Trap and hex bars are mostly known for a few specific movements but their unusual shape comes in handy for a variety of movements.
Sometimes a good trap/hex bar is one of the better choices, in other movements you can use this specialty bar but other equipment is more effective, and in some cases your equipment choice is a matter of personal preferences and training goals.
Deadlifts are the main exercise trap and hex bars are known for. Besides the bar, you need enough weight plates, preferably bumper plates, to make the movement challenging enough.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a trap bar deadlift:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in the middle of a trap bar with the desired number of weight plates.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the trap bar handles. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Tilt your upper body back and stretch your legs in one continuous motion until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a trap bar deadlift it is very important to keep your spine in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 by tilting your upper body forward (with a straight back) and folding your knees in one smooth movement.
Deadlifts are the exercise where the muscles worked with a trap/hex bar variation is the most different from the standard version.
In a regular barbell deadlift the bar limits how much you can position your knees forward. Due to the trap bar shape, you can do a deadlift where your torso is a lot more upright.
Some of the differences this leads to include more quadricep engagement and less glute, hamstring, and lower back engagement compared to the barbell deadlift.
Individuals who have a weak lower back and/or are recovering from an injury may find the trap bar version a lot more doable/comfortable.
Since shrugs are a reasonably heavy lift you may prefer some type of elevated blocks or rack to start the hex bar higher if you have this available instead of deadlifting the weight to the right height.
Take the following steps to do a hex bar shrug:
- Get into a position where you stand up straight in the middle of a hex bar while holding the handles.
- Let your shoulders hang down for now and look straight forward.
- Slowly raise your shoulders straight up towards your ears. Keep your arms stretched and the rest of your body in the same position.
- Lower your shoulders back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Doing trap and hex bar shrugs is actually more effective for training your trapezius muscles than the dumbbell version.
In a resistance training exercise, moving in the same direction as the muscle fibers you are trying to train is generally effective for muscle growth and strength progress.
For shrugs, that means moving your shoulders upward and sideways to the middle. The hex bar allows you to keep your arms a bit more elevated than in the dumbbell version where the side deltoids are typically not strong enough to do the same.
In turn, a double pull cable machine at the right height settings would be more effective than trap and hex bars for doing the shrug exercise.
3. Bent-over rows
To do a trap bar row you preferably have an open-ended model where the back bar does not get stuck on your butt/lower back because there is no back bar.
Take the following steps to do a trap bar bent-over row:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the trap bar and stand in the middle of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the trap bar handles, and lift the bar with your legs until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree or smaller angle to the ground. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now but hold the trap bar tightly.
- Bend your elbows and move your shoulder blades back until your hands reach the same height as your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your spine in a straight line, and your legs in the same position during the movement.
- Lower the trap bar again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Trap bar bent-over rows with an open-ended model mainly work muscles like your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, trapezius, biceps, and lower back muscles.
You can still use a regular trap/hex bar for bent-over rows but you will likely have to stay more upright to avoid the back bar hitting your body.
This would come closer to doing shrugs and would lead to more trapezius and potentially even shoulder muscle engagement and less latissimus dorsi engagement.
Some people find trap bar bent-over rows more comfortable on their wrists than the barbell version due to the neutral grips. Additionally, it may also be easier to keep your upper arms close to your body.
4. Farmer’s walks
The hex bar farmer’s walk is simply an exercise where you load the bar with weight plates (typically bumper plates), deadlift it until you stand upright, and walk a certain distance or amount of time.
This movement will mainly work your grip and trapezius muscles.
The most popular equipment alternatives for this exercise are dumbbells or specific farmer’s walk handles that can be loaded with weight plates.
Compared to these, the hex bar version will engage muscles like your front and back deltoids, chest, and scapular muscles (including lower and middle trapezius) less.
This is because both sides are connected to each other which makes the weights swing around less.
Something else to note is that there are hex bars with or without handle knurling (grooves in the handles). If you do the farmer’s walk to train your grip muscles you preferably use a model with no or at least less aggressive knurling.
5. Squat jumps
Before giving the next exercise a try, keep in mind that it can be rough on your joints and muscles. Definitely warm up before this movement, preferably do it on a somewhat soft surface, and keep in mind that some people should not do this exercise.
That being said, take the following steps to do a trap bar jump squat:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the trap bar and stand in the middle of it with your feet at about shoulder width.
- Lower your hips, mainly by bending your knees, not bending forward, and grab the trap bar handles. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Push up your body fast, mainly with the help of your front upper leg muscles. You have to generate enough upward power so that you jump in the air.
- How you want to land depends on what body parts you want to absorb the shock. You generally want to at least fold your legs slightly so your knees don’t absorb all the pressure.
While this exercise can be (too) hard on your body, weighted squat jumps can also be a good way to train the muscle power, how much force you can generate fast, in important leg muscles like your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
The main equipment alternative to do weighted jump squats is a pair of dumbbells. Compared to these, a trap bar reduces how much you engage the muscles around your shoulders and potentially grip muscles if the hex bar has good knurling.
These differences are typically a benefit since the main goal of jump squats is working leg muscles.
6. Overhead presses
For shoulder presses you need some way to rack the hex bar at about shoulder height. Once you have the right equipment, take the following steps to do a hex bar overhead press:
- Rack the hex bar at about chest height and add the desired number of weight plates. Adjust any safety bars to the right height if desired. Stand in the middle of the hex bar and put your hands on the handles.
- Unrack the hex bar and take a few steps back so that you have room to do the exercise. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width. Hold the hex bar at about shoulder height. Point your upper arms slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the hex bar up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the hex bar back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
One of the main things to keep in mind when doing an overhead is pointing your upper arms forward enough to keep your injury risk lower.
The neutral handles of trap and hex bars make it easier to hold this upper arm angle. Additionally, the neutral grips may feel more comfortable on your wrists than a barbell.
Pointing your upper arms more forward also makes the overhead press focus just a bit more on the front part of your deltoids and slightly less on the middle part. You still work your triceps and trapezius muscles a good amount.
A small benefit of trap and hex bars is that you don’t need to move your head backward so that the bar can pass through.
Something you do need to know is that hex bars are typically less balanced than a barbell. You will likely have to engage your wrist abductor and adductor muscles more.
7. Bench presses
To do bench presses you preferably have a rack that can hold a trap bar and a weight bench. You could also do a floor press (lying down on the floor) if your trap bar is not rackable but this is generally less safe and comfortable.
Take the following steps to do the version of the movement with rack and weight bench:
- Load the racked trap bar with the desired weight.
- Lie down with your back on the weight bench and put your hands on the trap bar handles.
- Unrack the trap bar and keep your arms slightly less than stretched and pointing up.
- Slowly lower the trap bar to your chest as far as comfortable. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides.
- Push the trap bar back up in the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Similar to the previous exercise, the neutral handles of the trap bar guide your upper arms to the angle that is typically preferred in the bench press.
You may even notice your upper arms coming even closer to your upper body than at a 45-degree angle. In that case, you would engage your tricep muscles a bit more and your chest muscles a bit less.
Again, some people find the neutral handles more comfortable than a barbell. An added benefit of trap bars with elevated handles is that your range of motion may be slightly bigger which is generally good for muscle growth.
On the other hand, trap bar bench presses will typically require more balance and wrist muscle engagement.
For the next exercise, you need enough room to move. Additionally, your hex bar will need to be big enough or even better, open-ended. Once you have the room and gear required, take the following steps to do a hex bar lunge:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the hex bar and stand in the middle of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the hex bar handles, and lift the bar with your legs until you stand up straight.
- Take a step forward and put your foot at a distance where the following walkthrough steps can be done at the right angles. Horizontally speaking you want your feet to be about shoulder width apart or slightly wider for balance.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want both of your knees and your front thigh to your body at 90-degree angles.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs. Your front leg will likely carry most of the weight.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with each leg first to avoid any muscle imbalances.
Hex bars are a great piece of equipment to make lunges more challenging. Your center of gravity is low which leads to good balance and your shoulder muscles don’t have to work that hard.
In turn, this can lead to a lot of quadricep, glute, hamstring, calf, inner thigh, and outer thigh muscle growth and strength progress.
One thing to note is that you will need to work your forearm grip muscles a decent amount. If this becomes the limiting factor (or before that) you can consider doing the exercise with lifting straps or grips.
9. Neutral grip pushups
If you have a trap bar (available) you likely need a weighted vest or resistance bands to make the next exercise challenging enough.
Additionally, you need either a trap bar with elevated handles, a trap bar with level handles and a bar rack, or a trap bar with two weight plates. Take the following steps to do neutral grip pushups with a model with elevated handles:
- Put the trap bar on the ground so that the handles are elevated off the ground.
- Grab the trap bar handles with your arms slightly less than stretched.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels and your shoulders are right above your wrists.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the position from the second step.
Similar to the bench press, the neutral handles of the trap bar can help you keep your upper arms at a safe angle. Many people also find neutral grip pushups more comfortable than the regular ground version.
Lastly, you can go through a slightly bigger range of motion. This is generally beneficial for chest, tricep, and shoulder muscle growth.
One potential downside to keep in mind is that the handles of some trap bars are relatively far apart. Sometimes to an extent where neutral grip pushups are not (comfortably) possible.
10. Suitcase carry
The suitcase carry is similar to the farmer’s walk but you only carry weight on one side. You can do this by either loading only one sleeve of the hex bar and using a weightlifting clip or by holding the hex bar at the front/back bar.
Both versions will still engage your trapezius and grip muscles a nice amount but the main thing that stands out is how much you work your oblique core muscles.
Make sure you walk the same distance and/or amount of time with the weights on each side to avoid any muscle imbalances.
11. Bulgarian split squats
The first thing you need to do trap bar Bulgarian split squats is a bar that is big enough or open-ended. Most regular trap bars will be too small.
Additionally, you need a step, bench, chair, or any other stable object at about knee height. Once you have the required equipment, take the following steps to do a trap bar Bulgarian split squat:
- Put the trap bar about half a leg distance in front of the elevated surface, load it with the desired number of weight plates, and stand in the middle of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the trap bar handles, and lift the bar with your legs until you stand up straight.
- Move one leg back and put the foot of this side on the object. The top of your foot should lean on the surface of the object. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending the knee of your stretched leg until your hip is at about the height of your knee of the previously stretched leg.
- Push yourself up again into the position of step 3.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions on the leg of the other side to keep your muscle distribution balanced.
Trap bar Bulgarian split squats will focus slightly more on your quadricep muscles and slightly less on your glutes and hamstrings than lunges.
You will also need fewer weight plates since more weight rests on the front leg. This also makes the exercise easier for your forearm grip muscles.
The trap bar is a great equipment choice for Bulgarian split squats since you keep your center of gravity low. Additionally, you engage your shoulder stabilization muscles less compared to something like dumbbells.