The Safest Way to Deadlift, Squat, Hinge, and Row
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Yeah, I know this seems like trap bar variation #734 but as always I’ll try to provide a rational explanation for why this latest trap bar insanity is so effective and useful. With that said if you’re looking for one of the most low back-friendly variations for performing squats, deadlifts, and bent over rows, while also allowing heavy overload, look no further than this hanging trap bar method. Simply flip the trap bar on its side, elevate yourself on two small boxes or benches placed on each side of the bar, hook a standard v-grip T-bar attachment on the center of the bar, then perform deadlifts, squats, bent over rows, and RDL’s. Also big shoutout to my client Leslie Petch for the v-grip attachment idea as it definitely makes the grip feel much more natural.
The premise for this method is quite simple. Most variations of heavy deadlifts, squats, and bent over rows, particularly with a barbell involve the load being placed either slightly in front of the center of mass (i.e. deadlifts and barbell rows) or high above it (barbell back squats). As a result this can place unusually high levels of stress on the low back and spine not to mention making it difficult to truly overload the targeted musculature without the low back giving out. The hanging trap bar method resolves this as the load is placed directly under the center of mass rather than in front or excessively above it.
Also while the v-grip attachment does make the grip component feel much more natural, if you don't have a v-grip handle you can still perform these by placing one hand in front of the other. However the bar does have a slight tendency to twist.
Hanging Trap Deadlifts and Squats
There are several reasons why performing deadlifts and squats with the hanging trap bar protocol are so effective.
1. As previously mentioned when performing hanging trap bar variations of deadlifts and squats, the load is placed much closer to the center of mass making it exponentially easier on the spine. This movement actually feels quite similar to both a kettlebell squat (holding the kettlebell between the legs), a belt squat, or landmine squat. However, the key difference is that the hanging trap bar variation allows exceptionally heavy loads to be used while the other variations do not.
2. The hanging trap bar protocol improves both the squat and deadlift. Essentially the squat and deadlift variations using the hanging trap bar method are almost identical. The main difference is that for the deadlift the lifter places the load back to the floor each rep (i.e. dead stop method) as I show in the first part of the video. In contrast during the squat variation as demonstrated by my awesome client Ben Lai, the lifter maintains constant tension throughout (with the eccentric isometric protocol) by never allowing the load to settle back to the floor. Both methods are incredibly useful with the dead stop version having better carryover to deadlifts and the constant tension variation having better transfer to squats. However, the differences are quite minor as both will help the squat and deadlift significantly.
3. Due to the load being placed right under the center of mass (similar to a belt squat), the hanging trap bar method involves more direct loading to legs and hips, as its easier to sit back. In essence it doesn’t feel as though the weight is pulling the lifter over (a common issue on barbell deadlift and squats). This not only taxes the quads, glutes, and hamstrings more thoroughly but it also reduces stress to the knees, and low back.
4. The hanging trap bar variation also prevents shoulder rounding and promotes intense lat activation due to the arms moving directly under the center of mass rather than in front. Don’t be surprised if you feel your lats, upper back, and traps get lit up from these.
5. The hanging trap bar method provides a similar loading mechanism as traditional trap bar deadlifts as the weight is placed much closer to the center of mass rather than in front. However, many individuals are more efficient using a traditional squat stance width when performing lower body movements as the close stance position used during standard trap bar deadlifts can often cause individuals to feel overly constricted, cloistered, rigid and tight. Allowing the individual to spread their feet approximately 18-24 inches apart (something that cannot be done with traditional trap bar deadlifts) provides more room for the hips to spread and the butt to drop thereby ingraining more natural squatting mechanics. Simply put, the hanging trap bar protocol represents one, if not the only method there is for employing a natural squat stance position while also providing a method for allowing inordinately heavy loading directly under/in-line with the center of mass.
6. When performing hanging trap bar squats and deadlifts, it’s difficult to fully lock out at the top as the hands tend to get in the way of the torso during the last 10-20 degrees of the movement. While this may seem like a drawback it actually provides a greater constant tension stimulus thereby promoting more increased functional hypertrophy via enhanced metabolic stress and mechanical tension to the targeted musculature. In other words they’re is no resting, release of tension, or relaxation at the top.
7. The hanging trap bar deadlift and squat protocol minimizes the all-too-common free fall method typically witnessed with deadlifts. Allowing the weight to simply free fall during deadlifts minimizes the eccentric stimulus. However, this eccentric overload is incredibly effective for inducing functional strength and hypertrophy gains. With the hanging trap bar method, the load is in a semi-volatile position as it can easily topple over to one side or the other unless the lifter remains in perfect control throughout. Simply put, if you allow the weight to completely free fall during the eccentric phase you’ll likely lose control of the trap bar as it will tip to its side. In essence the lifter is required to use a semi-controlled negative thereby promoting improved body mechanics as well as eccentric-induced strength and hypertrophy.
Bent Over Row: Hanging Trap Bar T-Bar Row
The bent over row performed with the hanging trap bar protocol is one of the most natural and safest bent over rowing variations you’ll ever perform. Much of this is because again the load is placed directly under the center of mass rather than in front of it as would be the case with a bent over barbell row.
And while it may look similar to a standard T-bar row, allow me to explain why in fact this is far superior to a traditional T-bar row.
The biggest reason why the hanging trap bar row is superior to the landmine T-bar row is based primarily on body positioning in relation to the load. Here’s what I mean.
The single most common issue lifters have when performing T-bar rows is knowing exactly how far or how close in proximity to their body and torso they should position their their hands on the bar. That’s because the landmine station is not free to move in the anterior or posterior direction but can only move up and down and side to side. For instance, if a lifter begins a set of rows and discovers while in the middle of his or her set that he or she is standing too far away or too close to the handle, they’ll be forced to resort to one of two options;
1) They can simply move their feet up or back while holding the heavy load which can place undue stress on the spine and hips not to mention the shoulders.
2) They can set the weight back down to the floor and adjust their feet and/or slide the handle bar to a different position on the bar.
In other words once the set starts the lifter has little if any control over the anteroposterior bar path as they simply can’t move their hands or arms more anteriorly or posteriorly in the middle of the set to adjust their mechanics for ideal bent over row positioning. And yes there is a perfectly ideal slot position the arms should move through relative to torso position during rows. If the arms are too far in front of the torso, this will place undue strain on the low back and also make it very difficult to depress the shoulders and activate the lats. In contrast, if the arms are too close to the lifter's torso this can crowd the shoulders, and cause the shoulder joint to move into internal rotation which can place undue stress on the glenohumeral joint and rotator cuff.
Additionally, the angled nature of the landmine station can make it a bit tricky to find the ideal hip hinge mechanics necessary for performing proper bent over rowing technique. This can cause further degradation to optimal rowing mechanics, shoulder positioning, and spinal alignment.
So what’s the solution to this debacle when performing T-bar rows? Simply use the hanging trap bar rowing method as it allows the lifter to move the bar in exactly the right path in terms of anteroposterior placement. This is primarily because neither end is anchored to a fixed point but instead the bar is free to move in response to the lifters preferred bar path. In other words the lifter has complete control of the path the arms and hands follow throughout the duration of the lift.
The hanging trap bar row also provides greater range of motion than most T-bar rowing variations. That’s because during most T-bar rows, the angled nature of the landmine station combined with the more upright-cheating torso position employed by various lifters significantly reduces the optimal range of motion making the movement resemble more of a spastic shrug than a row. The hanging trap bar variation on the other hand allows greater range of motion due to the elimination of the angular bar path.
Lastly, the hanging trap bar T-bar row resolves any issue lifters commonly struggle with in terms of the large plates running into their torso during traditional T-bar rows. That’s because the weight plates are not only placed much lower in relation to the torso but they’re placed slightly in front of and in back of the body rather than directly under it (a result of simply loading the plates onto the trap bar).
Just be prepared for a ridiculous amount of tension build up in the lats and upper back when performing these. Furthermore you may find you can handle heavier loading on this bent over rowing variation than most bent over rows due to the very natural and joint friendly nature of the movement.
RDL’s and Hip Hinges
Performing RDL’s and hip hinges with the hanging trap bar protocol as demonstrated by my awesome client Leslie Petch is an incredibly safe and effective way to crush the entire posterior chain while also taking stress off the low back.
Similar to the squat, the fact that the load is placed directly under the center of mass rather than directly in front, makes it conducive for overloading while also minimizing risk to the spine. In fact, this feels very similar to performing kettlebell RDL’s and kettlebell hinges.
The key difference is that you’re typically limited to relatively light loads with kettlebells as most gyms don’t have kettlebells that go past 100 pounds. In contrast you can load the trap bar with inordinately heavy weights which is something that can’t be replicated with any other loading instrument particularly when using a position that allows the load to hang directly under the center of mass. Try performing several sets of 4-8 reps during your next lower body workout. Just be prepared for a serious burn and soreness in your glutes and hamstrings followed by some serious growth soon thereafter.
This same protocol can also be used with a traditional barbell by implementing the longitudinal hanging barbell protocol with squats, deadlifts, hinges, and rows.
Here's me and my awesome client Leslie Petch showing how it's done as I demonstrate the deadlift protocol and she demonstrates the eccentric isometric squat. These variations provide their own unique attributes and additional benefits. Stay tuned for next week's blog post to find out more about this method.
To learn more about programming hanging trap bar squats, deadlifts, rows, and hinges into into your training routine check out my Complete Templates.