woman attempting a sumo deadlift

The Sumo Deadlift: An Easier and More Effective Way of Lifting?

The deadlift is a standard in any gym-goer’s routine, but it can also be one of the toughest exercises to master, especially if you’re new to the world of weights. One mistake in your technique can result in injuries, particularly to your lower back, making the deadlift a move you should be careful with until you’re sure you’ve mastered the form.

If you’re worried about overloading your lower back, the sumo deadlift is a great alternative. It’s a simpler deadlift form where you adjust the width of your feet. This moves your upper body closer to the ground, thus, reducing the distance you take when you lean over to grab your weights.

But there is much debate about the sumo deadlift. Some weightlifters consider it as a “misunderstood” practice while others call it “cheating.” The shorter range of motion is what fuels the discussion about the effectiveness of the sumo deadlift. But does assuming the sumo stance make the lift easier? And if so, is that cheating or is that a kinder exercise for your back?

Before you incorporate the sumo deadlift into your regular workout routine, it’s important to know more about this exercise: its benefits, how to do it properly and more.

How Does the Sumo Deadlift Work?

When you do a sumo deadlift, you must widen your stance and place your hands inside of your thighs. It is a variation of the conventional deadlift with a shorter range of motion and a wider stance.

For some lifters, the sumo deadlift’s wider stance enables them to lift heavier weights without worrying about their lower backs. The benefits of the sumo deadlift (which we’ll discuss in detail later in this article) include the strengthening of your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps, as well as the reduced pressure on your lumbar spine.

Studies also report that this deadlift variation is more effective for lifters with longer torsos or those who are new to lifting.

Sumo vs. Conventional Deadlift: What’s the Difference?

As mentioned above, the sumo deadlift is a variation of the conventional deadlift. In some ways, both forms share similarities but there are a few differences:

  • Range of motion (ROM). The sumo deadlift’s wider stance comes with a shorter range of motion compared to the conventional deadlift. This is what makes the sumo deadlift an easier alternative compared to the conventional lift. Also, the sumo deadlift focuses more on your leg muscles while the conventional deadlift’s longer lean forward emphasizes the muscles in your back.
  • Foot placement. Another key difference between the conventional deadlift and sumo deadlift is the stance. With the sumo deadlift, your feet placement is wider than your shoulder width. Also, this deadlift stance requires you to place your hands on the barbell between your knees, which is different from the conventional deadlift’s hand placement (wider than your knees).
  • Shoulder and torso position. With the sumo deadlift, you must pay closer attention to your torso. Maintain a vertical angle and let your legs do the work. Also, make sure your shoulders are directly in line with the barbell during your lift.

How to Sumo Deadlift: The Basics of a Good Lift

Just because the sumo deadlift is an easier version of the conventional deadlift, it doesn’t mean you should take it lightly.

Start by choosing a barbell with weights that you can control for two to three sets of three to six repetitions. Your chosen weight should enable you to maintain a good form and technique throughout all the repetitions and sets.

Once you have your weights, get ready and drink some protein shakes.

Here’s how to sumo deadlift, broken down in easy steps.

STEP ONE: Set Up Your Stance

Assume a wide stance with your toes slightly pointed out. Make sure your stance is wide enough so you can extend your arms downwards, with the elbows inside the knees. The stance width varies from one lifter to another. However, the width should position your shins perpendicular to the floor with your shoulders directly above the bar and your back flat.

Pro-tip: pull your hips down to the bar while keeping your core braced and tight. Your knees should also be pushed out wide so your torso can stay more vertical than a traditional deadlift.

STEP TWO: Pull the Slack Out of the Bar

barbell with weight plates
Photo by Eduardo Cano Photo Co. on Unsplash

Once you’re in position, tighten your butt, legs, back and core to create tension in your body. Slightly pull up the bar and press your legs through the floor. Don’t move the bar just yet! Once you’ve mastered the position, take a breath and prepare to lift.

STEP THREE: Drive With Your Legs

Now that your body is in its correct position (and there is no slack in your body or in the bar), pull the weight by driving through your feet. Pro-tip: don’t let your hips rise in the pull or your chest to fall. Instead, have the barbell stay close to your body as you straighten up. Keep your chest and hips in position, press through your heels and drive through your legs.

Always keep your chest up. Also, make sure that your bar is against your shins so the bar will not shift too far forward. This can cause injuries.

STEP FOUR: Lock Out Your Weight

Once you’ve lifted the weight, it should have ascended to your legs. You may also feel the bar stop moving altogether or to start to pull you down. Keep your stance by not letting your upper back round or your chest fall forward. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes.

If you’re having trouble with the lift, squeeze your butt. This drives your hips forward while decreasing the distance between the lift’s apex and your weights.

You can also do another variation of the sumo deadlift, which is the sumo deadlift high pull (SDHP). A sumo deadlift high pull involves lifting a bar (you can also choose a dumbbell or kettlebell) from your shin to right under your chin. You can do this move by gripping the bar in the middle with both your hands. As you do so, do a full hip extension and keep your elbow high and pointed out.

When done correctly, a sumo deadlift high pull uses your legs, core and hips to thrust the weight overhead.

What are the Benefits of a Sumo Deadlift?

When you switch to the sumo deadlift, you will enjoy the following benefits:

  1. Comfortable lifting. The sumo deadlift is inherently beginner-friendly for most lifters. The narrower arm position and wider stance shorten your range of motion, which is what some lifters struggle with.
  2. Less strain on your lower back. Unlike the conventional deadlift, the sumo deadlift focuses on a more vertical positioning of your torso. By ensuring your torso is more upright, you reduce the stress on your lower back. This is beneficial for lifters who want to limit the stress on their lower back, address different aspects of the pull or monitor the training volume.
  3. Increase your pulling strength. The sumo deadlift can increase your muscle mass and pulling strength. You can do this deadlift in different ways — adding chains, manipulating your lifting tempo and using bands. Since the sumo deadlift enables you to lift a heavier load, you can overload your muscles without hurting yourself.
  4. Works your muscles. Below are the primary muscle groups worked by the sumo deadlift.
    1. Hamstrings. Hamstrings are the primary movers for the sumo deadlift. But if you want to target your hamstrings more, consider switching to Romanian deadlifts.
    2. Glutes. The sumo deadlift targets the glutes to a high degree since your feet are turned outwards and set wider. You’re placing your hip in an external rotation.
    3. Lower back. Your lower back muscles, also known as erectors, keep your spine stable as you lift. As you do the sumo deadlift, you’re developing your erectors, which is a plus since your lower back can be a limiting factor.
    4. Quadriceps. Due to the sumo deadlift’s foot placement, the lifter must perform a stable knee bend. For this reason, the lift targets the quadriceps to a greater degree compared to the conventional deadlift.

Are Sumo Deadlifts Better? The Verdict

Contrary to what other lifters say, the sumo deadlift isn’t cheating. It’s just an easier form of lifting that accommodates lifters who struggle with their lower back, wish to target their specific muscles or work better with a shorter range of motion.

But that doesn’t mean the sumo deadlift is better for everyone. Again, it depends on what you need. It can benefit others and other lifters may be better off with other lifting techniques. The bottom line is if sumo deadlifts work for you, that’s great!

If you have more questions about sumo deadlifts, get in touch with a coach to ensure the quality of your routine.

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