The Sumo Deadlift

What's the difference between sumo deadlift vs conventional deadlift? Which is better for general strength? We discuss in this video tutorial!

The video above explains why sumo deadlifts are important for powerlifters and advanced lifters as a deadlift variant. While we still prefer the conventional deadlift for general strength purposes, the sumo deadlift does have its place in certain strength programs.

Read More on Programming the Sumo Deadlift

Sumo vs Conventional

The sumo deadlift requires a wider stance with the hands positioned inside the legs. A wider stance artificially shortens the lifter’s legs and therefore reduces the range of motion significantly compared to conventional form. This is why most lifters can pull more weight using sumo and is the choice for competitive powerlifters – the shorter range of motion.

Sumo does not strengthen the back (spinal erectors) like the conventional does, because it relies heavily on the quads and adductors rather than the posterior chain muscles. This is why, for general strength trainees, the conventional deadlift is the better choice. It trains the largest group of muscles in the entire body – the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors).

How to Sumo Deadlift?

Start with the setup. As with the conventional deadlift, most of the technique of the sumo deadlift is in a correct setup: stance, grip, and position. This setup varies with individual build, anthropometry, and flexibility more than the conventional deadlift. We give you good starting places and basic markers, but the lift will require some trial and error to find your best stance and grip width.

Stance

  • Sumo Deadlift StanceWide stance: determined by build and flexibility. Key markers are vertical shins and knees tracking in the same direction of your toes at the bottom of the lift.
  • Place shins about ½” from the bar.
  • Start with toes out slightly past 45 degrees.

Approach the bar with a wide stance. How wide will depend on you, but here is the test: when you bend over to take your grip and shove your knees out, your shins should be nearly vertical, and you should be able to put your knees over your feet, pointing in the same direction as your toes. Too wide and your femur length and adductor flexibility will prevent your knees from aligning over your feet, keeping you from finishing the setup. Too narrow and you are defeating the purpose of the lift. If your shins are at a more acute angle to the floor than vertical, and you can stand to go a little bit wider, work your stance gradually outward.

You are going to set up a little bit closer to the bar than you would for a conventional deadlift. We like to say that the conventional deadlift should be about one inch from your shins. For the sumo deadlift, stand so that the bar is about a half-inch away from your shins with your toes pointed out.

The toes-out position allows you to bend your knees without pushing the bar away from you. Point your toes out a little bit past 45 degrees to start, and when you bend over to take your grip in the next step, shove your knees outward along the barbell (in the same direction your toes are pointing), not forward.

Grip

Sumo Deadlift Grip

  • Narrow grip: inside of legs with one finger on the smooth part of the barbell
  • Double overhand, hook grip, or mixed grip are acceptable
  • Shove your knees out in the direction of your toes

Next, bend over and take your grip, shoving your knees out as we described above, being careful not to push the bar away from you. Your grip will be narrower than it is for the conventional deadlift. A good place to start is placing one finger on the smooth part of the barbell, just off the knurling. Broad chested lifters may need to go a little bit wider, but not much. Part of the advantage of the wide sumo stance is clearing space for the narrowest practical grip.

Use the same types of grip for the sumo deadlift that you use conventional: double overhand, hook, or mixed grip, depending on your preference.

Position

Sumo Deadlift Position 01

  • Use the bar to pull yourself into position
  • Pull your chest up and set your back
  • Be patient and pull your hips as close to the bar as you can get them
  • Imagine you are trying to make the plates float ¼” off the floor
  • Shoulders will be slightly in front of the bar. The back will be more vertical and hips closer to the bar than a conventional deadlift.

Sumo Deadlift Position 02Once you’ve taken your grip, you are going to squeeze yourself into a very tight, very uncomfortable position. When you sumo, you are going to have to use the bar to pull yourself into position. Pretend that your arms are ropes and you are going to pull them straight and taught as you squeeze your chest up and set your back.

Sumo Deadlift Position 03As you squeeze your chest up, you are simultaneously going to pull your hips closer to the bar. If you did not have the bar for counterbalance, you would fall backward here. Be patient and pretend like you are going to squeeze into position until the plates are floating a quarter-inch off the floor. (At lighter weights, the plates may actually leave the floor as you squeeze into position. That’s okay.) Some people incorrectly think that the sumo deadlift starts with a perfectly vertical back angle. It does not. Before you pull, the correct setup will have your shoulders slightly in front of the bar.

Sumo Deadlift Position 04ExecutionSumo Deadlift Exe

  • Push the floor away and drag the bar up your legs

Just as with a conventional deadlift, it is helpful to think of the sumo deadlift as a push, not a pull. Push the floor away as you continue to squeeze your chest up.

The lats perform the important job of keeping the bar on your legs. You should lift with the goal of dragging the bar up your legs by actively sweeping the bar back into them during the lift.

At the top, finish tall with a proud chest. And, as always, hold your breath until the bar is back on the floor.

Practically, there are not many reasons to include the sumo deadlift as a big part of a general strength program beyond those lifters who use it in competition. But we do not always have to be practical with our training. If you are an aspiring coach, try the sumo deadlift. Understand it so that you can coach it. For more advanced lifters, there is value in versatility and the knowledge of different, lesser-used assistance lifts. So, give it a try. Just don’t get too distracted.

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