The hexagonal shapes of trap bars aka hex bars are not just for looks. These pieces of fitness equipment offer nice benefits too.
Trap and hex bars will not be essential for everyone but the reasons below do make them worth considering in certain situations.
1. Trap and hex bars can be easier on your back
One of the most popular uses for trap/hex bars is the deadlift exercise.
Most people already know this movement but you basically lift a heavy weight, typically a loaded barbell, from the ground.
When using a barbell you have to bend over a reasonable amount because your legs are in the way of the bar. Due to the trap/hex bar dimensions and their hexagonal shapes, you can stay more upright during trap bar deadlifts.
In turn, the trap bar variation works your quadriceps (front thighs) more and glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles less.
This can be a benefit for individuals who currently have a weak back and/or are recovering from an injury.
One thing you do want to keep in mind is that trap/hex bar deadlifts will also lead to less lower back muscle strengthening.
You may need to compensate for this with other exercises and/or gradually go back to regular deadlifts if this is important to you.
2. Trap and hex bars are versatile
There are many sports and exercise equipment options that you can only use in specific areas or movements.
These can still be worth it if they make your workouts really enjoyable or more effective in the right areas.
At the same time, you can say that the versatility of trap and hex bars is a benefit too.
Most people know this specialty bar for the deadlift, jump squat, and farmer’s walk. However, you can also use trap and hex bars in shrugs, bent-over rows, shoulder presses, lunges, etc.
This can be useful in the sense that you can work a variety of muscles in a fresh way with just one investment (if you already have weight plates).
3. Trap and hex bar exercises can be more effective
First of all, it is worth mentioning that this benefit of trap/hex bars does not apply to every single movement you can do with them.
For example, the muscle engagement of trap/hex bars in the deadlift is different but not necessarily “better” for all people and training goals.
However, in something like the shrug exercise, the angle of your upper arms influences your muscle growth and strength progress potential in this movement.
When lifting weights your movements typically want to follow the direction of the muscle fibers you are trying to target for optimal results.
For working the upper trapezius muscles with shrugs that means preferably shrugging sideways and upward. Bigger angles of shoulder abduction, aka raising your arms sideways/upward, are typically better.
When using dumbbells, most people do not have the shoulder strength to keep their arms elevated with the heavy weights used in shrugs.
Putting your hands wider on the barbell is not always comfortable.
Trap/hex bars make it a lot more convenient to do shrugs in a way that is more effective for muscle growth and strength progress.
One thing to note is that a double pulley cable machine shrug can be even better if you have this available.
4. Trap and hex bars make it easier to learn certain exercises
Lifting weights offers many benefits but you still want to do the movements with good form to get the most results and avoid accidents.
Hex/trap bars can actually make it easier to learn and get used to good form in certain exercises.
A good example of this is the deadlift.
The barbell and hex/trap bar variations are not completely the same but this second one can help beginners get used to the movement in an easier and less punishing way.
Two less popular examples are the shoulder press and bench press exercises.
Due to the neutral handles of hex bars, it becomes easier to keep your upper angles at an angle with a lower injury risk compared to the barbell variations.
With these last two exercises, you do want to keep in mind that not all hex/trap bars are rackable.
5. Trap and hex bars work muscles in a different ratio
As briefly mentioned in a previous section, the ratio of muscles you work with trap/hex bars is often different from other forms of weight and resistance.
There are three main reasons for this.
First of all, trap/hex bars may influence the trajectory of the movement.
Due to this, you work your quadriceps more and glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles less in the trap/hex bar deadlift compared to the barbell version.
Secondly, this specialty barbell is slightly less stable than a barbell which typically leads to more wrist abduction and adduction muscle engagement.
This is somewhat the case in most movements but especially shoulder presses and bench presses.
Next, during an exercise like the farmer’s walk, your arms swing back and forth less with the trap/hex bar compared to separate dumbbells or handles.
This leads to less engagement of shoulder stabilizing muscles.
One important thing to note is that this different muscle engagement is not always a benefit. There will also be many people who prefer one of the trap bar equipment alternatives.
6. Trap and hex bars do not scrape your shins
During regular barbell deadlifts, the bar is typically very close or against the shins of the individual doing the exercise.
Even when wearing protective gear or long socks, this can be painful and/or uncomfortable.
A benefit of the hexagonal shape of trap bars is that you don’t have to deal with this.
7. Lifts can look more impressive
People generally find that they can deadlift more weight with trap and hex bars compared to barbell deadlifts. Two studies found something similar, one did not find a significant difference (1, 2, 3).
Assuming this is actually the case, a trap bar may make your deadlifts look more impressive.
One mistake people make regarding this more vanity-oriented benefit is assuming that lifting more weight also leads to more muscle growth and strength.
Just because an exercise variation requires a more challenging trajectory does not necessarily mean it leads to less progress.
8. Some trap and hex bars offer different handles
Trap and hex bars come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and handles. Besides just being able to choose between different models, some options come with multiple handles.
These handles can vary in terms of height and thickness. Different heights can lead to a bigger or smaller range of motions and variety in thickness leads to more or less focus on grip muscles.
All this customizability can be useful in a variety of situations but again does not necessarily apply to every single person.
The standard regular trap and hex bar handles are often great too.
9. Trap and hex bars help you build muscle
The benefits of trap and hex bars don’t have to be completely unique to be worth mentioning.
These pieces of fitness equipment simply make it easy to work your muscles to the extent that you can cause growth and strength progress.
In combination with the right weights, repetitions, nutrients, and rest, trap and hex bars are effective for these purposes.
Even if you are more of an advanced lifter this applies.
Trap and hex bars tend to have maximum weight capacities that range from 500 pounds to 1500 pounds (226 kg to 680 kg) depending on the specific models. This should be more than enough.
10. Trap and hex bars can be more comfortable
Challenging your body is one of the main principles behind exercise but there are also ways to do this suboptimally.
For example, having to keep your wrists in a twisted position in the barbell versions of deadlifts, shrugs, bent-over rows, shoulder presses, and bench presses can sometimes be too much for your body.
Especially if you have a history of issues in this area.
Luckily, the neutral handles of trap and bars can make these lifts more comfortable on your wrists.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, trap bar deadlifts can be more comfortable on your lower back.
The effects of this extra comfort can range from mildly more enjoyable workouts to saving you from weeks of downtime due to injuries.
Do keep in mind that if the barbell versions of these exercises are not too uncomfortable in your wrists and lower back, they could also lead to more strengthening than the trap bar versions.
11. Trap and hex bars can reduce bicep injury risk
A common way to do barbell deadlifts is by holding the bar with one hand pronated (hand palm facing backward) and one hand supinated (hand palm facing forward).
The benefit of this is that your grip strength becomes less of a limiting factor. Your forearm muscles have to work less hard.
A downside of this mixed grip is that your bicep injury risk is higher.
Due to the neutral handles on your sides, hex bar deadlifts are generally considered safer for your biceps than mixed grip deadlifts.
12. Trap and hex bars keep things interesting
Some people find it hard to stick to their workout program because they find it too one-sided.
One way to avoid this and make it easier to stay consistent with your exercise routine is by switching up your workouts.
For example, by using less standard specialty barbells like trap and hex bars that help you approach the same old exercises in a different way.
If you like using these or just like the variety of using different equipment options, you could also just enjoy your workouts more which can be valuable in itself too.