A Better Way To Use The Trap Bar: Longitudinal Method

A Better Way To Use The Trap Bar With The Longitudinal Trap Bar Protocol

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

The trap bar is one of my favorite specialty bars for incorporating into various movements and exercises.  Recently I've been experimenting with some unique variations that I refer to as longitudinal trap bar movements and in many ways they have additional benefits over traditional trap bar exercises.  To perform these is quite simple.  Instead of using the standard handles, rotate your body 90 degrees and use the side bars for handles.  This protocol can be applied to a number of variations including various compound movements as well as bodyweight exercises.

While it may appear as though you simply forgot to read the instruction manual and got a bit discombobulated with the orientation of the trap bar, there are 5 reasons why longitudinal trap bar exercises are so effective.

1. It may be quite obvious but, longitudinal trap bar movements are exponentially more unstable than traditional variations.  That’s because the bar wants to twist, shake, and rotate in multiple directions.  For instance there is both mediolateral instability (the bar wants to rotate and rock from side to side), as well as anteroposterior instability (the bar wants to move and tilt from front to back).  In addition, the bar tends to oscillate with subtle yet frequent perturbations similar to oscillating kinetic energy (i.e. hanging band technique).  As a result the lifter is forced to dial in their body mechanics to another level and use perfect technique.  Any cheating, shifting, excessive momentum, or faulty mechanics will make the bar move in an uncontrollable fashion.  With that said, longitudinal trap bar variations are advanced movements and the lifter should have a high level of movement competency on standard lifts before attempting these.

2. Movements such as squats, rows, RDL’s, and presses provide immediate feedback about shoulder mechanics and glenohumeral joint positioning.  If the shoulders are anteriorly tilted and have significant internal rotation, the front end of the trap bar will tilt forward and down.  In contrast if the individual relies on excessive lumbar extension and over-arches their back, the back end of the trap bar will tilt backwards. To keep the trap bar level necessitates ideal shoulder mechanics as well as full body motor control.

3. Longitudinal trap bar movements are some of the best movements for correcting asymmetries and imbalances throughout the body.  If one side begins to press or pull even slightly more than the other, the bar will rotate and tilt in that direction making it feel nearly impossible to control.  In fact, I’ve recently been using these to expose subtle asymmetries in my clients that you normally would not be able to see with the naked eye as even the slightest asymmetry will show up as a large tilt and rotation (from left to right) in the trap bar.

4. Longitudinal trap bar movements tend to be easier on the shoulders for two reasons.  First and as previously mentioned the heightened instability requires the lifter to centrate and pack their shoulders into their ideal position.  Secondly, the hand/grip width is slightly narrower in comparison to traditional trap bar grip placement.  Most trap bar handles are approximately 26-27 inches apart.  However, the side bars are typically 23-24 inches apart.  Although it’s only a several inch difference this is significant particularly for upper body movements such as presses, rows, and pullups as the slightly closer position allows for a more natural and comfortable positioning of the glenohumeral joint as well as more natural scapulohumeral rhythm.  In fact several of my athletes and clients have mentioned that it’s much easier to tuck their elbows and fire their lats when performing these variations.

5.  Another benefit of longitudinal trap bar movements is the intense stimulation they provide to the grip, hands, and forearm muscles.  There’s two reasons for this.  First and foremost, because of the significantly greater instability and oscillations produced from holding the trap bar in a longitudinal fashion, the grip must work overtime to lock the bar into position and keep it from moving out of control.  Secondly, there’s no knurling on the side bars of the trap bar.  That means the lifter must squeeze and crush the daylights out of the handles to keep the bar from slipping out of their hands. 

Loaded Compound Movements with Longitudinal Trap Bar

The longitudinal trap bar protocol can be applied to a variety of your favorite barbell movements including deadlifts, squats, single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, lunges, RDL’s, loaded carries (farmers walks and overhead carries), chest press variations (flat, incline, and floor press), overhead presses, and more.  In addition, standard accommodating resistance in the form of chains and bands can also be applied to these to match the strength curve of your muscles and provide even more constant tension.  If you really want to test your motor control, balance, stability, and overall movement mechanics you can actually apply the hanging band protocol (HBT method) to the longitudinal trap bar movements as shown in the video with the overhead press.

On a side note, the lunge variations are some of the most effective variations for cleaning up lunge and split squat mechanics (read more about proper lunge form here).  That’ because it forces the lifter to hinge at the hips and keep the front knee pushed back.  Any anterior knee drift of the front knee or lack of hip hinge mechanics will make it literally impossible to perform these as the front knee will run into the handles of the trap bar.   Just be prepared for your glutes and posterior chain to be decimated since this may be the first time you've have actually performed a proper lunge unless you've already been incorporating optimal mechanics with ample hip hinge.

Lastly, all of the loading barbell variations are significantly more challenging than their traditional counterparts.  As a result I recommend beginning with half the load you typically use and work up to approximately 80% of your standard loading.

Bodyweight Movements with Longitudinal Trap Bar

Bodyweight movements on longitudinal trap bar variations provide the same benefits as previously described except for the anteroposterior instability.  However, this is more than made up for as the degree of mediolateral instability is quite extreme and even the slightest degree of asymmetrical loading (placing more weight on one side of the body) will cause the bar to rotate and twist.  In fact, many of the bodyweight variations are some of the most difficult variations of traditional bodyweight drills you’ll ever perform due to the required motor control and symmetry. 

In addition, the dip variation is the single most challenging dip exercise you’ll ever attempt as the level of balance, motor control, core tightness, and shoulder stability is exceptionally high.  Unless you perform dips with perfect mechanics including proper hip hinge, forward lean, and approximately 90 degree joint mechanics, these will be impossible (read more about proper dip form here).  Also big shoutout to my good buddy and fellow trainer Cedric Hiles (@teamcanfitness) for inspiring the dip variation.  Cedric is an awesome up-and-coming trainer and definitely worth following. 

In terms of variations of bodyweight drills the options are endless.  However a few of my favorites when employing the longitudinal trap bar protocol include pushups, inverted rows, dips, pullups, hanging leg raises, single leg pushups, single leg inverted rows, and more.   Lastly, if some of the bodyweight drills such as dips and pullups are too challenging and too unstable you can regress them by placing the bar on the rack hooks (where you would rack a barbell after a set of squats) instead of the safety pins.  Doing this it helps keep the trap bar more locked into position with less rotational forces involved.

Core Stabilization and Plank Variations

Here’s one of my NFL athletes Jerel Worthy demonstrating a core exercise that is exponentially more challenging than it looks, the single leg longitudinal trap bar plank.  When the longitudinal trap bar method is applied to single leg planks not only are you addressing anti-rotation and rotary stability but you’re also working on elements of symmetrical loading.  Simply put if you don’t place equal pressure on both arms, the trap bar will shift and wiggle. 

To ensure the trap bar maintains stable the lifter will be required to load both sides symmetrically which requires unbelievable focus, not to mention brutally high levels of core activation and motor control.  If you have an imbalance or misalignment in any area of your body this exercise will both expose and address it. 

As an added bonus it requires unbelievably high levels of foot and ankle stabilization and proper alignment as even the slightest deviation in the lower extremity will make it nearly impossible to stabilize the movement.  Furthermore you’ll feel your grip, forearms, and hands work overtime to lock the movement in as you’ll be required to squeeze the daylights out of the bar to keep it stable. 

Note on Trap Bar Models

Although any trap bar will work for a majority of these movements, heavier trap bars that are larger and have longer sleeves provide more room to maneuver and fit around various body shapes and sizes.  The ones in the videos are heavy duty trap bars with longer sleeves that weigh approximately 75 pounds each.  In addition, some individuals will need to shift the plates towards the end of the collars (such as during the chest press and lunge variations) to provide ample room for the plates to fit around the the body.