Use Accommodating Resistance On Trap Bar Deadlifts
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
The trap bar is one of the most natural and safe deadlift variations there is. However, like any other free weight exercise, trap bar deadlifts still have a very unique sticking point typically towards the bottom third of the movement. After the first half of the deadlift, the weight tends to move relatively quickly. That’s because the lifter is typically at their weakest position in the bottom and at their strongest at the top due to the strength curve of our muscles. Unfortunately the strength curve of most free weight movements including trap bar deadlifts are the reverse of how our muscles function. However, by employing accommodating resistance in the form of bands and chains we can deload this weaker bottom position and overload the stronger top position.
Besides allowing us to overload the movement while reducing stress on the spine, using accommodating resistance on trap bar deadlifts represents one of the most potent techniques I’ve seen for stimulating insane levels of functional strength and size throughout the entire body. That’s because the trap bar deadlift already happens to be very conducive for overloading with heavier weights. Adding accomodating resistance allows the lifter to significantly overload the top half of the movement without having to substantially reduce the load at the bottom.
As a result, not only do the legs get hammered but the upper back, traps, forearms, and shoulders get absolutely crushed with inordinately heavy loads that are sure to spark newfound levels of myofibrillar hypertrophy and superhuman strength. Another way to think of this is that the bottom half of the deadlift will involve similar weight to what you would normally handle for standard trap bar deadlifts yet the top will incorporate loads you would handle if you were performing rack pulls with the trap bar. As a result it’s a win-win for both your upper and lower body.
Although the same concept can be theoretically applied to normal barbell deadlifts the practical application doesn’t always carryover as seamlessly. That’s because it’s not uncommon for lifters to hit a wall towards the top of the deadlift where they’re unable to lock the movement out. The lifter won't run into this issue with the trap bar because the weight is loaded to the sides of the body and next to the center of gravity instead of to the front as in standard barbell deadlifts.
Band Resisted Trap Bar Deadlifts
Here’s one of my NFL athletes Lawrence Virgil showing how it’s done with band resistance.
There are two options for applying band resistance to the trap bar. One is with the setup shown here using the bottom pins on a power rack and anchoring the bands across the trap bar. The other is simply standing on the bands and anchoring each side across the top handles.
Trap Bar Deadlifts With Chains
Chains can also be applied to the trap bar similar to any other lift. However, many trap bars don’t provide enough room to amply overload the movement with multiple plates and several sets of chains particularly for stronger lifters. That being said I often incorporate chains into trap bar deadlifts on dynamic speed and power days as the added resistance of the chains forces the lifter to accelerate through the top of the movement rather than inadvertently decelerating at the top. Here’s one of my awesome clients Matt Jordan showing how it’s done.
This is also a very effective method for improving jump performance as the trap bar position is very similar to an athletic jumping maneuver. Practicing high speed deadlifts with aggressive acceleration does wonders for increasing both vertical jump and broad jump performance.
As an added bonus, high speed trap bar deadlifts with accommodating resistance provide an efficient way to work on power output and movement mechanics while still overloading the upper body musculature at the top of the exercise. If you’re in a need of a lower body stimulus that deloads the musculature of the legs, taxes the upper torso, and improves neuromuscular efficiency, this is it.
If you use the accommodating resistance protocol for heavy-overload trap bar deadlifts I recommend using several sets of 4-8 reps. However, for speed and power days I suggest using 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps and focusing on maximizing power output and speed of movement.
Additional Notes on Accommodating Resistance
When discussing strength curves this simply describes how much force the muscles are able to produce (i.e. the amount of load they can handle) at different angles throughout a movement. During most larger compound movements such as squats and presses our muscles operate and function under a specific strength curve known as the ascending strength curve where the muscles can produce the greatest force output and handle the greatest loads as the joint is more extended or closer to the contracted position (top of the squat or bench press). Unfortunately when you look at the actual strength/resistance curve of the load placed against the body and joints (in terms of resistance), most larger compound movements operate under a descending strength curve where the movement is hardest in the bottom position (where we are typically weaker) and easiest in the top position (where we are typically stronger).
In essence the resistance curve of the load/weight is opposite or reverse of the strength curve of the muscles during those particular exercises. In fact this is why variable resistance machines (all the weight machines we see in the gym) were initially developed back in the 70’s by Nautilus as Arthur Jones, the creator of Nautilus equipment, was a big proponent of matching the strength curve of the weight to that of our muscles. It’s also one of the main reasons powerlifters apply chains and bands to barbell movements (not to mention the fact that it helps with power training and acceleration). Here's a great article on accommodating resistance and strength curves.
Note on Trap Bar Type
Although there are a number of trap bars on the market, the ones I use in my facility and those shown in the videos are made by CAP. These are my go-to trap bars as the bars are much heavier duty (75 pounds) and also allow for more weight to be loaded on the bar due to longer sleeves. Here's the link for the CAP Mega Hex Bar