Opinion

Why Does the Sumo Deadlift Get So Much Hate?

If you’re a regular social media user, then you’re probably accustomed to the frequent flack the sumo deadlift receives. No matter what – even when the weight is crazy impressive – it always seems like someone has something to say about this deadlift. Comments range from things like, “it doesn’t count because it’s sumo,” or “sumo is cheating, look at that tiny range of motion.” 

Some go as far to say the sumo deadlift should be banned from competition. In powerlifting, the goal is to move the most weight possible by the pre-determined judging criteria. If we went off of this “ban” logic, wouldn’t we have to ban different squat styles?

[Want to learn more about the sumo deadlift? Check out sumo deadlift guide.]

After Stefi Cohen’s 525 lb deadlift got so much attention (both negative and positive), I was curious as to why the sumo deadlift receives the negative attention it does. And before going any further, this article isn’t intended to take anyone’s side, but to simply understand why the sumo deadlift often receives so much backlash.

Common Reasons Why People Dislike Sumo Deadlifts

When it comes to sumo deadlifts, there are a few consistent issues people tend to have with them. First, and probably the biggest issue folks have is the different range of motion when compared to conventional styled deadlifts.

The second issue stems from the sumo not being fair because it’s a different movement compared to the conventional. This argument stems from the range of motion argument, but goes a step further and argues that everyone should have to lift the exact same way. Often times, this argument is spurred by someone’s anthropometrics that make them “built for deadlifting”, which some say is unfair.

In reality, you won’t see too many powerlifters hating on the sumo deadlift, and it’s often those who don’t compete lashing out against the lift. Below I asked a few powerlifters for their thoughts and input on topic.

What Coaches and Athletes Say About the Sumo Deadlift

Ed Coan – World Record Holding Powerlifter

Coan: “There is no controversy on the sumo deadlift! It started as a joke. Kinda like, @ you got short arms, so your bench is big! You got longer arms, so your deadlift is easier…and so on!!!”

Boly: So why do you think people get so bothered by sumo deadlifts? 

Coan: “Because they can’t do it! It’s just more technical to pull sumo. Takes more time and different muscles to adapt to the stance.”

[Check out Ed Coan’s 500lb deadlifts from June 2017 after two hip replacements.]

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Meet Recap ( the sappy long post) and #YokeTober Tip 29 Celebrate your Small Wins I have been in the powerlifting game a long time. I coach multiple lifters who Deadlift over 700 lbs some that weigh almost 100 lbs less than me. It can be to compare yourself to the top %1 especially when the internet. There was a period in my life where my deadlift didn't move for three years. I didn't stop I kept going. It can be easy to get discouraged when there are literally teenage and junior lifted smashing 700 and 800 lb deadlift. In the end YOU need to focus on YOU! You can only control your actions and behaviors . This past year I decided I needed to make a change. Strength was put on the back burner and I had to get my health under control. I lost 60 lbs this last year. Finally making the 275 class once again. Between expanding the gym, hiring new staff, and moving where I live this year has been anything but easy. My final heavy deadlift workout I pulled my hamstring on a down set of 605 conventional. Between that travel, training on a calorie deficit I was really rolling the dice and I had no idea how I would perform this meet. To make matter worse I was multiple times this week at 5am to learn from Louie at Westside Barbell so optimal sleep didn't happen either this week. I just went in and brought my best. Life isn't always optimal. Whatever hand you are dealt it's up to you how you play your cards. I set out to do this meet and I wasn't backing out. I am super proud of myself for hitting an all time PR of 660. This is an all time 20 lb PR in a meet and a 55 lb PR in the 275 class. This isn't a world class pull by any means but losing 60 lbs and pulling 660 is pretty freaking awesome in my book. Is it perfect ? No Do I have things to improve on ? Yes But I am happy with the result ! I celebrated and went off my diet and now back on track today . I have more goals in the word and already planning my next step. No matter how big or small celebrated your wins and use that as momentum to drive it forward. #GagsGoals #Roadto700 #powerlifting #deadlift #strengthcoach #leadthefront

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John Gaglione – Powerlifting Coach at Gaglione Strength

Gaglione: “I think the biggest thing is people tend to fear what they don’t understand and this ultimately leads to hate and negative comments and commentary. People also tend to repeat what they hear online or what they hear from friends without any basis for their opinions or actually forming an intelligent stance or argument.

People also tend to hate what they can’t do themselves. most often people who hate on a strong sumo deadlift for example probably don’t have a strong sumo deadlift.

Some common things I hear is that it’s simply a trick due to the shorter range of motion, but the truth is sumo does require a larger degree of technique, timing, athleticism, as well as mobility. It takes a lot longer to learn and master, as opposed to the conventional deadlift which has a lot more room for error. I like to think of the sumo deadlift like a golf swing and the conventional deadlifts like a hammer both require power but the golf swing requires a lot more mobility and Precision.

[Check out our full in-depth interview from last year with John Gaglione.]

Some people also make the analogy of classical music versus heavy metal. It’s a matter of taste at the end of the day. Sumo deadlifts are a fantastic movement and they allow lifters to potentially lift more weight and express their strength fully. I do think the conventional deadlift is a better builder of strength due to more time under tension, and a longer range of motion, but sumo deadlifts have their place and they’re a fantastic way to express your strength in competition.

A good way to wrap up is never criticize a man until he’s walked 1,000,000 miles in there moccasins. Try it and see if it works for you. Even if sumo doesn’t become your preferred stance, then they can help your squat and approve your hip strength.

Cailer Woolam – World Record Holding Powerlifter

Woolam: “Most of the hate from actual powerlifters about sumo for the most part is usually just sarcastic, and is just to tease one of their buddies. Because as a powerlifter, you clearly know you have the option to do both styles of deadlift. Only then would you realize which one is better suited for you. 

Most non-powerlifters don’t realize that sumo is very technical and difficult. The funny thing is that you will almost NEVER hear sumo hate from a lifter who is actually strong. So just let that sink in, haha.”

To Wrap Up

The sumo deadlift debate will probably continue on, but it’s important to understand what exactly is being argued. Powerlifters (some of the best in the world), as highlighted above, typically aren’t the ones producing the negative comments towards this lift. The fact of the matter remains that the goal is always to move the most weight possible, and everyone has the ability to pull sumo or conventional.

Both deadlifts can be useful for a variety of athletes, and they both have their place in a well-rounded training program. Before posting a negative comment regarding the sumo deadlift or a lifter who uses it, stop and think: “Is the sumo deadlift really negatively impacting my life?”