One piece of Gym Equipment for Faster Gains
If like Robert Hicks the Digital Editor of Men's Health or Mail Online journalist Sara Malm, you are actively engaging with our Lean Gains Bodybuilding programme, you are looking to develop and build muscle. So you're probably already doing most of the key exercises when you hit the gym.
You squat. You deadlift. You bench press. You overhead press. These exercises form the cornerstones of any successful muscle building programme, so keep up the good work.
However, if all of your work in the gym is done with a conventional straight barbell and dumbbells, you're missing out on some serious potential gains. There is one key piece of equipment that, when utilised correctly, can be your secret tool for getting stronger faster than ever before.
Before you go wandering into the machines section, know that this isn't a fancy new state of the art piece of equipment that needs a week's training course before you understand how to use it. It's an old school, badass piece of equipment that's been used since the early days of bodybuilding - yet now, most of us walk past it without giving it so much as a second glance.
See that strange looking, hexagonal bar gathering dust in the corner of the gym? Better known as a trap bar or a hex bar, it's time to introduce yourself, as this piece of equipment is going to become your new best friend.
Using a trap bar
The best thing about using a trap bar is the unique ranges of motion that it provides. Unlike conventional barbell lifts that can be very taxing on the joints, trap bars are much safer and more suitable for anyone with joint pain or impaired range of motion. Even if you don't fall into this category, the lack of joint stress means that you can perform trap bar movements more frequently, and as you know, higher frequency will translate into faster gains.
The wide grip of the trap bar is also excellent for recruiting muscles that are often found lacking on most physiques, such as the traps and the rear delts. If you're looking for a wider, more imposing physique, a trap bar is a must use piece of equipment.
Does this mean you should only use a trap bar? Absolutely not. As with anything, variety is the spice of life, so it's important to integrate trap bar movements with conventional barbell lifts for best results.
That said, here are three trap bar movements to add to your programme today for faster gains, a better physique and greater all-round strength.
#1 - Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift is the perfect hybrid of a conventional barbell deadlift and a squat - without the risks associated with either.
As a result, you can add trap bar deadlifts into your programme up to three times per week, to provide maximal muscle building stimulus without beating up your joints or frazzling your CNS.
To perform a trap bar deadlift, step inside the bar with the weight plates on either side. Sit back into a squat position, knees facing slightly out, hips parallel, bracing your abs. Grab the bar handles tight and drive upwards, keeping your heels locked to the floor and squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement. Lower the bar back down to the floor with control. That's one rep. Repeat for anywhere in the 6 - 12 range, maintaining maximal tension as you do so.
Trap bar deadlifts target the quads, hamstrings, glutes and posterior chain without the risk of rounding the lower back as with a conventional barbell squat or deadlift. What's more, they also recruit the forearms, traps, rear delts and upper back to make these a serious all-round physique builder.
Trap bar deadlifts also allow you to add some serious weight to the bar, so don't be surprised if this is your strongest movement. In fact, after a few weeks of trap bar deadlifting you should be able to comfortably clear your max straight bar deadlift. As an added bonus, the trap bar deadlift is a nice ego boost as well.
#2 - Trap Bar Farmers Walks
Farmer's walks are often referred to as a 'walking deadlift,' targeting the same muscle groups but with greater time under tension. This helps to activate the slow twitch muscle fibres, which often get neglected with typical training for reps.
Farmer's walks can be performed with dumbbells, but the distribution of the weight means that the forearms usually tire first, preventing this exercise from being an efficient muscle builder for the legs, glutes and posterior chain. The shape of a trap bar helps to distribute this weight evenly, allowing the exercise to be performed for longer durations and under greater tension.
To perform your farmers' walk, step inside a trap bar that has been loaded with just over half the weight of your max trap bar deadlift. In exactly the same way that you would perform a trap bar deadlift, lift the bar so that you are standing up straight with your arms by your sides. Now, walk forward and keep walking for a distance of up to 100 yards. Put the bar down with control, rest for 20 - 30 seconds, then repeat. Farmers walks can be performed on their own with low rest periods, or used as part of a circuit with other strongman exercises such as tyre flips and sled drags.
You can also modify this exercise to recruit different muscle groups more effectively. For greater focus on your traps, bend your elbows slightly so that the bar is in a mid-shrug position. To target your calves, step up onto your toes as you walk and use your calves to drive your force, rather than walking flat footed.
#3 - Trap Bar Overhead Press
The third and final way in which you should use a trap bar is to perform a modified overhead press. Most people who use the trap bar do so exclusively for lower body benefits - but by doing so, they're missing out on one of the best upper body pressing movements around.
The trap bar overhead press recruits the triceps and rear delts more effectively than a standard military press, providing greater power output to allow you to rack more weight on that bar.
What's more, the trap bar overhead press is also less stressful on the wrists and elbows, meaning you can perform it multiple times per week without beating yourself up.
To perform the trap bar overhead press, lift the bar over your head with your elbows bent so that your head and neck are inside the hexagon. Your hands should be lower than your ears as you hold the bar. Now, drive the bar up, keeping your feet corkscrewed into the floor and your glutes tight, until your elbows lock at the top. Lower back to the starting position to complete your rep. Repeat for 6 - 8 reps.
The trap bar could be the one piece of equipment to really take your results to the next level. Dust it off next time you hit the gym - you'll thank us later!