Want to stir up some trouble between strength athletes? Bring up their deadlift stance. Sumo deadlifts are controversial, to say the least. To some, taking a sumo stance is cheating. You can lift more weight with a smaller range of motion, the argument goes, so you’re cheating. Others argue that it’s not as simple as that. Limb length and muscle activation — not to mention elite competition results — make the issue a lot more complicated. Needless to say, the debate rages on.
For range of motion purists, what if you could lift heavier from a sumo stance but also pull from a larger range of motion? Enter the deficit sumo deadlift. The wide stance requires more quad engagement, core stability, and can help protect your lower back. Lifting from an elevated platform means you have to hold and pull the weight for a longer time and farther distance than if you were standing on the floor.
That’s giving you the best of both worlds in terms of conventional versus sumo pulls. If you’ve been deadlifting for a while now, read on to find out how to safely challenge yourself with a new variation.
- How to Do the Deficit Sumo Deadlift
- Deficit Sumo Deadlift Sets and Reps
- Common Deficit Sumo Deadlift Mistakes
- Deficit Sumo Deadlift Variations
- Deficit Sumo Deadlift Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Deficit Sumo Deadlift
- Benefits of the Deficit Sumo Deadlift
- Who Should Do the Deficit Sumo Deadlift
- Frequently Asked Questions
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For this lift, you’ll be performing essentially the same loaded hip hinge exercise as a conventional deadlift. The two main differences are that you’ll be pulling from an elevated position (which creates the deficit) and with your stance wider than your grip (the sumo stance). To perform the deficit sumo deadlift, you will need a proper set up of both equipment and form.
Step 1 – Set Up the Deficit
Measure your sumo stance: your feet should be wider than hip’s width, with your toes pointed slightly out. Get two stable risers, such as bumper plates. Place the risers where your feet will be. Step onto them and roll a loaded barbell into position over your midfoot.
Coach’s Tip: If you’re just learning this exercise, use a shorter deficit until you get comfortable with the move.
Step 2 – Build Tension in Your Hinge
Hinge down to grab the barbell with your hands under your shoulders. Push your feet down. Bend your knees and push your hips back. Keep your knees stacked over your ankles. Depress your scapulae to engage your lats. Brace your core to keep your spine neutral. Tuck your chin slightly. Focus on feeling all of this tension to be sure that you can maintain it when you begin the lift.
Coach’s Tip: Practice holding an isometric hinge at the bottom position without weight for 30 seconds. Stand up and reset before returning to do your first rep.
Step 3 – Push Down to Pull the Bar Up
Maintaining the position and tension, push the ground away with your feet. Drive through your legs to stand up with power from your hips. Tuck your hips and squeeze your glutes at the top. Maintain a stiff core and neutral spine.
Coach’s Tip: The more you drive through your legs and squeeze your abs, the safer this will be on your low back.
Step 4 – Lower the Bar with Tension
Hinge down while holding your tension. Maintain your spine’s integrity and the alignment of your hips, knees and ankles.
Coach’s Tip: Continue to pack your lats and keep the bar close to you to help control your descent.
The deficit sumo deadlift is a multi-joint, compound movement and should be performed near the beginning of your session when you have the most energy. You need to vary your sets, reps, and load depending on your goal to get the most out of your work. Building strength calls for heavier weights at lower reps. When you’re building endurance, you will want your muscles to withstand more reps or a longer time at a lighter weight. If your goal is to build muscle, you’ll be somewhere in between.
- For Building Muscle: Perform four sets of 10 to 12 reps at a moderate weight. You should be able to do one to two more reps at the end of each set, so you can complete all four sets with quality form. Rest for 45 to 90 seconds after each set.
- For Strength: Perform five sets of five reps, with the weight at about 80% of your one-rep max. By the end of the last set you may feel close to failure. You can rest between three to five minutes between sets to fully recover.
- For Endurance: Try a 10-minute EMOM (every minute on the minute). At the top of each minute, perform 10 reps at about 50% of your one-rep max. Rest for the remainder of each minute.
Whether you’re learning a new lift or are going through the motions of a move you know well, you might fall prey to some common form errors. For maximum gains, make sure you’re avoiding these common deficit sumo deadlift mistakes.
Rounding Your Back
Due to the elevated stance, you have a longer way to go on your way down. You may start to round your back and use your upper body to finish moving the barbell. Instead, continue to hinge by bending at your hips and knees and maintain core stiffness to complete the descent with your lower body. Some lifters may have different degrees of back rounding during their deadlift, but it’s always good to monitor your form to make sure it’s working for you.
Knees Coming Forward
Although everyone has a different anatomy and skeletal structure, you generally want your knees to stack directly over your ankles and maintain a relatively vertical shin position. Frequently, your knees will come too far forward during the descent, which can put too much stress on the joints to stand back up. This stress can potentially lead to pain and injury. Instead, spread your toes and press your feet down and forward to continue driving your hips and knees back.
Craning Your Neck
It’s tempting to watch yourself pulling heavy weights in the mirror. But check yourself out with caution. Overly extending your neck, or looking up too much, takes your spine out of a neutral position. Under great load and stress, it can be unsafe and also decreases the tension you need to successfully pull heavy.
Instead, tuck your chin and retract your head. Fix your gaze on the ground a few feet ahead of you. Opt for taking videos of yourself during your sets rather than staring up at the mirror. Review them during rest breaks or later to assess your form and adjust as needed.
If you’ve been trying the barbell version for a while and want to mix up your routine, check out these deficit sumo deadlift variations.
Double Kettlebell Sumo Deficit Deadlift
Try the exercise with two heavy kettlebells instead of a barbell. The set up will be exactly the same, but you’ll hold a kettlebell in each hand with an overhand grip. Kettlebells will challenge your core stability in a different way and point out imbalances between your left and right shoulders.
Pull your shoulders back and down and avoid any shifting from side to side. Notice any difference in your two sides throughout the movement and work to get them even.
Sumo Deficit Romanian Deadlift
Instead of starting the lift at the bottom, safely pick the barbell up and then stand tall with tension. A Romanian deadlift begins from the top of the lift, and there is a greater emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes. That’s because you’ll hinge your hips back with a minimal bend in your knees.
Go down as far as you can without breaking your form. The elevated platform and wide stance still allows you to reap the benefits of the sumo deficit deadlift while working your hamstrings more.
Maybe you don’t have a barbell, stable risers, or bumper plates to stand on. Or maybe you’re not in the mood to face the ire of your gym buddy about doing anything sumo. Fortunately, there are alternatives to this lift that you can try out.
For a complete beginner, the bodyweight glute bridge is a simple but effective exercise to teach you to engage your posterior chain without stressing your lower back. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees to the ceiling, and arms by your sides, palms facing down.
Press your abs down and inhale. On an exhale, lift your hips up, maintaining a neutral lumbar spine. Squeeze your glutes at the top, lower, and repeat. You can progress this to a weighted hip thrust when you’re ready, or use it as a glute activation warm-up.
Set the cable to its lowest height and start with a light weight. If you want to add a deficit, take a sumo stance on risers. Hinge down to grab the cable behind you and pull it with you as you stand tall.
Single-Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift
As you progress, you can elevate yourself to create a deficit, and slowly increase the weight of your single kettlebell.
The sumo deadlift will place a bit more emphasis on your quads than the conventional version. That said, it still works the same muscles overall as your traditional lift.
While your hips are the prime mover of the deadlift, your glutes work to extend your hips, which happens at the top of the lift. You want to fully squeeze your glutes when you stand up into hip extension.
You’ll generally aim to feel a stretch in your hamstrings as your knees bend and you hinge back. The hamstring works to flex (or bend) the knee and also extends your hips, along with your glutes. You might feel less of a stretch during regular sumo deadlifts, but it will likely increase with the greater range of the deficit version.
The deficit sumo deadlift will work your quads more than a traditional deadlift due to the increased knee flexion of your starting position. Your quads function to extend your knees. Your glutes, hamstrings, and quads need to work together to properly engage throughout your hinge movement.
The muscles on either side of your spine work to stabilize and protect your spine. Your lower back is involved with this lift, even though it’s generally less stressed than in the conventional stance. It’s important that these muscles fire, rather than letting your spine extend or flex to help lift the weight.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
Your lats help stabilize your spine. In the deficit sumo deadlift, you want to feel them contract as you keep your shoulders depressed and the bar close to you. Your lats help you to hold the barbell properly and lift it without pulling from your arms.
In the deficit sumo deadlift, you can train a larger range of motion, which allows you to increase controlled mobility in your hips and greater flexibility in your hamstrings. Additionally, you may be able to lift more weight in the sumo stance because it allows for more drive through your legs. This can help you increase overall muscle mass, strength, improve your power and performance, and teach you to hold your tension under greater stress to safely and progressively lift heavier.
If you work at a desk, you’re likely to spend a lot more time sitting than you might intend. This can lead to chronic tight hips and hamstrings. While practicing mobility work is beneficial, a great way to increase your mobility is performing loaded exercises in increasing, controllable ranges of motion such as the deficit sumo deadlift.
Standing on an elevated platform creates a deficit, or a greater and deeper distance that the bar has to be lifted from the floor, as well as returned to the starting position. You will need to begin in a deep hip hinge, which requires hip and hamstring mobility as well as core stability. The movement of your hips from flexion to extension will be greater than a conventional deadlift, causing a bigger, loaded stretch on your hips and hamstrings. Over time, in combination with other movement practices and habits, this can increase mobility, potentially making the rest of your life easier and pain free.
If you are looking to increase your deadlift strength, the deficit sumo deadlift is a great way to pull more weight. The wider stance allows for more leg drive and you’ll generally be able to lift heavier than your conventional deadlift. Continuing to train both exercises will help you see your new strength carry over to your conventional stance, as well.
Potentially Reduced Back Pain
If your form is correct but conventional deadlifts consistently stress your lower back, sumo deadlifts can offer a great alternative. You’ll be able to pull a lot of weight off the ground without giving as much grief to your lower back. But if you’re concerned about the decreased range of motion of this stance, you can take refuge in pulling from a deficit. The stance itself can help protect your lower back, while the deficit can keep your range of motion large.
The deficit sumo deadlift can help lifters of all experience levels gain a lot more lower body pulling strength. Yes — that even includes powerlifters.
Although the deficit sumo deadlift is an advanced movement, at its core it is simply a hip hinge and a vertical pull. These are two basic movement patterns that all beginners should learn to master. With the wide stance, it also gives beginners a chance to challenge their stability in a different foot position than they might be used to. Beginners can modify this move by using a kettlebell, a lighter weight, or a lower elevation.
Bodybuilders often do tons of exercises to target smaller muscles. The deficit sumo deadlift can be beneficial for hypertrophy when programmed with the correct sets, reps and load. The emphasis on quad work in this exercise is great for bodybuilders to get more definition in each individual quad muscle.
Yes, even powerlifters can benefit from this move. If you pull sumo in competition, the deficit variation can help improve your strength off the floor since you’ll be practicing pulls from even lower. Even if you pull conventional in competition, working this move as an accessory or during your offseason can help build the quad strength that might be lacking in your traditional lockout.
Gain from a Deficit
Whether you’re a beginner or advanced lifter, the deficit sumo deadlift has something to offer you. There are plenty of variations and modifications to safely perform this lift, which may be able to spare your lower back some grief from conventional pulls. Go ahead and reap the benefits of training a larger range of motion and building stability in a wide stance. Watch your conventional deadlift weight go up, your back pain potentially decrease, and your overall mobility increase. Is it “cheating?” Well, if you have good form and perform quality reps, does it really matter?
Still have questions about the deficit sumo deadlift? Understandable — we have answers.
Are deficit sumo deadlifts bad for my lower back?
The sumo deadlift is often considered less taxing on the low back than a conventional deadlift because you are able to drive more through your legs and glutes. The same principle applies to the deficit version. Always brace and hold tension in your core as well to maximize protection to your lower back.
What if my hips and hamstrings are too tight?
You will likely benefit from foam rolling and doing mobility work before and outside of your session. Do more warm up sets with the bar only, and increase your weight slowly. You can also lower your elevation and gradually increase your deficit over time.
Are deficit sumo deadlifts better than conventional deadlifts?
The answer is: it depends. There are different types of deadlifts and all of them are effective for different reasons. If you’d like to target your quads and glutes more, if you’d like to pull more weight, and if you’re interested in increasing mobility by training a larger range of motion, then yes, deficit sumo pulls may be better for you. However, it’s always best to follow a balanced, personalized training program designed for your body, your level, and your goals.
Featured Image: Samson Barbell / YouTube