Trap Bar Deadlifts are a great exercise for building lower body strength. They can be especially helpful for athletes that have mobility issues and struggle with getting into a proper starting position.
While I’ve had athletes of all sizes who struggled at first to achieve a good starting position, in my experience it seems to be more common amongst taller guys. Taller athletes just have a lot more limbs and torso to fold up, so to speak, and get set up.
So, if you’re doing pulls from the floor, trap bar deadlifts can be a great alternative for taller guys while they continue to work on their mobility. They also benefit taller athletes in other ways that I’ll discuss as well.
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How Trap Bar Deadlifts Help Taller Athletes
Hex Bars (as trap bars are also known) have elevated handles which demand less mobility from the lifter.
Hex Bars come in different weights and sizes, but the elevated handle of a hex bar can be around 6″ – 8″ higher than that of a regular bar. Take the Rogue TB-2 Trap Bar, for example, it’s elevated handles are 8″ higher than where the plates are loaded.
Not having to bend as low to grab the bar does two things for taller guys.
First, as I’ve already mentioned, it gives athletes with limited mobility the opportunity to pull from the ground in a good starting position.
Does this mean you don’t have to address what is causing the poor mobility? Of course not. But, it gives you an option until mobility improves.
Second, it provides taller athletes the ability to be a little more upright as they begin their pull. This change in body angle can take a good amount of stress off the low back when pulling from the ground.
Should You Always Use a Trap Bar for Taller Athletes?
For this answer, I turned to someone who has a lot of experience working with tall athletes. Tyler Watson is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for Butler Men’s Basketball and has coached many athletes in his career around 7 feet tall.
Here is how he incorporates using trap bar deadlifts into his programming:
In the fall and during season, our Men’s Basketball guys will heavily utilize trap bar deadlifts. We like these during this time of year because the advantageous angles it allows for concentric force application while allowing them to maintain great posture through typically longer torsos during the eccentric phase of the lift.
During spring and early summer we will transition to barbell deadlifts (both clean and snatch grip) where we will look to emphasize the eccentric phase. During this phase we are aiming to strengthen our hinge pattern as well as the hip mobility needed at the bottom/starting position.
If we need to elevate the bar we will do it as needed based on the athlete.
I love his approach of taking advantage of the trap bar during the fall and in-season, but switching to a barbell in the off-season to help focus more on range of motion.
This is the exact approach that I would suggest using for all taller athletes, regardless of sport. This isn’t just for deadlifts either. I also like to use blocks for taller athletes during the in-season to alleviate some of the stress of doing Olympic movements from the floor as well.
Don’t Have a Trap Bar?
What if you don’t have a hex bar? Are there ways to still get some of the advantages a trap bar provides?
Of course there is. Here are a few ways you can get some of the same benefits without needing a trap bar.
Use Lifting Blocks
There are plenty of really good trap bar deadlift alternatives, but for taller athletes, I would suggest using blocks to achieve an elevated starting position.
Blocks are boxes specifically designed for weightlifting. They are mainly used for Olympic movement variations but can be incorporated for all sorts of exercises including deadlifts.
Blocks can be especially useful because they come in different heights. This can allow you to start as elevated as needed based on mobility and then slowly lower the boxes until eventually, they are no longer necessary.
Use Weight Plates
If you don’t have access to blocks you can also use weight plates for the same purpose. If you have 45-pound plates that have a flat side (can be either bumper or cast iron plates), then you can set them up under the bumper plates on your bar to achieve elevation from the floor.
Just be sure to set down the bar for each rep and not drop it. Bars can shift when dropped and if a bumper catches the edge of a plate laying on the floor it can send the bar shooting in one direction and if that direction happens to be where your shins are it’s not fun.
Try Rack Pulls
Finally, you can also use the rack itself and do Rack Pulls. Rack Pulls work by setting the barbell on the safety bars of the rack and then starting the movement from that position. On the plus side, like blocks, you can manipulate the starting height as needed.
However, this would be my last choice because they can be hard on both the barbell and the rack, but it’s a completely viable option if need be.
Using Trap Bar Deadlifts for taller guys is a great strategy as both an option for limited mobility and as a means to alleviate low back stress.
If you don’t have a hex bar, there are still ways you can achieve the same benefits. These can be as simple as using weight plates to elevate the bar off the floor.
Finally, use Trap Bar Deadlifts as a tool, not as a crutch. Working to improve mobility and strengthen the entire range of motion is something that should be a priority and definitely not be ignored.