It frustrates me when I see the trap bar is only used for the trap bar deadlift. The trap bar is an incredibly versatile piece of equipment that can be used to challenge your upper body as well. In particular, the trap bar bench press is a great addition for those looking to bench press while limiting stress on their shoulders and other joints. In this guide, we will break down how to do the trap bar bench press with proper form and discuss all the benefits of the underutilized exercise.
Table of contents
Why You Should Be Bench Pressing
I know that it has become popular in recent years to bash on the bench press because it is not “optimal” or is too “risky” but the reality is that the bench press is one of the most time-tested upper body exercises. There is even a direct correlation between bench strength and overall pec size.
That being said, I can understand why some have trouble with this lift. For one, it can be hard on your shoulders. I am sure I am not the only one who has felt some shoulder pain during a bench press session. Also, once you get past the novice/intermediate stage it can be very hard to progress consistently.
Whichever camp you fall into, the trap bar can help bring some life back into your benching. Many people have found that the bar minimized their shoulder pain while others found that the trap bar was enough to help them get through a plateau.
Trap Bar Bench Press Benefits
If you are one of those people that suffer from shoulder pain or are simply looking for another great exercise for your chest, the trap bar bench press has a number of amazing benefits:
Saves Your Shoulders
When you are performing the bench, press you want to be sure to retract your shoulders and engage your upper back to provide a good base for pressing. Thanks to the neutral grip, you can more easily retract your scapula to protect your shoulders.
Furthermore, the neutral grip will force your elbows to tuck limiting elbow flair which is often associated with shoulder pain.
Wrists Are Secured
One of the most common technical mistakes during the bench press is allowing the wrists to collapse backward. Not only will this make it harder to lift the weight but it can also lead to wrist pain over time.
With a trap bar, your wrists are locked into position and stacked directly over the elbows during the lift. This stable position minimizes the risk of a wrist injury even during more wrist-heavy variations like close-grip bench presses.
Targets Chest Pain-Free
As we have already established, the bench press works your chest like no other exercise really can. Considering how crucial the chest is for having an aesthetic, strong chest, targeting your chest with some kind of flat press is a necessity.
Since your elbows will be tucked in close to your body during the movement, your triceps are going to be more heavily engaged. Use of the trap bar can therefore lead to stronger triceps and better lockout strength across all pressing motions.
With enough time, anyone will experience a plateau on the straight bar bench press. With a trap bar, you get another variation that you can add to your rotation so that you avoid stalls in progress.
The slight change in form and muscle recruitment provided by the trap bar is enough to stimulate new muscle growth and help you push through plateaus.
How To Do The Trap Bar Bench Press
How To Trap Bar Bench Press
Set up the bench and bar
Your head should be within the frame of the trap bar while it is racked.
Get into your benching position
Grip the neutral handles at the midpoint so that the bar is balanced. Retract your scapula and tighten your upper back.
Unrack and lower the weight
Be careful to keep the bar balanced and slowly lower the weight toward your chest
Drive the bar up
It may help to envision punching the bar up
The exercise may feel foreign or weird at first, but that is normal. As you get more reps, you will better develop the form and mind-muscle connection.
Trap Bar Floor Press
If your trap bar is not rackable or you do not have access to a squat rack, you can still do the trap bar floor press. The main difference here will be that your upper arms will dictate what your range of motion will be.
In many ways, the floor press saves your shoulder joints even more since you are lifting off a very stable platform (the floor) and limiting the range of motion even more.
Trap Bar vs Straight Bar Bench Press
There are a few key differences between the trap and straight bar variations:
You Will Be Weaker With A Trap Bar
Do not expect to lift as much with a hex bar as you can with a regular barbell. This is because more of the load is taken off your pec and shoulder and placed on the tricep. Your tricep will not be able to produce the same amount of force so you will lift less. Also be aware that since the bar is so much large and wider, your stabilization muscles will have to work harder to keep the bar balanced.
This is not really a bad thing as it allows you to get more out of less weight. As long as you are training hard, you should still see chest gains and direct strength carryover to straight bar presses.
You should also be aware that trap bars can vary a lot in weight and size. Therefore you will have to account for that as they likely do not weigh the same as an Olympic barbell.
More Tricep Activation
As we have already discussed, the tucked elbows mean that more of the weight is placed on your triceps. This is exactly what you want if you are trying to address muscular imbalances or improve lockout strength.
For the vast majority of people, the trap bar will provide some relief if they suffer from wrist or shoulder pain.
Why Not Just Use A Swiss Bar or Dumbells?
If you have a swiss bar, then of course use it to do neutral grip bench pressing. The Swiss bar is more stable and has more grip options. The only problem is that in commercial gyms and home gyms alike, the trap is way more common and versatile. The majority of you reading this already have access to a trap bar in some way, the same cannot be said for a swiss bar.
As far as dumbbells go, the same thing applies to home gym owners. Dumbells are great because you can control the exact angle of your shoulder and elbow when pressing. However, dumbbell sets can be very expensive. Meanwhile, trap bars are fairly affordable and already in many home gyms.
Other Trap Bar Exercises
Another point that I want to drive home, especially for home gym owners, is to not be afraid to try out different movements that perhaps are not conventional. The trap bar has many benefits, the main one being versatility. Whether it be to keep things fresh or to get more out of your equipment, try some of these other underutilized trap bar exercises:
Trap Bar Squat (If you have an open trap bar)
Trap Bar Overhead Press
The trap bar bench press is a great way to grow your chest even if you struggle with shoulder pain. Even if shoulder pain is not a limiting factor, neutral grip bench pressing is a great variation that can complement and provide direct carryover to your regular bench press. The trap bar has become so readily available at commercial gyms and affordable for home gyms, that you might as well use it in as many ways as you can.
Can I bench press with a trap bar?
Yes, you can. The trap bar bench press can be useful for shoulder protection and getting a different type of stimulus. You will just have to use less weight.