Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift

If you could only do one exercise to build your entire body, you should choose the deadlift. But there are multiple variations of this exercise, and they don’t all get the same results.

Two of the most popular deadlift variations use the standard barbell and the hex bar. So I’m going to explain the hex bar vs barbell deadlift.

After reading this article, you’ll know which version of the deadlift is best for you based on body mechanics, muscle activation, and your fitness goals.

Definition Of A Deadlift

The deadlift is a weightlifting exercise where you pull a loaded bar from the floor to the standing position. It’s one of the three major powerlifting moves along with the bench press and squats.

But you don’t have to be a competitive powerlifter to benefit from deadlifts. This exercise is arguably the best for strengthening all the major muscle groups on the back of your body.

Types Of Deadlift Bars

When performing the deadlift, the two most common types of bars are the hex bar and the straight barbell.

Hex Bar or Trap Bar

A hex bar is a weightlifting apparatus named for its 6-sided hexagon shape. This shape means that you stand in the center of the bar during most exercises.

A hex bar is sometimes called a trap bar because it’s good for doing shoulder shrugs. But you can use this bar for many other exercises, including deadlifts.

Usually, hex bars weigh between 45lbs and 60lbs depending on the materials of construction and handle configurations.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift

Straight Barbell

The standard straight barbell is the one you’re used to seeing at any gym. The linear shape means you hold the bar in front of your body on most exercises.

While there are some smaller barbells that weigh as little as 15lbs, the full-size barbell used for deadlifts weighs 44-45lbs.

In addition, there is a more flexible deadlift bar designed with specific properties to improve your performance on this lift.

Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar: Which Is Better?

Barbell Deadlift

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Grip

One of the key distinctions between the hex bar and regular barbell is how you hold the bar.

With the hex bar, your hands are at your sides with your palms facing in. This neutral grip is comfortable and prevents the bar from slipping out of your hands.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Grip 1

On the barbell deadlift, most people use an overhand grip. However, this grip makes it easy for the bar to roll out of your hands unless you use lifting straps.

How To Use Lifting Straps: 5 Steps To Lift More Weight

A second option is to use a mixed grip with one hand over and one hand under. But the mixed grip puts more strain on the bicep of the underhand arm.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Grip 1

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Body Mechanics

Another way the hex bar and barbell deadlift differ is the body mechanics. In other words, how your body moves during the exercise.

With the traditional barbell, your movement path is restricted by the bar touching your shins and thighs. So, you must keep a more bent forward posture.

On the other hand, the hex bar moves around your body. This means you can maintain a more upright body position throughout the exercise.

Moreover, the upright position of the hex bar deadlift changes the load distribution. As a result, there is less load on the hips and lower back with more load on the knees1.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Body Mechanics

Figure 1. In this comparison, you can see how the hex bar results in more knee bend and less hip bend at the start of the movement. While the conventional barbell has less knee bend and more hip bend.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Muscles Worked

Additionally, the different body mechanics between the hex bar vs barbell deadlift changes the muscles used during the exercise.

With conventional deadlifts, your body rotates around your hips using the posterior chain muscle groups. This hip hinging results in more activation of the hamstrings and lower back muscles2.

Whereas the hex bar deadlift results in more rotation around the knee joint. Therefore, the hex bar variation uses more quads for extending your knees2. But this comes at the expense of less posterior chain muscle activation3.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Muscle Activation

Figure 2. This graph illustrates significantly greater quadriceps activation during the concentric (lifting) phase of the hex bar deadlift. As well as the significantly lower hamstring activation. Adapted from Camara et. al. Note: There was not a statistically significant difference in glute or back activation, meaning the bar type has a minor effect on those muscles.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Weight Lifted

Along with differing body mechanics and muscle activation, the bar types can change the amount of weight you’re able to lift.

For example, a study using trained powerlifters found that they were able to lift an average of 539lbs for a one-rep max with the straight barbell. When they switched to the hex bar, they were able to lift 583 lbs or 8% more weight.

This result has to do with the fact that the hex bar uses more muscle groups and enables you to generate more speed off the floor. Whereas the barbell deadlift relies primarily on the muscles on the backside of your body for a slower lift.

However, keep in mind that your power output also depends on your body proportions and experience level.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift 1RM

Figure 3. In this graph, you see the difference in maximum weight lifted on the hex bar vs barbell deadlift (not to scale). For experienced lifters, the hex bar resulted in an average of 44lbs more being lifted. Adapted from Swinton et. al.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift: Which Is Better?

So far, we’ve looked at the grip, body position, muscle activation, and power generated of the hex bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift. At this point, it may seem like the hex bar is better.

And in some situations, the hex bar deadlift may indeed be better. Like if you’re trying to incorporate multiple lower body muscle groups. Or if you struggle with lower back pain.

However, the classic barbell deadlift still beats the hex bar deadlift in many ways. For one, it’s far better for working your posterior chain. And the movement translates to more power in other Olympic lifts.

Hex Bar Deadlift Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Easier for beginners
  • Less low back stress
  • More muscle groups involved
  • Greater potential power output
  • Won’t scrape your shins
  • Easier to maintain grip without straps

Cons

  • Less hamstring, glute, and back activation
  • Very little flex or bar bend
  • No control over grip width, might be too wide for shorter people

Barbell Deadlift Pros & Cons

Pros

  • More hamstring, glute, and back activation
  • Greater posterior chain development
  • Infinite options for grip width and stance
  • Strength gains translate to Olympic barbell lifts
  • The gold standard of strength in powerlifting competitions

Cons

  • More difficult to learn
  • Harder on your lower back
  • May need lifting straps
  • The mixed grip can strain bicep

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How To Do A Hex Bar Deadlift

Click here for my complete guide to the hex bar deadlift.

  1. Stand in the middle of the bar
  2. Grab the center of the handles with palms facing in
  3. Bend at your knees and drop your hips with your back flat
  4. Extend your knees and drive your hips forward while keeping your back straight
  5. Lower the weight back to the starting point
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps

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How To Do A Barbell Deadlift

  1. Stand with your shins facing the center of the bar
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand or mixed grip, hands about shoulder-width apart
  3. Roll the bar towards your shins and drop your hips slightly
  4. Pull the bar off the floor by pushing with your legs then pulling with your back and driving your hips forward
  5. Lower the weight back to the starting point
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps

How Often Should You Deadlift?

Whichever deadlift bar you decide to use, it’s important to include deadlifts in your workout routine on a regular basis. Often enough that you get the strength and muscle gain results you want. But not so often that you overtrain.

So how do you know how often to deadlift? The answer depends on your goals, experience level, and how hard you train. Click the image or button below to learn how to design your ultimate deadlift workout split!

How Often To Deadlift
How Often To Deadlift

With this information, you’re well on your way to mastering deadlifts and setting new PRs. If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out these other workout tips!

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