Fitness feuds aren’t always a bad thing. A little hearty debate can be engaging, informative, and fun for everyone involved. Coach and social media mastermind Jeff Nippard leaned into that idea hard on Apr. 25, 2022, when he published a video detailing his beef with a comment made by three-time Classic Physique Olympia champion Chris Bumstead.
During a Q&A of his own, Bumstead mentioned that he believed the sumo deadlift is “cheating.” While the comment was likely made in jest, Nippard took the opportunity to lay a scientific smackdown on the idea that one style of deadlift is superior to another.
Check out the video below, and read on for a detailed recap of what Nippard said on the matter (and why he has a cardboard cutout of Bumstead locked in his basement):
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According to Nippard, the “sumo deadlift is cheating” argument is contingent on two factors — that an athlete can lift more weight due to the setup and execution of the sumo deadlift, and that the exercise is advantageous due to its purportedly-shorter range of motion.
Stats & Science
To begin his campaign, Nippard pulled data from the 2018 and 2019 International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Championships and analyzed the athletes for trends. Notably and despite the claim that the sumo deadlift is unfairly effective, Nippard observed that a majority of athletes in the Men’s 93-kilogram weight class performed their deadlifts with a conventional stance.
He also mentioned an interesting tidbit — the number of competitive powerlifters pulling with a sumo stance decreases as the weight classes get heavier. Nippard notes that in the 66-kilogram category, almost 75 percent of the athletes pulled sumo. However, in the super-heavyweight division, a similar percentage deadlifted conventionally.
Nippard’s data for female athletes displayed a similar but less-extreme trend. Women in the middleweight classes appeared to have a roughly-equal split in their preferred deadlift stance, but the heaviest and lightest ladies overwhelmingly preferred to pull conventional and sumo, respectively.
The Range of Motion “Issue”
After a brief intermission in which Nippard returns to his basement to (unsuccessfully) interrogate Bumstead’s two-dimensional visage, he spends the rest of the video addressing the disparity in range of motion between sumo and conventional deadlifts.
My sumo range of motion is 15 percent shorter, but I also pull about 15 percent more weight when I use a sumo stance. The overall Rate of Perceived Exertion ends up being roughly the same.
After some practical in-gym testing, Nippard notes that the distance his barbell travels is indeed several inches shorter in the sumo deadlift. However, he counters this by noting that he’s stronger with a sumo stance and that the increased intensity offsets the “bonus” of a reduced range of motion, in terms of overall training effect.
Nippard also argues that even with a shorter range of motion, sumo deadlifters must still grind through the hardest parts of the lift — getting the barbell off the floor initially and past the knee without dropping it. As such, Nippard suggests, both deadlift styles are more similar than they may appear visually.
Nippard refers to two scientific papers when going to bat for the sumo deadlift. He argues that while the absolute range of motion is shorter in the sumo, your knee extension demand is actually higher due to the nature of the setup.
Further, when activation levels of the hip musculature were measured, there was little to no difference found in hip muscle engagement between the two styles of deadlift. (1)(2)
What It All Means
Nippard wraps up his video by saying that despite popular perception, stereotypes, or subjective experience, “the actual physiological differences [between sumo and conventional deadlifts] are much smaller than many realize.”
Nippard notes that Bumstead’s initial allegation about “cheating” is likely due more to the conventional deadlift feeling harder because of the increased demand on the lower back.
As a general recommendation, Nippard offers that lighter athletes may have more success with the sumo deadlift while heavier men or women are prone to excel more at the conventional style. However, it’s ultimately trial-and-error, and he strongly encourages trying both and seeing what works best.
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Which Deadlift Is Best for You?
After listening to Nippard’s (jokingly one-sided) verbal sparring match with the three-time Classic Physique Mr. Olympia, you might come away with more questions than answers about your own deadlift workouts. On the other hand, the debate may have served as your introduction to the deadlift in the first place.
In either case, here’s a crash course in pulling technique.
How to Do the Conventional Deadlift
Approach the barbell and place your feet under it in a hip-width stance with your toes either pointed forward or turned out very slightly. The barbell should be an inch or so away from your shins. Hinge at the hips and sink down to grab the bar with an overhand, hook, or mixed grip. Do not allow your knees to travel forward excessively as you grab the barbell.
Flatten your back, inhale deeply, and push the floor away with relaxed arms. Ensure your hips and shoulders rise at the same rate — don’t try to “squat” the barbell up or shoot your hips up too high. Push to a standing position and hold for a moment.
Technique Elements of the Conventional Deadlift
- Longer range of motion than the sumo deadlift.
- Generally taxes the lower back to a greater degree than the sumo pull.
- Easier to learn for beginners.
How to Do the Sumo Deadlift
Approach the barbell and place your feet in a very wide stance with your toes turned out dramatically. Taller lifters are likely to find their toes quite close to the plates. From here, sink straight down by opening your hips up wide and driving your knees out to the sides as hard as you can until you can grasp the bar.
Once you’ve grabbed the barbell, use it to “pull” your torso into a stable, rigid posture. Push off the floor with your quads, keeping your knees out as wide as you can so the barbell can travel freely. Once the bar clears your knees, aggressively thrust your hips forward to lock it out.
Technique Elements of the Sumo Deadlift
- Shorter range of motion than most conventional deadlifts.
- Taxes the quadriceps to a greater degree than the standard pull.
- Allows you to work with more total weight.
- Requires higher technical expertise and is harder to master than the conventional deadlift.
- Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Moorman, C. T., 3rd (2002). An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34(4), 682–688.
- Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Welch, C. M., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Andrews, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(7), 1265–1275.
Featured Image: @jeffnippard on Instagram