By Charles Poliquin
The deadlift is an excellent exercise for serious lifters and functional trainees alike. It works the glutes, hamstrings, quads, erector spinae, and trapezius muscle, and is great for everyday people who want to be lean and move without pain or injury. The deadlift also requires a decent amount of dynamic hip flexibility that can help support a full range of motion in the squat.
A recent study compared the kinematics or joint movements when performing a deadlift with a straight barbell versus a hexagonal bar (often called a trap bar). Participants were tested lifting a eight different loads (10, 20…70, 80 percent of the 1RM). Take note that the lifts were performed as fast as possible because researchers were testing power output in addition to kinematics. Subjects had to maintain deadlift form with straight elbows and no jumping.
Researchers found that the typical straight barbell deadlift maximally recruits the posterior chain, particularly the lower back muscles of the erector spinae and the glutes. In contrast the hexagonal deadlift more evenly distributes the load between the ankle, knee, and hip joints, with quads performing a larger percentage of the work. This makes it a great lift to be used during the late recovery stage from lower back injury as it evenly distributes the stress throughout the joints.
The hex bar allowed for significantly more power and faster lifting movements than the straight barbell. Results suggest that the hex bar deadlift can be used as an alternative to the squat to train weaknesses in the human strength curve because with the deadlift, it is possible to generate high muscular power without the need to significantly decelerate the load at the end of the lift. Of course, the deadlift is not nearly as fast a lift as the clean or snatch, but it can be trained with heavier loads. Plus, if the eccentric portion is included in the deadlift, a varied tempo allows for more programming variety and muscle adaptation.
This study highlights the critical nature of exercise selection with a focus on tempo and power output in regards to training goals. The hex bar is also a good choice for more novice lifters or de-conditioned individuals because it takes the focus off the lower back.
Swinton, P., Stewart, A., Agouris, I., Keogh, J., Lloyd, R. a Biomechanical Analysis of Straight and Hexagonal Barbell Deadlifts Using Submaximal Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. June 2011, Published Ahead of Print.