MaxS: advice on straight vs trap bar

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  • #48011

    Looking for advice on bars for MaxS work as I am looking at expanding my home gym. Namely, any concerns/advantages/limitations to using a trap/hex bar for my go to exercises of box step up, squat and Romanian deadlift?

    Context: I really enjoyed focusing on a block of gym based MaxS this yr. I used 4 exercises: box step ups, pushup, squat and Romanian deadlift. Having access to a full gym I played around with straight bar, safety bar, and trap/hex bar. I progressed from about .75 BW to 1xBW for 5 reps for all the exercises (save pushup, that started at 45lb plate x5, which quickly got too easy and played with alternating one hand on foam block for 3 reps each side, then to isometric holds for 5 sec at 3 rep total) before COVID interrupted by training block (switching now too mixed 1x gym ME and 1x ski bounding). I gravitated in the end to using a trap/hex bar for all these. I admit I never loaded heavy on the back squat with a straight bar, only using the safety bar or hex/trap bar. I felt a bit worried about safety with box step ups with 200lb on a straight bar, just not enough experience.

    If I purchased my own bar and plates, I could only afford 1 bar. Having the trap bar on the floor makes it way easier to switch out weights between squat/BSU vs deadlift. Any reason why the trap bar would limit the effectiveness of the BSU or squat? I like the idea of the trap bar for heavy farmer carries too, and eliminating the need for a squat rack.

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    Seth Keena-Levin on #48065

    The main limitation of the trap bar might be your legs hitting the bar when doing single leg exercises or the bar running into things like the edge of the box. Emphasising single leg exercises is a way to lift less weight, strengthen stabilizers and get more symmetrical recruitment overall.

    A low-tech/cost way to make the box step-up more challenging and perhaps more specific to inclined terrain is to add a band; around your waist to an anchor behind you (see attached pic.) This demands more posterior recruitment throughout the ROM. It can be used for lunges (forward, back and side), split squat jumps, etc. Experiment with it but using a band should give more challenge.

    Hope this helps.

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    Aaron on #48069

    Interesting, thanks for that idea. I am a little perplexed in that I could do 5 reps of 200lbs on a box step up, while at same time 5 reps of 200lbs on a deep squat felt equally hard (using trap bar on both, with a shallow ~4″ box inside the trap bar to get a deeper squat). I don’t have enough knowledge to understand why I why that discrepancy between unilateral and bilateral. All my reading on trap bars suggest the only real limitation is slightly less hamstring recruitment, but looks like your banded recommendation is one good way to address that, or that it is so marginal a loss that for my purposes (increasing strength reserve, safely applying heavy load as I age from mid 40s into my 60s+) a trap bar is probably just fine.

    trygve.veslum on #48104

    I would 100% go for a normal olympic bar instead of a trap bar, mostly due to them being more versatile.
    I might be wrong in my statement and I let anyone to correct me here, but I think if you “need” a trap bar to perform deadlifts you are (sorry to say) probably doing them wrong. Are you distributing your load evenly along your feet when doing these, or any tendency to leaning forward? If the latter, I suggest to use less weight and shift your CoG a bit backwards just before starting the lift. That will engage more glutes and make you stronger in the long run. This is what Ive experienced at least when I was more into weight training during my earlier days.

    Kind regards,

    Aaron on #48137

    Thanks Trygve for the thoughts. Deadlifts on a oly bar were not a problem, in the full gym I did use that setup and it felt good. My issues/thinking was two fold and relates to simplicity of a home gym setup.

    For a home gym only having one bar seeems like it would make running through a circuit of movements hard. Moving the bar from back squat position on a rack to floor for deadlift seems like a real pain at a weight that I would have to make harder dynamic movements to get it on and off.

    Also, as a newbie to power lifts, I have no experience with heavier backsquat weight position. Particularly for one legged step ups I did not feel confident getting 200lbs on my back and doing one legged movements.

    I started doing squats with a safety bar, and tried it on step ups too. I then tried the trap bar on squats and step ups and it felt fine.

    So, my thinking is having a trap bar with full set of plates would let me keep the bar on the ground for all plate adjustments and movement starts and would allow me to eliminate having to have a squat rack. For my purposes of MaxS for mountain running and ski mountaineering I can’t see a real limitation, but was interested in the collective UA opinion to see if I am missing something. For sure I won’t be able to do olympic lifts, but that is not in my plans.

    Tony Gentilcore is one of my go to strength coaches for general learning, and he has a pretty clear opinion on trap bars: 🙂

    Reed on #48144

    Nothing wrong with a trap bar, but a standard bar could be more versatile. Seth makes a good point about lunges etc. being harder with a trap bar. And for a block of strength training, you might find that a circuit approach isn’t necessary.

    Powerlifting training usually would break a workout up into something like 3 sets 5 reps squat, 3 sets 5 reps bench, 1 set 5 reps deadlift, in that order. Rest ~3 minutes between sets. The goal is to train the nervous system and mainly use ATP / creatine phosphate, not aerobic energy production, so that rest is important. Taking the plates off between exercises is easy enough.

    You can of course do those sets / reps / resting with a trap bar.

    Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is a great book. Thanks for the link to Tony Gentilcore – I’ve learned a lot from Eric Cressey’s writings and videos (Tony worked with Eric).

    dcgm on #48189

    Open back trap bars (Eleiko Oppen, Bells of Steel Open Trap Bar) are nice for single-leg work.

    I’d rather have trap bar DL than any one lift with a straight bar as my main lower body lift for “max strength while doing other stuff” programming, but there is definitely a lot more you can do with a straight bar.

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