Trap Bar Pushups for Size, Strength, and Joint Health

Trap Bar Pushups for Strength, Size, Performance, and Joint Health

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Looking for a pushup variation that’s intense and joint friendly yet highly conducive for mastering pushup mechanics?  Try this anti-rolling pushup on the trap bar as demonstrated by my awesome client Matt Jordan.  Also notice how Matt supersets the pushups with a single leg plank on the trap bar once his muscles fatigue.  This is a great way to extend the set and crush the core and upper body simultaneously.

Several months ago I wrote an article about the benefits of performing anti-rolling pushups with a traditional barbell.  This version is even more challenging and provides additional benefits.  Also, big shout out to Vince McConnell who’s performed similar variations of these.  Check out his page for more variations of trap bar pushups and definitely follow Vince as he’s one of the best in the industry.

There are 5 reasons why the trap bar pushup is so effective.

1. The lifter can employ a neutral grip on pushups (similar to pushup handles) rather than a pronated or overhand grip.   The neutral grip is more conducive for centrating the glenohumeral joint and packing the shoulders into their optimal position as it’s much easier to externally rotate the shoulders on the eccentric phase.

2. The trap bar provides a significantly wider grip position than most lifters would instinctively employ for performing pushups.  Although a wider hand position stresses the pectorals to a greater degree than moderate or closer hand placements, wider hand positions tend to be somewhat stressful on the shoulders.  Fortunately when employed with the neutral grip, the wide hand placement maintains a shoulder friendly position for the lifter, eliminating the common pitfalls associated with wide grip horizontal pressing movements and wide-grip pushups, all while maximizing pectoral stimulation.  In other words it’s a win-win.

3. Similar to the barbell variation the anti-rolling trap bar pushup eliminates the sagging hip syndrome (a common problem with pushup form) as it reinforces a tall hip and hollowed core position.  If you’re hips sag or drop or you lose core tightness the trap bar will immediately begin to roll away from you.  In other words you’re required to resist extension forces as even the slightest lapse in core activation will result in extension particularly in the lumbar region. 

4. Another feature that makes the anti-rolling barbell pushup so effective is that the extension forces produced by the barbell attempting to rollout away from you are not only acting on the core musculature but also acting directly on the scapula, lats, and shoulder stabilizers.  If you don’t fully depress and retract your shoulder blades by aggressively firing your lats, the trap bar will literally pull out and away from you leaving you plastered to the floor.  In other words you’re resisting overhead shoulder flexion.  

5. Besides having to resist rolling forces, the trap bar is very unstable and wants to rotate and twist throughout the movement.  Not only does this force the lifter to perfectly dial in their body mechanics and pushup form but the tension produced in the chest, shoulders, and triceps is incredibly high making it very effective for stimulating functional strength and hypertrophy.  If you use excessive momentum, cheat, shift, press asymmetrically or lose even the slightest degree of tightness, the trap bar will begin to move and tilt uncontrollably in a very unpredictable fashion, often times with one side shifting more than the other.  As a result this also makes the trap bar pushup very effective as a means of eliminating asymmetries and imbalances.

Training Protocols

I recommend performing several sets of 5-8 reps with this movement and performing single leg planks on the last set to finish off the core and upper body.  In addition, super-setting these with bent over trap bar rows or inverted rows on the trap bar makes for an ideal pairing as the similarities of the rows in comparison to the pushups helps dial in the reciprocal muscle groups. This not only maximizes postural positioning and body mechanics but it allows for greater overload on the pushups. 

On a side note, to make the movement even more difficult try using small metal plates on a slick surface as shown in the video as it magnifies the anti-rolling effect.