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Swinton et al in the July issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had a study examining the differences of performing deadlifts with a straight bar compared to a hexagonal barbell.

The deadlift has always been an effective exercise at developing lower body strength. The problem is that a lot of weight can be handled in this exercise. As it involves squatting down and picking the weight up off the floor, there is a potential for injury to the lower back even if the exercise is performed correctly. The idea behind the hexagonal bar is that the lifter stands in the middle of the barbell, so that the weights are positioned close to the lifter (instead of in front of the lifter), so in theory the injury risks are reduced.

To my knowledge, the Swinton et al (2011) study is the only one to take a biomechanical look at the straight bar and hex bar deadlifts.

This study involved male powerlifters. They were asked to perform a 1-RM on both a straight bar deadlift (SBD) and a hex bar deadlift (HBD). Subjects had an average SBD 1-RM of approximately 213% bodyweight and a mean HBD 1-RM of approximately 231% of bodyweight (i.e. these were decent powerlifters).

On a different session, subjects were then asked to perform repetitions at 10-80% of 1-RM which were analyzed. The authors found that the HBD (compared to the SBD) reduced the peak moment at the lumbar spine and hip, while increasing the peak moment at the knee. The HBP also resulted in greater peak force at each % of 1-RM (though this was not statistically significant), greater peak velocity at almost all %’s of 1-RM, and greater peak power at each % of 1-RM than the SBD.

This study has some interesting implications:
• First, the SBD is better at targeting the lumbar spine. This is both a pro and a con. If the desire is to target the muscles acting on the lumbar spine, then the SBD is the way to go. If the desire is to minimize stress to the lumbar spine, then the HBD is the exercise to use.
• Second, the HBD allows for more weight to be lifted, and generates greater peak force, greater peak velocity, and greater peak power. The combination of all these things suggests that if there is only a finite amount of time for an athlete’s strength and conditioning, this may be a better exercise to use that the traditional SBD.

Like with all studies, this one has some limitations. First, we don’t know if this information applies outside of powerlifters. In other words, it’s unclear if this applies to high school football players, college athletes, etc. Second, we don’t know if there are any confounding factors. Perhaps the HBD is only useful after a certain level of strength has been developed at the SBD. Finally, it’s unclear if there are any inherent dangers or cautions with the HBD.

Even with the limitations in mind, it’s an interesting study.

Swinton, P.A., Stewart, A., Agpiros. I., Keogh, J.W.L., and Lloyd, R. (2011). A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(7), 2000-2009.

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