The sumo deadlift is a widely used deadlift variation seen in most powerlifting, fitness, and strength and conditioning programs. While both the sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift produce similar net effects, there are some key differences between the sumo deadlift and conventional style that all coaches and athletes should be aware of when programming for strength, muscular hypertrophy, and injury resilience.
[Go in depth comparing and contrasting the sumo versus conventional deadlift here!]
In this article we will discuss everything you will need to know about the sumo deadlift, correct form, and even various ways to program them into training sessions.
The Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift is a deadlift variation often used by various lifters, athletes, and record setters. This deadlift variation is distinctly different in set up when compared to the conventional deadlift, however does still produce very similar muscular adaptations (with some slight differences as well). The wide stance in the sumo deadlift transfers loading to the glutes and quadriceps slightly more than during the conventional deadlift, which also decreases loading on the hamstrings and lower back (due to a more vertical back angle and greater knee flexion). The sumo deadlift can be used during powerlifting competitions, to develop glute and pulling strength, as well as help customize pulling programs for some lifters/athletes who may be looking for conventional alternatives or to maximally diversify ones strength.
Ben Pollack completing a 785lbs sumo deadlift for five reps.
Sumo Deadlift Benefits
Here is a brief overview of the benefits coaches and athletes can expect from performing sumo deadlifts.
- Increased recruitment of gluteus maximus and vastus medialis/lateralis at onset of movement (as compared to conventional deadlift).
- Slightly less recruitment of hamstrings and lower back muscles (erectors) at onset of movement (as compared to conventional deadlift).
- Increased maximal strength and muscular development for general fitness, sport athletes, and competitive lifters.
- Upper and middle trap, grip, and posterior chain development.
Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked
Below is a listing of the primary muscles targeted by the sumo deadlift (in no specific order). Additionally, we have a great guide to the differences between the sumo deadlift vs conventional deadlift, and what exactly you need to know about programming, hard training, and competitive pulling.
The sumo deadlift can be trained similarly to conventional deadlifts, for both strength and muscular hypertrophy.
- Gluteus Maximus
- Vastus Medialis and Lateralis
- Middle and Upper Traps
- Spinal Erectors (lower back muscles)
- Lats and back (minor)
Sumo Deadlift Form
Below is a video covering how to properly set up, brace, and execute the sumo deadlift. Note, there are two general ways to get yourself loaded into the pulling position, each focusing on getting all the slack out of the barbell before you initiate the pull.
To reiterate what John Gaglione discussed in the video, starting position is dependent on personal preference, however generally speaking, the shins are close to the barbell with the feet pointed outwards 30-45 degrees. The lifter should feel comfortable in this position, as the goal is to be as athletic and supported in the setup as possible. To get set up onto the barbell, the lifter can choose to (1) bend over, grab the barbell in similar fashion as the conventional deadlift set up, and take the slack out of the back and hips, always focusing on spreading the floor. The other option is to (2) squat down towards the barbell, opening the hips with the knees out and eyes and chest up, taking all slack out of the back and hips prior to initiating the lift.
The lifter’s shoulders should be set up over or on top of the barbell, with their hips seated below shoulder level. The shins must be vertical, as any forward displacement will result in the barbell pulling the lifters forward.
Below is another great coaching video by Chris Duffin, discussing the often misunderstood cue of “knees out” during the sumo deadlift.
Programming the Sumo Deadlift
Programming the sumo deadlift can be done in a very similar fashion as the conventional deadlift, with the knowledge that the hamstrings and lower back muscles are called into action slightly less during the sumo deadlift vs. conventional deadlift.
Generally speaking, if the deadlift is programmed for athletic strength (not specific to powerlifting), athletes could use whichever stance they feel most athletic and comfortable in. That said, as a college strength coach, I teach all my athletes how to deadlift conventionally, as my goal is to increase hip, hamstring, and lower back strength first, as I personally feel the conventional can transition much better to cleans, sprinting, and running.
[If you regularly train the sumo deadlift, be sure to also include this exercise into your assistance training to maximize hamstring strength and development!]
That said, the sumo deadlift can also be used during any and all training regimens to diversify one’s fitness, especially in athletics; most athletes take a sumo-like stance on the field of play.
First time I pulled 500lbs + from the floor (Aug 2015) was using sumo in competition. That said, my back weakness was a issue. After I addressed using conventional deadlifts, both styles up.
Muscle recruitment for the sumo deadlift is similar to the conventional deadlift, however greater demands are placed upon the quadriceps (inner and outer) and glutes during that sumo deadlift (and less hamstring and lower back involvement). When programming for hypertrophy, coaches must make sure to balance out movements so that the hamstrings, glutes, and necessary posterior chain movements receive enough training emphasis.
For weightlifters, the pulling style of choice is often the clean pull, which resembles the conventional deadlift (however is not the same, so read why the clean pull should not be done like a deadlift here). However, the “sumo clean pull” is a hybrid lift that many Chinese weightlifters have done to increase leg and hip development.
Powerlifters can program sumo deadlifts similarity to conventional, as many coaches and athletes agree that both lifts are equally demanding and impressive, despite what some internet trolls may say. The goal during powerlifting is to pull the most amount of weight from the floor, so if a lifter feels stronger and mechanically more efficient in the sumo vs conventional deadlift, so be it. It is important to note however, that proper hamstring development should then be trained using hamstring specific movements, such as Romanian deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, etc.
The programming for the sumo deadlift is nearly identical for the conventional deadlift, however coaches and athletes should understand the mechanical and muscular recruitment differences between them and assess the overall goals of the athlete.
The sumo deadlift is a highly effective means for developing the glutes, hips, and back strength, similar to the conventional deadlift. The main distinction between the two deadlift movements (due to the stance) is that the sumo deadlift engages slightly less hamstrings and lower back musculature (in lieu of more inner and outer quads and glutes) at the onset of the pull. Coaches and athletes should never force a certain set up onto a lifter, however should allow them to experiment and see what feels best. There are a few exceptions to this, such as; Olympic weightlifters may find little carry over to cleans and snatches when performing the sumo deadlift. Lastly, diversifying one’s fitness and pulling abilities from both sumo and conventional deadlifting stances will only increase overall strength, muscle development, and injury resilience in most athletes.
Featured Image: @phdeadlift on Instagram