are, there really isn’t a better way to do them than with a hex bar.
Hex Bar Variations
There are couple of variations to the trap bars you’ll find on the market and I think they can make a big difference in the overall usability of the bar. Which one you buy will be determined by both your budget as well as how versatile and easy to use you want the bar to be.
Traditional Flat Hex Bar
This is the most basic version of the hex bar. Nothing fancy here. Everything is located on one plane so that when the bar is not carrying a load, it lies flat on the ground.
The benefit of this type of hex bar (at the time I bought it) is that it was the lowest priced option. It wasn’t the design I wanted, but at the time it’s what I could afford. This was the first type of hex bar I ever purchased and I used it for quite some time before upgrading.
You can see the Body Solid hex bar I’m referring to by clicking here to see it over on Amazon.
The hex bar has grown in popularity since I first purchased one. With that popularity comes lower prices and more options. The next type of hex bar is a worthy upgrade to that old flat one I used to have.
Raised Handle Hex Bar
A very simple upgrade to that old flat version was to attached raised handles to it. It might seem like a small change, but it makes a big difference!!!
By raising the handles above the center mass of the weights, the bar becomes much more stable. The weight shifts a lot less and I feel that this design makes the bar much safer.
The raised handles also make the bar easier to pick up and load. This might seem trivial, but if you’ve ever loaded one of those old flat versions, you know it’s not. Picking the bar up to load it is a lot more comfortable with the raised handles.
Lastly, and at 6′ 6″ tall I really appreciate this one, the raised handles mean you don’t have to bend down quite so low when deadlifting or picking up the loaded bar to walk with it. Here again a seemingly subtle difference nets huge improvements in real life use!
If I was to buy this type of hex bar for my current gym, I would look no further than the Titan Fitness model. It’s reasonably priced and well built. Check the Titan site directly when buying their gear as they are almost always having a sale of some type!!!
The Best Hex Bar
With time comes innovation. The hex bar has been no exception. In the last year or so a new version of the hex bar has been released that I think brings it pretty close to perfect!
This new version adds several key changes. First are feet underneath it combined with raised sleeves. This means the bar can be loaded with plates without needing to lift it off the ground. It’s the equivalent of loading a racked barbell.
This design change makes the bar much more usable and a lot less of a pain in the butt to load. I literally didn’t pull out the hex bar in some gym sessions purely because they are a chore to load and unload. That problem is eliminated with this new design.
Also, in place of a single raised handle, there are 3 on each side. Each handle has a varying diameter. When you use your hex bar for farmer’s carries, this is huge! A key component of loaded carries is grip strength. Having three handle diameters to work with allows you to directly focus on your grip.
Using this type of bar will better work your forearms as well. Larger grips will have this direct benefit. They will also make things a little easier on your elbows. For those with nagging elbow pain, you will really appreciate this difference.
This new design does come at a higher price, but I think it’s worth it. I own and use this one that Titan makes pretty much every day that I train!
Consider the Size
One final note on the hex bar…
It’s big!!! It takes up a lot of space. Both to use and to store. And that’s why I haven’t added a new one to my current garage set up. I simply don’t have the room.
If I did, it would be the Valor model noted above. But since I don’t, I went a slightly different route and picked up the Fringe Sport mini farmer’s walk handles. They aren’t quite the same, but for the size I absolutely love them!
If space is at a premium, definitely check those out as an alternative!
If not, get yourself a hex bar today. You won’t be sorry you did!