A piece of equipment that has become increasingly common in recent years is the trap bar, that hexagonal device which has become the bane of many a lifter. An easy way to build up the quads and lower back, the trap bar first came into my consciousness when i began lifting in the early 2000s. An odd device, the thing kicked my ass as I attempted a meagre deadlift.
Since then, we’ve come to better terms to the extent that I began to wonder where this device came from. What was its original purpose? And how did it end up on a gym floor in Dublin? A series of questions that has led to today’s post.
The History of the Trap Bar
Unlike the common barbell or even the EZ bar covered previously, the trap bar has an incredibly recent history. Invented by Al Gerard in the mid-1980s, the device was seen as an alternative to the deadlift, a means of increasing one’s lifting numbers without aggravating injuries.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Who was this Al Gerard?
An American lifter of regional merit, Gerard was a drug free powerlifter operating in the US during the 1980s. Despite being plagued with lower back problems for many years of his competitive career, Al pulled a 625 lb. deadlift in competition in his early 40s. In a remarkable book published on Amazon about the history of the Trap Bar (Available here), Gerard revealed that his lifting career in his 20s and 30s had not centred on the gym but rather throwing 100 and 200 lbs. bags of fertiliser around in his job at the local plant.
Eventually however, Al caught the lifting bug and began a slow process of building up to a 500 lbs. deadlift. Over time he built on his numbers to the point where he could pull 600 lbs. plus from the ground. A mightily impressive feat that unfortunately for Al, had resulted in a banged up lower back. Wanting to increase his numbers in the squat and deadlift without overdoing it on these exercises in training, he set about devising a device that could mimic these movements without the back pain.
Where did the Idea come from?
Returning again to the book previously mentioned (Available here), Gerard cited power lifts in the rack as his primary inspiration. Doing rack pulls or squats in the power cage, albeit with a slightly lesser range of motion, allowed him to increase his numbers without pain.
As his inflexibility increased, Al became more and more determined to find a solution. Squatting with 100 lbs. dumbbells in each hand, he chanced upon a rather novel idea. What if he could stand in between two weights and lift – what sort of device would this look like? Soon the Trap Bar prototype emerged, bolstered by Gerard’s insight that the closer you bring the resistance back to the body, the more efficient the lift is going to be.
Within weeks Al had improved upon his numbers with the tradition deadlift. He knew he was onto something.
It began to grow in popularity, that’s what. According to Paul Kelso, himself a keen advocate of the Gerard device, Al’s first ad for his bar appeared in the September 1986 edition of Powerlifting USA. Seeking to expand his marketing, Gerard claimed his device was suitable for not only the deadlift but also the stiff leg deadlift, the shrug and the upright row. Soon enough, the device had found acolytes in Paul Kelso, Dr. Ken Leistner and a host of other weightlifting outlets.
For reasons that have yet to be explained satisfactorily in the public sphere, the Gerard bar went out of production for several years in the early 2000s owing to licensing and trademark disputes. The trap bar was then reintroduced to the market by John Wood with the blessing of Al Gerard. Incidentally you can view the original trap bar designs as sold be John Wood here.
Aside from the promotion of influential figures such as Kelso and Leistner, another significant feather in the cap from the Trap Bar’s point of view was its increasing popularity amongst NFL players during the late 2000s, early 2010s.
Since then, people have waxed lyrical about its benefits. According to Stronger by Science the trap bar’s advantages are numerous:
- It’s easier to learn than the barbell deadlift.
- No hyperextension at lockout.
- No need for a mixed grip.
- High handles for people with insufficient hip ROM.
- Less chance of getting pulled forward/spinal flexion.
- It can still be just as hip-dominant as a barbell deadlift.
- (Likely) higher transfer to other sports.
Some Fun Variations
Before we finish out, I thought it’d be cool to go through some of the more unusual variations that can be done with the Gerard Trap Bar as detailed by FitworldExposed.
Have any other trap bar variations you’d recommend? Or stories about the trap bar? Let us know in the comments below!
As always… happy lifting!
It really is isn’t it? Has saved my lower back on more than one occasion! Hope all is well 🙂
Yes! Love it!
The trap bar dead lift is the king of exercises!
Hi Sean, thanks for stopping by! 🙂 It’s certainly up there in my view. As a longer limbed lifter, the Trapbar Deadlift has been a real blessing for me when it comes to pulling movements.
Here’s one for you, have you done Trapbar Romanian Deadlifts? Boy oh boy do they work the hamstrings!
Bob Peoples used a home made trap bar in the 1940’s. There is a picture of it on the denzo ban blod. The only difference was his trap bar was a circle with handles .
Hey Doug, thanks for the heads up. I just looked it up, awesome!
Cannot find the ORIGINAL Gerard trap bar OR John Wood
Where to purchase original Gerard trap bar
Hey Jeff. This is a terrible admission but I am terrible at collecting equipment – I devote all my energy to old magazines. That being said there is a very vibrant collector/buy&sell group on Facebook along the lines of Physical Culture equipment. There’s also Joe Roark’s amazing Ironhistory.com site which may have people with more knowledge.
As an aside, I managed to buy one during lockdown completely by accident on Facebook marketplace. Someone wanted rid of it and I bought it for $50. Only later did I realise it was an original!