Before we begin, you may be thinking any one of these things: What is the sumo deadlift? Is it like the sumo squat? Is this deadlift going to require a helluva lot more weight than I’m used to?
The answer is no and don’t panic. The Sumo Deadlift does not require any more weight than you’re comfortably used to training with!
Simply put the Sumo Deadlift is a variation of the deadlift. The difference is that in this variation, your legs do a little more work than your lower back.
Because of that, your sumo deadlift form requires good positioning and technique in order to be effective. Thankfully, that’s what we’re covering today!
What is the Sumo Deadlift good for?
In the sumo deadlift, your hips are closer to the bar than they would be in the conventional deadlift. Your torso is also more vertical, which removes the weight from your lower back and instead transfers it to your legs.
In the actual lift itself, your legs are used to squat the weight up rather than just your lower back and hips.
Now earlier I said that the sumo deadlift does not require any more weight than you’re used to, and that’s true. But because the sumo deadlift decreases back stress, it does allow lifters to handle more weight in the deadlift because recovery is slightly easier.
That’s not a stipulation – it’s just an advantage of the sumo deadlift. If a lifter wants to work with more weight, the sumo deadlift is the ideal set up.
The reduction of stress on the lower back also makes the sumo deadlift ideal to introduce when coming back to training after a back injury.
Another benefit of the sumo deadlift is its decreased range of motion when compared to the conventional deadlift. This is achieved because of the wider stance, and much narrower arm position. The decreased range of motion is what enables some lifters to be able to work with more weight than they may be able to in their conventional deadlifts.
Finally, if a lifter chooses to work with more weight, it can increase the strength of their overall pull from the floor, as well as their muscle mass. These increases can then aid their conventional deadlifts because the newfound strength should enable lifters to complete the top half of their deadlifts with much more ease.
What muscles does the Sumo Deadlift work?
Just like the conventional deadlift, the sumo deadlift also works an array of different muscle groups. The usual suspects, the glutes, hamstrings and back are all worked but there are some slight differences in how these muscles are worked in the sumo deadlift when compared to the conventional deadlift.
Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
The erectors, or the muscles of the lower back, work the hardest throughout the pulling phase of any deadlift because they keep your spine stable.
In the sumo deadlift however, the lower back is under less strain because the torso is more vertical when compared to the conventional deadlift.
For more on protecting your back when deadlifting, check out my complete guide.
In the sumo deadlift your feet are set slightly wider apart and turned outwards, placing your hips in an external rotation. This engages your glutes to a much higher degree than other deadlift variations, and helps to strengthen them.
The hamstrings are worked harder in the conventional deadlift when compared to the sumo deadlift. However they are still an essential part of the lift as much more load is placed on the legs.
In a sumo deadlift a lifter’s foot placement puts more emphasis on flexion of the knees in order to be able to bend enough to safely perform the sumo deadlift.
So in a sumo deadlift, expect your quadriceps to receive much more focus than in a conventional deadlift. This is because there’s more of a squatting motion involved in the sumo deadlift than other deadlift variations.
Trapezius and Back Muscles
In a sumo deadlift the upper back and trapezius muscles help to maintain the correct torso positioning and allow the barbell to be pulled upwards with ease.
The sumo deadlift is a much more vertical pulling movement than when compared to the conventional deadlift, so this will benefit lifters with strong traps and defined upper back muscles.
Want a tip as to how to improve your deadlift force transfer? Click here.
How to Perform a Sumo Deadlift
Though it may have a decreased range of motion and allow lifters to work with a broader range of weights, it doesn’t mean that the sumo deadlift is an easier variation. Here’s how to nail your sumo deadlift form.
Set up correctly
Begin by assuming a wide stance and pointing your toes outward. Your stance should be wide enough to allow your arms to extend downwards with your elbows pointing inside your knees.
A general rule of thumb is that your width should allow your shins to be perpendicular to the floor, whilst maintaining a flat back with your shoulders directly above the bar.
Just like in a squat, your knees should track over your toes, so only turn your toes out as far as your knees can go.
When you pull your hips down to the bar, keep your core engaged and tight. Keep your knees pushed out and make sure your torso is more vertical than how it would present in a conventional deadlift.
2. Get ready to pull from the floor
Once you feel that you’ve got your set up nailed, engage your core to tighten it. Then tighten your back, legs and glutes so that you feel fully tensed.
Press your legs through the floor and pull up slightly on the bar, but don’t fully pull the bar from the floor yet. If the position feels comfortable, inhale deeply before moving onto the next step.
3. Drive through your legs
It’s time to let your legs do some work and feel the real difference in the sumo deadlift! Ensuring there’s no slack in the bar, pull up from the floor by driving your weight through your feet.
Keep your chest up as you pull and make sure the bar is against your shins. This prevents the bar shifting too far forward which can disrupt the lift and also potentially cause injury.
Don’t allow the chest to fall or the hips to rise. Keep your barbell close to your body as you now come to stand, pressing through your heels and keeping your hips and chest in position.
4. Lock the weight out
In the final step the weight of the barbell should be ascending from your legs.
If you feel the bar start to pull you toward the floor or just stop moving, do not let your chst fall forward or your upper back round – just like in a conventional deadlift. Instead counteract the sensation by pushing your weight through your heels and squeezing your glutes so that the bar eventually positions itself level with your hips. Pulling your shoulders back can help here.
Once you have held the bar, come out of the lift by carefully lowering the bar back to the ground but make sure your back doesn’t round as you do so.
There you have it! Four easy steps to get your sumo deadlift form spot on. The sumo deadlift is a great variation when performed correctly because it does allow experienced lifters to experiment with increased weight or take some strain off the lower back, but it’s also great for beginners because of the decreased range of motion required.
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