Skip to content

A question of strength CNS stress and trap bar deadlift

Eine Frage der Kraft ZNS Stress und Trap Bar Kreuzheben

Q: Are trap bar deadlifts less taxing on the central nervous system than barbell deadlifts?

A: That's a good question. Let's first take a look at what is likely to increase the stress on the CNS during training.

  • The weight moved: The more weight your body (tendons, skeletal system, muscles) is exposed to, the higher the demands on the CNS will be.
  • The work performed: I'm not talking strictly about volume here, but more about the amount of work you do during a movement. The work performed is force times distance. For this reason, a partial repetition is often less demanding on the CNS even if you move more weight.
  • The amount of muscles involved: When more muscles are involved at the same time, the CNS is more challenged. This is partly because more muscles involved usually means heavier weights, but can also be related to the fact that the body has to work harder to coordinate all these muscles.
  • The complexity and coordination required: The more difficult the technique, the harder the CNS will work.
  • Technical efficiency: The less efficient your technique is, the harder your nervous system has to work to perform the movement. A better rehearsed motor pattern and a more efficient movement are more economical in terms of resources. This is one of the reasons why Olympic weightlifters with perfect technique can train snatch and clean and jerk every day.
  • The speed of execution: Both speed (more precisely, the acceleration of the weight) and the mass moved will increase the demands on force production. Strength is mass times acceleration. And the more force you have to produce, the greater the demands on the CNS.
  • The perceived loads: If the body perceives an exercise as potentially dangerous - either consciously or subconsciously - then it will produce more cortisol, which leads to increased adrenaline production. Increased adrenaline production can lead to what we mistakenly refer to as "CNS fatigue". This is due to either a depletion of dopamine reserves (adrenaline is produced from dopamine) or a desensitization of adrenergic receptors due to overstimulation.

Using this information, we can now compare the two exercises.

Traditional deadlift vs trap bar deadlift

  • The weight moved: Pretty much everyone will move more weight in the trap bar deadlift, which is especially true when using the high grip position. If we're talking about using a percentage of your max weight - let's say 85% of your max weight for this exercise - then the trap bar "wins" this comparison.
  • The work done: If you use the lower setting of the trap bar, then the linear distance will be the same as traditional deadlifts. However, the path of the bar is much more linear in the trap bar deadlift. So even though the distance from A to B is the same, the path will be longer in the conventional deadlift and the muscles will be under load slightly longer. I would give this point to the traditional deadlift.
  • The amount of muscle involved: Common sense would tell us that there are more muscles involved in the trap bar deadlift because you are lifting more in this exercise. However, this is not the case. You move more weight mainly because of the better leverage: the center of mass is in line with your body, whereas in the conventional deadlift it is in front of you. And for this reason, conventional deadlifts train the posterior muscle chain a little more. The trap bar, on the other hand, will train the quadriceps a little more. I would say that the conventional deadlift tends to recruit slightly more muscles when performed correctly. Why? Because it recruits the lower and upper back slightly more. I therefore award this point to the conventional deadlift.
  • The complexity and coordination required: I have to give this point to the conventional deadlift. Technically speaking, it is the more complicated exercise due to the path of the bar. You have to move the weight up and back in an arc to get it past your knees correctly. In the trap bar deadlift, on the other hand, you move the weight in a straight line. Assuming both exercises are performed correctly, trap bar deadlifts are much easier than conventional deadlifts.
  • Technical efficiency: This point depends entirely on the trainee. If you are a master of technique in conventional deadlifts, this exercise (in this category) will be no more challenging than trap bar deadlifts. But since trap bar deadlifts are so much easier and most people have a very inefficient technique in conventional deadlifts, this point usually goes to conventional deadlifts as well. However, if your technique on the conventional deadlift is world class, then both exercises are equal in this regard.
  • Speed of execution: This isn't really exercise specific - it depends more on the load and the attempt to accelerate. If you want to be really pedantic, it might be slightly easier to accelerate the trap bar because the path of the movement is straighter. Both exercises are similar on this variable with perhaps a very narrow win for the trap bar.
  • The perceived load: The perceived load of the conventional deadlift will be significantly higher than the trap bar deadlift. The conventional deadlift will put significantly more strain on the spine than the trap bar deadlift. This is because the load is in front of the body and not in line with the body as with the trap bar. The axial load on the spine is one of the biggest stressors that the nervous system can be exposed to.

As you can see, the trap bar deadlift places lower neurological demands on your nervous system than conventional deadlifts. However, this stress will be higher than with squats.

How limb length affects training

Q: You once said that front squats are a better exercise than classic squats for people with long legs. How else can limb length play a role in exercise performance?

A: Exercise selection is the most important training variable. Imagine you are a patient at the doctor's office and the conversation goes like this:

  • Doctor: I'm going to prescribe you 200 mg per day.
  • Patient: 200 mg of what?
  • Doctor: What would you prefer? Which medication would you like to take?

That doesn't make sense, does it? Well, it's the same with training. Think of sets, repetitions and training methods as the dosage and the exercises as the medicine.

Although everyone will improve their body and performance by getting stronger at the big basic exercises, using these exercises exclusively will emphasize certain muscles more than others and may not get you the results you'd like.

Some people will achieve excellent pec development with bench presses alone, while others will only build their shoulders and triceps with this exercise. Some will build excellent quadriceps with classic squats, while others will build larger glutes with this exercise.

The length of the limbs relative to the body is one of the main factors that will determine which muscles will receive the most stimulation.

Here is a general overview:

Body type 1 - Long limbs/short torso

  • Tends to progress faster on pulling exercises than pushing exercises
  • Has an easier time getting stronger on deadlifts/hip hinge exercises than squats

Upper body pressing exercises

  • Chest muscles are the easiest to develop
  • Shoulders come second
  • Triceps are the hardest to develop

Upper body pulling exercises

  • Latissimus is the easiest to develop
  • Rhomboids and posterior shoulder muscles come second
  • Biceps come in third place
  • The upper trapezius is the hardest to develop

Lower body training

  • The gluteus is the easiest to develop
  • The leg flexors come second
  • The quadriceps come third
  • Calves are the hardest to develop

Body type 2 - Short limbs/long torso

  • Tends to progress faster on pushing exercises than pulling exercises
  • Has an easier time getting stronger on squats than deadlifts/hip hinge exercises

Upper body pressing exercises

  • Triceps are the easiest to develop
  • Shoulders come second
  • Chest muscles are the hardest to develop

Upper body pulling exercises

  • The upper trapezius is the easiest to develop
  • The biceps come second
  • Diamond muscle and posterior shoulder muscles come third
  • Latissimus is the hardest to develop

Lower body training

  • Quadriceps are the easiest to develop
  • The calves come second
  • The leg flexors come third
  • The gluteus is the hardest to develop

All of this is true most of the time, but there are some exceptions. Arnold, for example, had long limbs and still had enormous biceps.

This information allows you to choose your supporting exercises by telling you which muscles need additional direct training. For example, I have short legs, so I don't need additional supportive direct training for the quadriceps. They grow well enough through squats alone and I prefer to invest my time in exercises that are actually needed to correct a weak point. For example, I need direct training for the gluteus and leg flexors.

You don't need as much (or any) direct training for the muscles that are easiest to develop, but you will need a lot more for the muscles that are hardest to develop.

Knowing this can also help us choose the variations of the big basic exercises for our workouts. If I have long legs, then front squats will be better than classic squats for overall leg development. Why? Because with classic squats I will primarily train the gluteus and to some extent the hamstrings, while with front squats I will stimulate the quadriceps. Classic squats with elevated heels would be another option.

Even though there is nothing wrong with good, intelligent programs that you can find on the internet, you should give yourself some freedom in your exercise selection: You can accept the spirit of a program while choosing better exercises.

Shoulder building side raises

Q: When I do side raises, I mainly notice this exercise in my trapezius. How can I modify this exercise to make it more effective for my shoulder muscles?

Welcome to the club! I naturally have narrow shoulders and short arms, which tends to favor trapezius development over shoulder muscles. But I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to side raises.

Before I go into the three exercises, I need to emphasize one point: to make side raises more effective in terms of shoulder muscle recruitment, you need to focus on pushing the dumbbells away rather than lifting them. Try to move the dumbbells as far to the side as possible. This tip alone should minimize the recruitment of the trapezius.

1. backpack side raises (side raises with bands over the shoulders)

No, you won't be doing side raises with a backpack on your back (although that would probably work too), but with resistance bands around your shoulders to keep them down.

The trapezius comes into play when the shoulders are lifted instead of just rotating. By keeping the shoulders down, the bands help you to better focus on the shoulder muscles.

To prepare for this exercise, stand on the band and place the other end around your shoulder. Then do the same with a second band on the other side.

The position of the bands on the shoulders is important. You should place them on the acromioclavicular joint and not on the trapezius. If the band is on the trapezius, then this will actually increase the recruitment of the trapezius by creating a stronger mind-muscle connection with this muscle and generating a reactive contraction through the pressure.

You will still need to focus on pushing the dumbbells away from the body rather than lifting them, but the bands will make it much easier.

2. handcuff side raises with a mechanical descending set (side raises with bands)

For this exercise you use a short resistance band that you place around your wrists like handcuffs. Use a band with only a low resistance. It is not necessary to overdo it with the resistance as you are only using it to shift the tension towards the lateral shoulder muscles.

Choose dumbbells that are slightly lighter than dumbbells that you would normally perform 10 clean repetitions with. This could be a weight with which you could normally perform 12 to 15 clean repetitions of side raises.

  • The first step of the mechanical descending set is to perform partial repetitions of side raises with the bands and dumbbells. Move the dumbbells up as far as the bands will allow, which is about a third to a half of the movement. Perform as many clean repetitions as possible.
  • Then put the bands away and immediately perform side raises with dumbbells only, without pausing. Aim for 8 to 10 repetitions.
  • Then put the dumbbells to one side and put the resistance band back on and perform partial repetitions (as in step one) using only the band.

Do not pause between the individual steps of the mechanical descending set. If you want to set your lateral shoulder muscles on fire, then this is the exercise for you.

3. side raises on the incline bench

This is the less cool option but one that I have been using successfully for at least 15 years with exercisers who have a dominant trapezius.

The execution is simple: sit on an incline bench with an incline of about 30 degrees and perform side raises in this position. Continue to concentrate on pushing the dumbbells to the side and not simply moving them upwards. This significantly reduces the activation of the trapezius.


By Christian Thibaudeau

Previous article The definitive guide to vitamins and minerals:
Next article 14 natural ways to improve your insulin sensitivity