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What is a Trap Bar?

By Bobby R. Goldsmith
Updated May 17, 2024
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A trap bar is a piece of exercise equipment designed exclusively for certain strength training and weight lifting applications. It is a specially designed bar that allows a weight lifter to perform certain exercises, such as dead lifts, shoulder shrugs and a variety of presses in a fluid and safe manner. The design of the trap bar consists of a diamond or a hexagonal configuration that forms a “ring” around the weightlifter, with twin protrusions jutting out either side for the plates of weight to be stacked. The trap bar is then utilized through handles that the weightlifter pulls upward from the floor toward the shoulders, bringing the bar and weights along with it.

The original design of the trap bar arose primarily from a safety concern with traditional Olympic bars used for performing dead lifts and shrugs during power lifting exercises. Olympic bars have a tendency to bash into a weightlifter’s legs during those exercises. The trap bar's frame design prevents this from happening and also reduces lower-back stress.

The trap bar was developed in 1985 by power lifting aficionado Al Gerard. Gerard designed, patented and trademarked the trap bar, and sold the design to numerous manufacturers for full-scale production. While the Gerard bar was originally designed for upper body weight lifting exercises such as dead lifts and shoulder shrugs, trainers soon found other exercises that could be performed with it. These exercises included a variety of lifts, shrugs and presses that worked the muscles in a weightlifter’s back, arms, shoulders, obliques and legs.

Gerard, along with other power lifters, soon discovered that using the trap bar weight training device reduced the risk of suffering or aggravating injuries to the lower back. The lower back can prove problematic for power lifters and Olympic lifters. The high degree of weight lifted often strains the lower back muscles, even when all safety precautions are followed. With trap bars, such injuries were greatly reduced due to the design of the device, which brought the lift points of the bar more in line with the natural movement of a weight lifter’s legs, arms and back. As a result, many power lifters were able to lift at full capacity well into their advancing years; Gerard himself competed in dead lift competitions at the age of 59.

Though the trap bar is not all that common in many modern, commercial gyms, the weight training device remains extremely popular in competitive power lifting and weight training circles. Numerous trainers herald the device as the preeminent tool for focused, safe and efficient training for a lifter’s back, shoulders, legs and arms. In addition to improving safety and preventing injury, the bar actually enables competitive power lifters to lift more weight per repetition than the standard Olympic bar.

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