The deadlift is a traditional barbell exercise that’s known for getting people strong. No other free weight barbell exercise allows one to handle more weight than the deadlift. The lift starts from the bottom, eliminating any pre-stretching of a muscle from an eccentric action that would assist with lifting the weight via the stretch-shortening cycle. This also makes it one of the toughest lifts. When performed with correct technique, the deadlift can help increase pretty much any athletic movement that requires hip extension such as sprinting and jumping. However, performed incorrectly, the deadlift can be quite problematic. If the lumbar spine is not held stiff and is forced into end range flexion while under load, there is significant potential for injury. For this reason, many coaches all together avoid the deadlift. A possible alternative to conventional barbell deadlifting maybe to deadlift with the hex bar. This may provide a safer alternative that reduces the risk of injury while still providing the strength and performance benefits.
A new study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared conventional deadlifting with a barbell to deadlifting with a hex bar in 20 resistance trained males. Muscle activity during the exercises were measured with EMG while peak force, peak power and peak velocity were measured with a force plate. The subjects reported to the lab on 3 separate occasions for testing. Testing sessions 1 and 2 involved acquiring 1RM values for both deadlift variations. On the third testing session, 3 repetitions at 65% and 85% of 1RM were performed for each exercise. 1RM values, EMG activity and force/power characteristics were compared between exercise variants.
The results showed that there were no significant differences for 1RM values between the two deadlift variations (~181 kg or 400 lb for both). The hex bar deadlift variation resulted in significantly greater EMG activity for the vastus lateralis during both the concentric and eccentric portion of the lift. In contrast, the barbell deadlift resulted in significantly greater EMG activity of the biceps femoris during the concentric phase and of the erector spinae during the eccentric component when compared to the hex bar variation. In addition, peak velocity, peak force and peak power were all significantly greater in the hex bar deadlift than the conventional straight bar deadlift. Therefore, it appears that the hex bar deadlift variation appears to be a suitable alternative that places less stress on the lower back than conventional deadlifts. Additionally, it may be superior for producing increases in force and power.
Camara, K. et al. (2016). An examination of muscle activation and power characteristics while performing the deadlift exercise with straight and hexagonal barbells. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 30(5): 1183-1188.