One of the most popular uses of axle bars is doing a deadlift. Find out what changes and whether you should do the axle bar version.
The first important thing to note is that you want to make the distinction between axle deadlifts with and without lifting straps.
Axle bar deadlifts will still offer the other benefits too but grip strength is typically the limiting factor. In turn, this exercise variation can be a good way to train grip strength.
You can also do axle deadlifts with lifting straps to avoid grip strength being the thing stopping you.
In that version, you focus slightly more on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles than in the barbell version because the thicker bar is slightly more in front of you.
Additionally, axle bars bend a lot less than barbells. This increases your range of motion under tension and can in turn lead to more muscle growth and strength progress with lighter weights.
Lastly, the lack of rotating weight plate sleeves also changes the feel of the deadlift and makes the movement again a bit harder for grip strength.
All these differences are not necessarily good or bad for everyone. Whether you should do axle bar deadlifts depend on details like your training goals.
How to do an axle bar deadlift
As you can expect, you need a good axle bar and weight plates, preferably bumper plates, to do this movement. If you want to do the axle bar deadlift with lifting straps you also need these.
Take the following steps to do an axle bar deadlift without lifting straps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted axle bar.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the axle bar on the ground. Your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Stretch your legs and tilt your upper body back until you stand up straight. Keep your spine more or less straight during this continuous motion.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 by first tilting your upper body forward (with a straight back) and then folding your knees.
Keep in mind that axle bar deadlifts will be harder than regular barbell deadlifts. You will have to load the bar with fewer weight plates than usual.
Even if you take the lower axle bar weights into account.
The exact axle deadlift to deadlift ratio will vary a lot from individual to individual due to things like different grips, lifting straps, different muscle strength ratios, different bone lengths, etc.
Some people can lift 65% of their usual deadlift with a double overhanded grip on the axle bar without straps. Others can lift 95% and even 100% by using straps and a mixed grip.
Something else to note is that axle bars typically do not have knurling or visual queues.
To make sure you are holding the bar in the optimal places, you can add something yourself like for example a piece of athletic tape in the middle.
The axle bar is not really used to achieve 1RM deadlift records but you can still increase the extra weight you use as you get stronger to keep the exercise challenging enough.
Axle bar deadlift muscles worked
Whether or not you use lifting straps in an axle bar deadlift influences what muscles you work to what extent a lot. It is important to make this distinction.
The axle bar deadlift with lifting straps will mainly work your glute, hamstring, lower back, quadricep, and calf muscles.
On the other hand, the version without straps will mainly work your forearm grip muscles.
Axle bar deadlifts with lifting straps
Similar to the barbell version, axle bar deadlifts will still mainly work your glute, hamstring, lower back, quadricep, and calf muscles. That being said, the ratio in which you work these muscles is a bit different.
The diameter of axle bars is typically around 2″ to 3″ (5.08 cm to 7.62 cm). This is thicker than regular barbells which generally have a diameter of 1.1″ (27.94 cm).
Because of this, the weight is slightly more in front of you when doing an axle bar deadlift.
This leads to just a bit more focus on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, and slightly less focus on your quadriceps compared to regular barbell deadlifts.
Something else to note is that axle bars bend a lot less. This makes it so your muscles have to start working at a lower height.
In turn, this leads to a bigger range of motion under tension. This is typically beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress compared to a smaller range of motion with the same weight.
Lastly, because of the lack of markings on most axle bars, you may hold the bar at uneven distances. In an uneven deadlift like this, you would engage core muscles like your obliques, lower back muscles, and abs more.
Axle bar deadlifts without straps
The things above still apply to the muscles you work with axle bar deadlifts without lifting straps but another factor becomes the limiting factor.
To grow and strengthen the strong leg muscles you have to pressure them with enough resistance and repetitions.
However, holding thicker objects like an axle bar is more challenging for your forearm grip muscles than a thinner barbell.
On top of that, axle bars don’t have rotating weight plate sleeves. This will again make the deadlifts harder for your grip.
In short, your forearm grip muscles will likely give up before you come close to challenging the other muscles in the axle bar deadlift enough to see progress.
This makes axle bar deadlifts without lifting straps an exercise that mainly works forearm grip muscles like the flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profundus, and the flexor pollicis longus.
Principles for both variations
In both axle bar deadlift variations, the main principles of strength training apply, just to different muscles.
That means you will have to increase the weight you use in axle bar deadlifts as you become stronger to keep seeing a lot of results.
Additionally, you want to give these muscles enough rest and nutrients. This way, your body can repair and grow your muscles.
Benefits of axle bar deadlifts
At first sight, using a thicker bar may not seem that important. However, doing axle bar deadlifts can definitely offer benefits. A few of these are:
- Can improve grip strength: Doing axle bar deadlifts without lifting straps is a good way to improve grip strength. This can make certain daily activities easier and potentially improve your other lifts.
- Bigger range of motion under tension: Because axle bars bend a lot less than barbells, your range of motion under tension will be bigger in the deadlift. In turn, this can lead to more muscle growth and strength progress compared to barbell deadlifts with the same weight.
- Keeps things interesting: A big factor in seeing results from working out is being consistent. If you find axle bar deadlifts or just the fact that you are switching things up fun, this can help you stay consistent.
- Works muscles in a different ratio: Using an axle bar in deadlifts leads to more focus on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back and less focus on your quadriceps. Whether this is good and to what extent depends on your training goals.
The deadlift is one of the exercises where axle bars influence things the most. If it aligns with your training goals and preferences, you can also try out other axle bar exercises.
It is worth noting that axle bar deadlifts can be challenging for your wrists, back, knees, shoulders, and ankles.
Depending on your personal situation, that could mean you want to stay away from axle bar deadlifts for now.
Additionally, even if you start doing this exercise more, you want to keep an eye out for overtraining.
In case of any pain, your axle bar deadlift routine may be suboptimal or you may need to make changes in other areas.
Axle bar deadlift alternatives
Doing axle bar deadlifts can still offer valuable benefits but some people want to know about alternatives with similar effects. A few options like this include:
- Other pull axle bar exercises
- Back extensions
- Farmer’s walks
- Romanian deadlifts
- Using a hand grip strengthener
- Good morning exercise
- Dead hangs
Thinking about why you like the idea of axle bar deadlifts and why you want an alternative will make choosing between these other options easier.
Is the axle bar deadlift a good exercise?
Axle bar deadlifts can be a good exercise for people who want to improve grip strength, want to make deadlifts focus slightly more on the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, and/or want a bigger range of motion under tension.
Besides that, using an axle bar can make your workout program more fun. If you like this exercise, it could become easier to stay consistent.
Switching things up can also sometimes increase your training results.
Keep in mind that axle bars typically do not come with any markers. To make sure you are holding them in the optimal places, you can use something like athletic tape.
Additionally, axle bar deadlifts will also just feel different due to the lack of rotating weight sleeves.
Why deadlift with an axle bar?
Deadlifting with an axle bar can work your forearm grip muscles harder. If you use straps, you can focus just a bit more on your glutes and hamstrings with axle bar deadlifts because you have to bend over slightly more.
Is axle deadlift easier?
No, the axle bar deadlift is typically harder than the regular version.