What the Hex?

August 13, 2015 3:13 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

 

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

 

The epidemic hoopla surrounding CrossFit has abetted a rejuvenated interest in Olympic weightlifting and Powerlifting. Social media feeds are glowingly abound with workouts, meet preparation logs, and lifting videos. Obscured from the camera’s vantage points  in videoed training feats  is the hex bar, a versatile piece of equipment which affords novice, anthropometrically disadvantaged, and injured lifters the opportunity to move some heavy pig iron without the steep learning curve of ground based movements performed with a barbell. Semantically speaking, the hex bar deadlift would make for a poor wholesale substitute for an Olympic lifter or powerlifter as the lifts in those sports are performed with a barbell, however, it would be foolish for strength athletes to dismiss it entirely.

 

Vexed by the Hex

 

Strength athletes are continually in devout pursuit of greater strength. For them, strength training isn’t a means to an end, it is the end itself.  If Josh or I were to write an program for strength athletes that included hex bar deadlifts, many strength athletes would be vexed by their inclusion. For starters, they’re not featured as a competition lift and moreover, the correspondence between the hex bar deadlift and competition lifts seems a bit nebulous on the surface.

 

A Brief Biomechanical Analysis

 

The hex bar, also known as a trap bar, is a hexagonal shaped bar with handles spanning the bar’s frame and sleeves affixed on each side.  Most bars featured two sets of handles, one set that is flush with the bar’s frame and another that’s elevated. The athlete or lifter sets up the lift by stepping inside of the bar, essentially positioning their body between the load when they grasp the handles located at their sides. Since lifters are inside of the bar, not behind it like traditional barbell deadlift variations (conventional and sumo), the bar’s center of mass is virtually in unification with the lifter’s center of gravity, thus enhancing the lifter’s mechanical advantage while mitigating potential injury risks. The set up and subsequent execution require less hip, ankle, and thoracic mobility and induce less moment at the lumbar spine than its traditional counterparts, making it favorable for novices, taller lifters, and those constantly battling the injury bug. Research indicates that the hex bar deadlift invokes greater knee moment than traditional barbell deadlifts. However, this moment can be reduced as the height from which the bar is pulled is elevated. Alternatively, hex bar deadlifts can be executed with the low set of handles or from a deficit for the purpose of increasing leg drive thus likely activating the quadriceps more.

 

Practical Application

 

Since they elicit a comparatively smaller moment at the lumbar spine than traditional barbell deadlifts, hex bar deadlifts may be a more appropriate option for athletes not wanting to risk injury by venturing deeper into the neutral and elastic zones of the spine, as many powerlifters do during training and competition.

 

They also have greater application when working within team or group settings. Coaching and maintaining safety of multiple athletes while deadlifting may become dauntingly challenging from a logistical standpoint.

 

For Olympic lifters and Powerlifters they may offer value as an assistance exercise. Research has shown that heavier loads can be handled with hex bar deadlifts and elicit greater peak forces, peak velocity, and peak power values versus barbell deadlifts when each are performed with submaximal loads (1).

 

They may also be performed as jumps. The structure of the hex bar allows for a more natural set up and execution when performing loaded jumps. A recent study showed that hex bar jumps elicited significant increases in peak power when performed with a load of 20% of 1RM (2).

 

They may also be performed with variable resistance and paired in complex training. For those with body composition oriented goals, hex bar deadlifts can be performed closer to failure far more safely than traditional barbell deadlifts, thus yielding a greater potential for the induction of metabolic stress.

 

Ultimately, one’s decision to include hex bar deadlifts boils down to a constellation of factors which prominently include: specificity, availability, anthropometry, injury history, and biomotor abilities. It would be unwise to write them off completely.

 

 

References

 

  1. Swinton PA, Stewart AD, Agouris I, Keogh JWL, & Lloyd R. (2011). A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. J Strength Cond Res, 25, 2000–2009.
  2. Swinton PA, Stewart AD, Lloyd R, Agouris I, & Keogh JWL. (2012). Effect of load positioning on the kinematics and kinetics of weighted vertical jumps. J Strength Cond Res, 26, 906–913.

 

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