If I was Told I Could Do Only ONE Muscle Building Exercise, It Would Be This...
I first found out about this exercise about 10 years ago. In my opinion,
it's the absolute best exercise you can do if you want to pack on
quality muscle in the shortest possible time, plus it builds real
functional strength in all the major muscle groups.
The Trap Bar Dead lift.
You have of course heard that the dead lift and squat are the two
greatest bodybuilding movements. They each have their problems
For the squat you need to be really sure that you have proper
safety precautions in place. The last thing you ever want is to be
stuck in the bottom position of a squat with double your bodyweight
across your shoulders.
If you train in a gym you may be able to get spotters. But do the
spotters know what to do if you fail on a lift? And will they both
do the same thing at the same time to rescue the situation if you
fail on a rep? If they've not been drilled in what to do, trust me,
you'll be right up crap creek.
If your gym has a power rack then you should be fine for safety as
regards the squat, in which case excellent.
Now a lot of bodybuilders fall into one of two groups - squatters
and dead lifters. Good squatters tend to be shorter in the leg, and
good dead lifters longer in the leg. If you turn out to be a
natural dead lifter you will of course get better results from dead
lifting instead of squatting.
But here's a problem:
Most of us find that the lower back gets tired before the leg
muscles, which means you may have to stop dead lifting before your
legs are properly worked because your back is fried. The reason is
that the normal dead lift is done with a straight bar, and because
the bar is in front of your body it puts more strain on the lower
Another problem with the straight bar dead lift is that as you have
to keep the bar really close to the shins on the way down (and on
the way up to a lesser extent), it's not uncommon to scrape the
shins on the bar so much that you actually draw blood!
If you have the straight bar a little bit further away from your
shins to avoid scraping them, you put your back in a really bad
position. And if the bar then swings further away from you, you
have the option of just dumping the weight on the floor, or really
damaging your back. Not good either way.
To sum up, it's risky to train the squat home alone without a power
rack, and it can be tough to get enough stimulation for the legs
from the dead lift because of back limitations.
Enter the Trap Bar Dead lift.
The Trap Bar was invented in the 1970's by Al Gerard, a power
lifter. It is so called (I think) because he designed it for the
shrug exercise (for the traps, geddit?) But as soon as it came on
the market it was quickly realised that it could be used for dead
lifting instead of the straight bar.
The Trap Bar is hexagonal in shape, and you stand inside it. This
is a massive benefit to the lifter, because it puts the stress of
the exercise through the body rather than in front of the body,
which takes the strain off the back.
So, you can really work the legs hard without pounding your back
into pulp. A lot of weight trainers who couldn't dead lift with a
straight bar due to back problems have made huge gains dead lifting
with the trap bar.
Trap Bar Deadlift In Action
It's easier to see the movement in action than for me to describe
it in words - this guy's style is pretty good.
Points to note:
Sticks his butt out - it's really important that the back doesn't
round when you dead lift. Make sure your back is set before each
Leads with his head on the way up - this ensures that he doesn't
straighten the knees too quickly, which causes the back to round,
this puts all the stress on the back, and takes the legs out of the
movement (exact opposite of what we want here.)
Looks up at all times during the exercise - much easier to do if
you lead with the head as above. Again, stops the legs from
straightening too soon, which compromises the lower back.
Doesn't drop the bar from the top of the lift - lowers it under
control. Apart from the damage you do to the floor, you can easily
hurt yourself if you drop the bar. In addition to that, you can get
tremendous benefit from controlling the negative (lowering the bar
under control), so by just dumping the bar at the top you miss half
He doesn't rush the exercise - even when he's tired at the end of
It's not by accident that I keep on about not allowing the back to
round when dead lifting. It's probably the biggest cause of injury
in this exercise.
I said at the beginning that one of the hallmarks of
a great bodybuilding exercise is that you can move large amounts of
weight. The guy in the video clip is lifting 360lb. Always remember
that it doesn't matter how intrinsically safe the exercise is, if
you let your form deteriorate you can hurt yourself.
Of course, the time when your form is most likely to get sloppy is
right at the end of a set, when you're tired. For that reason, if
you have what you think is a "do or die" rep in you, don't do it.
It's not vital to work to complete failure in the dead lift to get
great results - far better to live to fight another day.
We're all different, but for me, I like to dead lift rest-pause
style. I put the bar down on the floor between reps, stand up, take
a deep breath or two, and then pull the next rep. Then stand up,
deep breath or two, and pull the next rep, and so on to the end of
The guy in the video is doing the dead lift in continuous style.
This may work better for you than rest-pause. I do rest pause
because I find it easier to keep strict form. I think of it as 10
sets of 1 rep rather than 1 set of 10.
As I get tired, I don't always get low enough for the start of the
next rep if I do them continuous style, making it more of a back
exercise then a leg and back exercise.) When you get tired, there's
a bizarre urge to rush the reps towards the end of the set - this
is a sure route to injury.
Rest-pause stops you from rushing toward the end of the set - and
for me it makes me mentally tougher for later on in the cycle as
the weights get more demanding. You will get more stimulation for
the muscles doing the exercise in continuous style, but make sure
you're form doesn't go down the toilet if you go this route.
When you get up to decent weights in this exercise you only need
train it once a week, say 2 sets of 10 reps after you've warmed up.
For a complete lower body workout, try the Trap Bar Dead, (or the
regular dead lift if the trap bar's not available), a shrug (again
use the Trap Bar if you have one) followed by the leg press.
1. Trap Bar Dead Lift (or regular dead lift), 3 warm up sets of 8, 6 &
4 reps then Two work sets of 10 reps each, take a 3 min rest between
2. Trap bar shrug, 2 warm up sets of 6 reps and 4 reps, then
Two work sets of 6 reps each
3. Leg Press, 3 warm up sets of 8,6 & 4 reps, then
Two work sets of 12 reps each.
I guarantee if you try this, and build the weight up gradually you
will get amazing results. And you'll be out of the gym in around 1
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