Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a variant of the conventional deadlift, where you grip the barbell with your arms inside of your knees, as opposed to outside of your knees like in the conventional style.

This leads to a shorter range of motion, a more vertical torso, with less load placed on your lower back but more load placed on your quadriceps, compared to conventional deadlifts.1 2

Here’s a demonstration:

How to Sumo Deadlift

Preparation

  • Set a bar on the floor, preferably loaded with full-sized weight plates (45 cm / 17.72 in).

Execution

  • Step up close to the bar with a wide stance, so that it is positioned about over the middle of your foot. A stance where your shins are about vertical is a good starting point for finding your best stance, even if you should experiment with a wider or narrower stance.
  • Bend over and grip the bar with hands about shoulder width apart, using either a overhand or mixed grip, with arms inside of your knees.
  • Breathe in, brace your core, and lift the bar by extending your knees and hips simultaneously. Pull the bar close to your body.
  • The lift is completed when you are standing straight up, with hips and knees locked out.
  • With control, lower the bar back to the ground by reversing the movement.
Sumo deadlift exercise guide

Comments on Sumo Deadlifts

The sumo deadlift is probably mostly used inside the sport of powerlifting as an alternative to the conventional deadlift style. With our current evidence and level of understanding, none of the techniques seem to be inherently more effective than the other when it comes to the amount of weight one is able to pull – at least on a general level. On the individual level, you might be far better suited to one style or the other, and pretty much the only sure way you’ll find out which one it is (or if you’re equally good — or bad — at both) is by giving them both a fair amount of testing and training.

Different body shapes and sizes, muscle insertions and origins, limb length and pelvises, strengths and weaknesses will all contribute to wether conventional or sumo deadlifts suits you better.

One clue, however, might simply be how big you are. MyStrengthBook analyzed the math from 2016 years IPF Classic Powerlifting World Championship and found a strong correlation between bodyweight and deadlift style for both sexes.

The lower the weight class, the greater the number of athletes pulling with a sumo style, and vice versa. The breaking point (where the number of lifters pulling with each style is 50/50) seems to be at about ~90 kg for men and ~60 kg for women.

This might be influenced by a number of factors, culture amongst others, but one possible explanation for this lies in the fact that conventional deadlifts are about 10 % more demanding of your lower back. A bigger athlete probably has a bigger trunk, which in and of itself will act like a belt or cushion of sorts. This could theoretically aid in the conventional style by alleviating some of the work required of the spinal erectors.

To find out which style suits you better, we recommend one of the following:

  1. Train deadlifts twice a week (medium heavy), and use conventional style in one workout and sumo style in the other. Train like this for 2–3 months (=8–12 workouts with each style) and you will probably have a good idea of whatever technique suits you better.
  2. If you have a long training history with one style, simply switch to the other style for 2–3 months in all your deadlift training. That will probably be enough to give you an idea of your affinity for the lift.

Remember to ease into a new movement by gradually increasing volume and load. Your muscles will be strong, but your joints and tendons will be unused to high stress in the new angle and range of motion.

Major Muscles Worked

Primary

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Trapezius
  • Grip Muscles

Secondary/Stabilizers

  • Triceps Surae
  • Transversus Abdominus
  • Obliques
  • Rhomboids

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  1. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul;32(7):1265-75. A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts.
  2. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Apr;34(4):682-8. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts.

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