Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: December 11, 2023

The deadlift is a highly effective exercise that can help build your entire body. However, there are several variations of the deadlift, and each variation may not provide the same results.

Two of the most common variations of the deadlift use either a standard barbell or a hex bar. To help you decide which is best for your training needs, I will provide an explanation of the hex bar vs barbell deadlift.

This 1-minute video demonstrates the key differences between the hex bar and barbell deadlift. For more details about the differences, continue reading.

Discover the ideal deadlift variation based on your body mechanics, muscle activation, and fitness objectives. Keep reading or use the table to navigate.

Definition Of A Deadlift

The deadlift is a weightlifting exercise in which you lift a loaded bar from the floor to a standing position. It is considered one of the three primary powerlifting exercises, alongside the bench press and squats.

However, you don’t need to be a competitive powerlifter to reap the benefits of deadlifts. This exercise is widely regarded as the best way to strengthen all the major muscle groups located at the back of your body.

This movement is so effective because it involves multiple joints simultaneously, including the ankles, knees, hips, and even the shoulders. Not to mention, it can help improve your grip strength as well!

Types Of Deadlift Bars

When performing the deadlift, the hex bar and the straight barbell are the two most common bars. So, let’s take a closer look at what makes each bar unique.

Hex Bar or Trap Bar

A hex bar is a weightlifting barbell named after its six-sided hexagon shape. This unique shape means that during most exercises, you stand in the center of the bar.

The hex bar is also known as the trap bar, as it is useful for performing shoulder shrugs. However, you can use this bar for many other exercises, including deadlifts.

The weight of hex bars usually ranges between 45 lbs and 60 lbs, depending on the materials of construction and handle configurations.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift

Straight Barbell

The standard straight barbell is a common piece of equipment in most gyms. Its linear shape allows you to hold the bar in front of your body during most exercises.

Most straight barbells used for deadlifts weigh 44-45 lbs. Additionally, there is a more flexible deadlift bar explicitly designed to improve your performance on this lift.

Related: 5 Best Deadlift Bars Ranked by Quality, Durability, and Cost

Barbell Deadlift

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Comparison

Next, I will explain how the hex bar and conventional deadlifts differ. This includes how you hold the bar, body mechanics while lifting, muscles worked, and maximum pulling strength.

Deadlift Grip

One of the critical distinctions between the hex bar and a 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 prevents the bar from slipping out of your hands.

On the other hand, the straight barbell allows multiple grip options. The most common is the overhand grip, although it is easy for the bar to roll out of your hands unless you use lifting straps.

A second option is to use a mixed grip with one hand over and one hand under. But there are drawbacks to this grip as well.

Related: Best Deadlift Grip for You & How To Improve Deadlift Grip Strength

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Grip 1
Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Grip 1

Deadlift Body Mechanics

The hex bar and barbell deadlift differ in body mechanics, i.e., how your body moves during the exercise. When using the traditional barbell, your movement path is restricted by the bar touching your shins and thighs, which requires you to maintain a more bent forward posture.

In contrast, the hex bar moves around your body, allowing you to maintain a relatively upright position throughout the exercise. Additionally, the upright position of the hex bar deadlift changes the load distribution, resulting in less load on the hips and lower back and 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.

Deadlift Muscles Worked

It’s worth also noting that the different hex bar deadlift and barbell deadlift body mechanics affect the muscles used during the exercise. 

During conventional deadlifts, your body rotates around your hips, utilizing the posterior chain muscle groups—this hip hinging results in more activation of the hamstrings and lower back muscles2

In contrast, the hex bar deadlift results in more knee flexion and extension, resulting in more quad activation. However, this comes at the expense of less activation of the posterior chain muscles3.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift Muscle Activation

Figure 2. This graph illustrates significantly greater quadriceps activation during the hex bar deadlift’s concentric (lifting) phase. As well as the significantly lower hamstring activation. Adapted from Camara et al. Note: There was no statistically significant difference in glute or back activation, meaning the bar type had a minor effect on those muscles.

Hex Bar vs. Barbell Deadlift Weight Lifted

It’s important to note that different types of bars can affect the amount of weight you can lift. This is due to varying body mechanics and muscle activation.

For example, a study conducted on trained powerlifters found that they could lift an average of 539 lbs for a one-rep max with the straight barbell. However, when they switched to the hex bar, they could lift 583 lbs, an 8% increase in weight.

The main reason behind this increase is that the hex bar engages more muscle groups, allowing you to generate more power off the floor than the barbell deadlift, which relies primarily on the posterior chain.

The mechanics of the hex bar deadlift can result in greater peak power and peak velocity during the lift. Finally, some hex bars have raised handles that shorten the range of motion and make it easier to pull heavier weights.

It’s essential to keep in mind, however, that your power output may depend on your body proportions and experience level.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift 1RM

Figure 3. This graph shows the difference in maximum weight lifted on the hex bar vs barbell deadlift (not to scale). For experienced lifters, the hex bar lift was an average of 44 lbs more. Adapted from Swinton et al.

Hex Bar vs Barbell Deadlift: Which Is Better?

We have discussed the grip, body position, muscle activation, and power generated during the hex bar deadlift and the barbell deadlift.

At this stage, the hex bar deadlift may be superior. Indeed, the hex bar deadlift may be advantageous in some situations, such as when you want to target multiple lower body muscle groups or suffer from lower back pain.

Nevertheless, the conventional barbell deadlift outperforms the hex bar deadlift in many ways. For instance, it is more effective in working your posterior chain, and the movement translates to more power in other Olympic lifts.

Hex Bar Deadlift Pros & Cons

Here are the benefits and limitations of the hex bar deadlift to help you determine if it’s the correct variation for your workout routine.

Pros

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

Cons

  • Less hamstring, glute, and back activation
  • Raised handles shorten the range of motion
  • Very little flex or bar bend
  • No control over grip width; it might be too wide for shorter people

Barbell Deadlift Pros & Cons

Here are the benefits and limitations of barbell deadlifts to help you determine if it’s suitable for your workout routine.

Pros

  • More hamstring, glute, and back activation
  • Greater posterior chain development
  • Many 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

If you choose to perform the hex bar deadlift, you must use the proper technique to get the most out of this exercise. Below are step-by-step directions on how to do the 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

The conventional barbell deadlift can be a bit trickier to master. Below are some directions to help you perform this exercise correctly. You can also watch the short video for additional pointers.

  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

More Deadlift Guides

Whichever deadlift bar you decide to use, including deadlifts in your workout routine on a regular basis is excellent for overall muscle and strength gains. But there is a lot to learn before you can optimize your deadlift technique to maximize results.

So here are some additional resources to help you master the deadlift exercise.

How Much Does A Hex Bar REALLY Weigh?

Rack Pull vs Deadlift: Difference, Benefits, And When To Use Each

How Often To Deadlift Based on Goal, Split, Recovery, & Experience

Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar Differences, Dimensions, & Affect On Performance

Romanian Deadlift vs Deadlift: When To Use Each Based On Goal & Split

15 Types of Deadlifts and What They Work

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

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By |December 11, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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