The trap bar deadlift and the regular Olympic bar version may look identical to the untrained eye, but they’re not.
The trap bar deadlift combines a quarter squat and a deadlift. When you are in the ‘trap’, you are still pulling the weight, but your back is more upright, and as a consequence, your quads are involved to a higher degree.
In short, trap bar deadlifts allow you to squat your deadlift. In contrast, the regular deadlift requires you to have your hips higher and places more stress on the posterior chain.
If you try a regular deadlift with your hips low, you will be weaker and the movement will feel weird. When the weight gets heavy, the hips will automatically rise because otherwise, it would be impossible to lift the barbell.
What about the targeted muscles?
The trap deadlift works your quadriceps a little more than the regular deadlift which could be a good thing if you can’t squat. Meanwhile, the Olympic bar deadlift works the back and the posterior chain more.
Which is better?
When it comes to exercise selection, you should always evaluate your current situation prior to labeling an exercise as good or bad. If you perform the regular deadlift, you get more back development. But what if your back is troublesome and you feel better doing trap bar?
You could also combine the two versions and alternate. You could also do trap bar deadlifts as an accessory movement to the deadlift.
An additional bonus of doing trap bar deadlifts is that there’s no contact between your lower leg and the bar which means less shin bleeding.
Interesting fact: One of the best deadlifters ever, Bob Peoples (image above), used the trap bar deadlift as a supplementary lift.
Which is easier on the lower back?
Some say that the trap bar is easier on the lower back because you are more upright. Other disagree because at the top there is no contact between the body and the bar, and the lower back has to work extra hard. Yet I think that the trap places less stress on the lower back. Ultimately, you have to try both to learn for yourself.