Your Definitive Guide to Sumo Versus Conventional Deadlifts

Here's what you need to know about finding the right deadlift stance.

The deadlift is one of the best exercises for building muscle, strength, and all-around athleticism. A proficient deadlifter needs clean hip-hinge mechanics, mobility, and raw strength. Not only does the deadlift test all of these traits — it builds them up. So when someone asks “Should I deadlift?” the answer is a no-brainer (assuming one’s back is healthy) — of course. Yet, the answer changes when someone says, “Should I pull sumo or conventional?” Then the answer takes a weird form because the answer becomes “It depends.” 

Below, we’ll explain the differences between sumo and conventional deadlifts, the pros and cons of each, the benefits, and tell you how to master each style. The intent isn’t to claim that one style is better than the other, but to give you the tools you need for optimal and pain-free deadlifts. 

The Sumo Vs. Conventional Deadlift — Form Differences 

When watching an athlete perform the conventional deadlift and sumo deadlift, the differences are obvious. This section will cover the form differences between the two and the correct way to perform them.

Both deadlift variations target the same muscles — the glutes, hamstrings, core, and back. However, the sumo deadlift has the lifter widens their stance and places their hands inside their knees. A conventional deadlift is when the lifter keeps their feet about shoulder-width apart and lifts with their hands outside their knees.


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The wider stance of the sumo deadlift puts the lifter in more of a squat position, which engages the gluteus maximus, quads, and inner thigh muscles to a greater degree. By comparison, the conventional deadlift places more of an emphasis on the lower back and hamstrings.

The form differences between conventional and sumo deadlifts are pretty recognizable, and even the newest lifter can generally point out form differences between each deadlift. What a newer lifter may struggle with is pointing out the differences between the targeted muscles and the kinetic chain — the way your body moves — of the movement. 

How to Do the Conventional Deadlift

  • Stand shoulder-width apart, toes pointed straight, with the middle of your foot directly under the bar. 
  • Bend over and grab the bar shoulder-width apart (mixed grip optional). 
  • Hinge at your hips, keep your shoulders squeezed together, straighten your head and chest, then pull the barbell up. Keep the barbell as close as possible to your body throughout the movement. 
  • Extend at the top until your body is upright. 
  • Slide the barbell down your body — while keeping control of the weight — to return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat. 

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How to Do the Sumo Deadlift

  • Spread your legs as far as you can — in a comfortable position — with your toes slightly pointed outward at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Bend over and grab the bar shoulder-width apart (mixed grip optional), with your hands inside your knees. 
  • Hinge at your hips, keep your shoulders protracted back, and straighten your head and chest, then pull the barbell up. Keep the barbell as close as possible to your body throughout the movement. 
  • Extend at the top until your body is upright. 
  • Slide the barbell down your body — while keeping control of the weight — to return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat. 

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The Sumo Vs. Conventional Deadlift — Similarities

While there are obvious differences between the two forms there are many form similarities. Really, the cues below are useful for any deadlift variation.

  • Sitting your hips back.
  • Engaging your hips and lats.
  • Keeping your core tight.
  • Assuming a neutral head position.
  • Gripping the floor with your feet.

What’s more, both movements engage all the major muscle groups in your lower and even upper body, including your back, arms, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. The sumo and conventional deadlift also have you load weight onto a barbell and pull the weight from the ground, extending your hips and back. These two movements will allow you to use the most weight out of all the exercises out there. This means you can build some serious strength if you get these down.

The Sumo Vs. Conventional Deadlift —Performance Differences 

Depending on your training, this section will highlight which movement you should focus on. 

Maximal Strength

Both deadlift movements will help you build raw strength. Depending on what your goal is and which one you are naturally better at will determine which one you should focus on for maximal strength. The sumo deadlift relies on recruiting the hips, glutes, and legs to initiate the first portion of the pull, while the conventional deadlift has a more equal balance between the lower back and hamstrings. 

You’ll have to test each deadlift out to see which one is more comfortable. It varies from person to person and is largely determined by your genetic makeup — i.e. wingspan, height, torso length, etc. 

More Glute Muscle

Although both deadlifts target your gluteus maximus, the wider stance of the sumo deadlift will hit more of your glutes. So if your goal is to maximize glute hypertrophy, we recommend you focus on the sumo deadlift

More Quad Muscle

Each pull hits similar muscles throughout their full ranges of motion. In fact, a study conducted in 2002 found only a few differences between each deadlift and the rate at which different muscles fired. Researchers used electromyography (EMG) ratings to record muscle fire rates and tracked 16 different muscle sites. 

Of the above data, four muscles show somewhat significant differences. First, the vastus medialis and lateralis —outer/inner quad muscles — are higher in the sumo pull, which makes sense as this pull incorporates more legs and a slightly more forward lean. (1) So, if you want bigger quads, perform sumo pulls.

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The Sumo Vs. Conventional Deadlift — Pros and Cons 

As previously mentioned, one deadlift isn’t necessarily better than the other and they both have their pros and cons.

Conventional Deadlifts


  • Works your back muscles — erector spinae, levator scapulae, rhomboids — more. 
  • The form is easier to get down, so it’s recommended for beginners. 


Sumo Deadlifts 


  • Places less stress on your back since the lifter is able to stay more upright.
  • Better leg development from the more squat-heavy stance. 
  • Easier to lock the barbell out at the top of the movement since the barbell doesn’t have to travel as far. 


  • More technical, so it’s not recommended for beginners. 
  • Can overstress your hip adductors. 

Should You Wear a Belt? 

Again, this depends. A quality lifting belt can help protect your lower back by preventing your spine from rounding. It works by giving you a surface to brace your stomach into. By bracing into a belt, you create lots of rigidity in your torso, which helps you maintain your natural spine. The downside of wearing a lifting belt is that your core muscles aren’t as active during the lift, so therefore they won’t get as strong on their own. 

Here’s a general rule of thumb for most lifters: If you’re lifting more than 80 percent of your one-rep max, then belt up. 

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What The Experts Say

To help you decide which deadlift variation is better for you, we reach out to two experts: John Gaglione, strength coach and owner of Gaglione Strength in Farmingdale, New York, and Paulie Steinman, strength coach and owner of South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club.

We asked them a few questions to help you figure out how to pick your ideal deadlift setup. 

BarBend: How do you choose whether someone should do conventional or sumo deadlift? 

John Gaglione: I let my athletes experiment and decide what feels comfortable to them. I will offer advice on what I think looks mechanically better for their body and leverages, but at the end of the day, the athlete needs to be comfortable and confident in the stance and form they decide to use. To keep things simple. Ask yourself two questions:

  • Which one looks more “athletic” and feels more natural?
  • In which stance can I lift more weight?

Stick with the stance that you answered both of the above questions with. 

It’s possible in the long term that might turn into your stronger stance but you just need to spend more time doing them. Sumo deadlifting requires more hip and glute strength and conventional deadlifting requires more hamstring and lower back strength.

Both will require a degree of the leg (quad) upper back (traps, lats, etc.) and overall core and grip strength. So maybe your form is up to snuff but your stabilizer muscles or supporting muscle groups aren’t strong enough for you to truly express your strength quite yet.

Paulie Steinman: As a rule, unless there is a glaring anthropometric issue, I will start the lifter off with conventional. Ultimately I want the lifter to use the setup that will allow them to lift the most amount of weight as efficiently as possible. That may end up being sumo. Sumo is just as hard as conventional.

I don’t ever want a lifter to pull sumo because they are taking a shortcut to lifting more weight. The best form is often not immediately apparent and it also depends on how long the lifter has been training. I don’t ever let a lifter use a particular form or technique because it looks cool or they see their favorite powerlifter pulling that way on Instagram

It rarely happens overnight. So, at best, what my lifter is seeing is usually the result of years and years of practice and tinkering. At worst, it’s just a crappy technique and there is not much to learn from it. There’s not much sense in trying to copy that. It’s like trying on someone else’s well-worn pair of shoes and expecting them to fit perfectly.

BarBend: Are there ways a strength athlete can test to see which deadlift they’d be better at?

John Gaglione: When switching stances or trying a new one, it is best to start with lighter weight and higher reps off blocks or mats and work your way down to the floor to build strength while ingraining proper position.

That being said let’s pose this situation. Perhaps you are stronger at conventional at this time but your sumo looks a lot cleaner mechanically.

If you can move cleaner in a particular pattern, you will be able to train the lift with more intensity, volume, and frequency, which will allow for greater strength gains in the long run.

In either stance, it is very important to move the barbell in a straight line of the midfoot. If there is excessive lateral movement as the bar travels up the body you will never be as efficient and be able to truly express your strength to the fullest on the platform. You need to find a stance and technique that allows for the straighter bar path.

Limb lengths and torso lengths can play a role, but at the end of the day, you need to use the stance that feels best and helps you reach your goal. At the end of the day, you can’t control your body type, but you can control your attitude, technique, and the amount of muscle mass and strength you have in certain areas.

Focus on what you can control and not what you can’t. If you are a competitive powerlifter, use the stance that is going to give you the highest total at the meet.

Paulie Steinman: I don’t have any specific tests beyond my eyes, the bar speed, and feedback from the lifter. Very old school, I know. I think that the lifter should lift with their competition lift at least 80 percent of the time since it’s also a skill that they’re developing.

The balance of the time can be used for the alternate version of their deadlift. It also depends if the lifter is competing equipped or raw but that can be another conversation too.

Man deadlifting
Oleksandr Zamuruiev/Shutterstock

The Takeaway

Both the sumo and conventional deadlift can be used to support athleticism, strength, and power in athletes. Each deadlift will target similar musculature but will vary in certain areas depending on the way each move is initiated.

If you’re a competitive lifter, then utilize your competition stance more often. For recreational strength athletes, the utilization of both a little more equally can be beneficial.

The benefits of sumo deadlift and the benefits of conventional deadlifting vary, but they each have their place.


  1. Escamilla RF, Francisco AC, Kayes AV, Speer KP, Moorman CT 3rd. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Apr;34(4):682-8. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200204000-00019. PMID: 11932579.

Featured image: Oleksandr Zamuruiev/Shutterstock