Sumo Deadlifting 101 (And Some Other Stuff)

14 Mar

NOTE: This is a re-post, due to the undesirable timing of posting it on my former blog.

EliteFTS image.

I’ve realized that my past articles regarding deadlifting have been only covering conventional form. While this is my favorite stance and will always be my go-to when instructing beginners on the deadlift, I realize that not everyone else lifts this way.

So for the sake of those who deadlift with a sumo stance, I decided to cover this form with an article of its own.

The sumo deadlift is a much more technical version of the deadlift, and is far easier to fuck up than conventional form. Even if form is bad from the start with a conventional pull, you can usually still manage to crank the weight off the ground. When sumo form is bad, it’s definitely quite a bit harder to grind.

All the power in this movement comes from the posterior chain – the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.  Which means if you think you trained your PC hard before, you’re in for a real treat. It needs more. And I can safely say that without knowing you or your training habits. You can never have too much PC strength.

While most people recommend women pull with a sumo form due to the power they can generate from the lower body, it is NOT a default stance by any means, but more on that later.

 

THE SET-UP

Unlike a conventional deadlift where the bar is over the middle of the foot, you want the bar to be right up against the shins. If you try to pull sumo with the bar over the middle of your foot, you’ll end up either not moving the weight off the floor at all, or having to round severely since the entire pull will be done with your upper and mid back rather than your PC. It also wastes a ton of energy.

Mobility work should of course be done before attempting sumo deadlifts. Namely, hip flexors and hamstrings. Some glute stretching is also important, and foam rolling the piriformis never hurts.

Okay that’s a lie. It hurts but it’s good for da buns.

 

FOOT WIDTH AND HAND PLACEMENT:

My recommendation for foot placement would be to go as wide as you feel comfortable, and until you can squat down and have your knees parallel to your shins. You should not feel as though you are going to completely fall over.
Toes should be pointed out almost completely. Trying to keep your feet straight will only screw you up since you cannot open your hips from this position. Your hands should remain on the inside of your legs (duh). They should be able to brush up lightly against your thighs while you are pulling, but not get in the way.

 

SET-UP MISTAKES:

The BIGGEST mistake I see people make with sumo deadlifting is treating it like a squat. This is even more prevalent in sumo pulling than conventional. They set their hands AND squat down at the same time. When this is done, you are not in a good position to pull, and your muscles are not engaged. Everything is loose. When you pull from this position, your back is again taking all of the load because your hamstrings and glutes are not involved nearly as much in the movement.

SO. Get your feet into position, and set your hands on the bar FIRST. Don’t sit at the bottom or you will get loose. Think of your hamstrings like an elastic – stretch fast and explode off the floor.

 

THE PULL

After you have set-up and have your hands in place on the bar, you will bring your hips down. Just like a conventional deadlift, this is a quick movement, and you won’t be staying in that position for long. You want to take advantage of the bounce, and that moment where your muscles are all tense and contracted. This is the perfect time to pull.

The dropping in a sumo position is two movements in one: drop, and open.

By “open”, I mean opening the hips as you drop. This is done by pushing the knees out, and pushing against the sides of your feet. Think of it the same way as opening up your hips when you are squatting. Sit your weight in your heels, and get your hips/groin as close as physically possible to the bar.

Of course, you can only bring your hips so much in. But it’s the movement that we are looking for. The moment you try to “spread the floor” with your feet, or if you try to touch your groin to the bar, this will automatically tighten everything up and open up the hips. Just like when you press your heels into the ground as you pull and it actives your hamstrings and glutes and involves them in the movement.

Another reason for doing this is that you have to pull BACK rather than just up with a sumo deadlift. The further your hips are from the bar, the more you have to pull and the less engaged your hips/hamstring/glutes are. This will often lead to back rounding and a back-dominant pull, which is not what you want.

Drive your heels hard into the ground and squeeze your glutes! The back should be arched, and your chest and head should be up. Avoid looking down, as this can really throw you off.

Here is an example of a perfect sumo deadlift:

 

OTHER NOTES:

There is not too much more I can add, since the things stated are the main differences between a conventional and a sumo pull. However, I will put together a video sometime this week demonstrating how to open up the hips and get them into the bar, as sometimes not everyone grasps the concept simply from reading, and needs the visual as well.

The downfalls with this stance is that because it is so very hip-dominant, many raw lifters who also lift high volume experience severe discomfort in the hip flexors due to overuse. This can be helped with contrast showers, foam rolling, and stretching. However, it can also be rather debilitating if you do any other kind of wide-stance assistance work. Just something to keep in mind.

BONUS DISCUSSION:

CHOOSING EXERCISE FORM BASED ON LEVERAGES

This guy would do better with different form. And shoes.
         This guy would do better with different form. And shoes.

 

Another thing I’d like to go over quickly is choosing form based on leverages. Specifically squats and deadlifts.

For those of you with longer limbs, most wide-stance form is more strategic for you. Given the distance between the bottom position and the lock-out when you have long legs, doing the movements with a closer stance might not be the best idea. The best thing about a wider stance for squats and deadlifts is that it does limit the ROM and time you spend lifting. Since tall people spend a longer time under the bar than a shorter person with better leverages, the less ROM the better in this case.

So if you are someone who has very long legs and are having trouble with pitching forward or flattening out at the bottom of the squat, getting depth with a squat, or feel like you are stuck holding the bar for 10 minutes when you’re pulling even the lightest deadlift, sumo deadlifting and a wider-stance squat might just be the thing for you.

On the other hand, those with shorter limbs or relatively average limbs do best with a closer stance for both exercises. Also those who have short torsos do well with an Olympic-style squat as it helps them to stay more upright and avoid too much forward lean.

For example, I have long-ish legs in proportion to my torso – but, I am quite short. My arms are also long. This balances out and makes me a perfect conventional puller, and a good Olympic-style squatter. Wide-stance squatting is awkward for me and my leverages.

This stance works best for me - lots of rebound at the bottom!
This stance works best for me – lots of rebound at the bottom!

As far as deadlifting goes, there is more elbow room in terms of what may or may not work for you. I know people with massively long limbs that still pull conventional, because it is what works for them. Ultimately you will have to play around with different stances to see what is most comfortable for you and which one you are most strong is. The important thing to keep in mind is that you are doing the movement correctly, regardless of which form you decide to go with.

However, there is more room for error when it comes to squats. I will always suggest a slightly closer stance for those who don’t have long legs, and I also believe it is the best stance for a beginner lifter to develop base strength, speed, and focus on keeping the chest and head up through the entire movement.

In summary, people with longer limbs simply do better with a wider stance. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to squat with a sumo stance, but your legs should be out enough that you are able to comfortably reach good depth without pitching forward or having your legs come in too much.

As far as the popular opinion “women should pull sumo” goes, I think it’s a load of crap. Often times, sumo can be more disadvantageous simply because it is so technical and there are so many ways to screw it up, and I see that happen all too often. Conventional leaves less room for error. I would like to see more women pulling conventional at least in the beginning, since I feel it develops base strength more efficiently (like the Olympic squat).

So, take-home message:

Short/Average Limbs: Opt for a closer stance squat (toes out, high/med bar, ATG), and either a semi-sumo or conventional deadlift

Long Limbs: Opt for a somewhat wider stance squat (toes out, low/med bar, 2-3″ below parallel), and either a semi-sumo or sumo deadlift

——

I hope this helps. Sorry if it was somewhat rushed. Please feel free to send in videos of your form, or if you have any questions about anything, or if there is anything I may have left out, leave me a comment below.

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5 Responses to “Sumo Deadlifting 101 (And Some Other Stuff)”

  1. Matty June 26, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Epic article.

    Sumos feel more natural to me as my back is seriously faarked and I need to keep as straight as possible.

    Kick arse blog ma’am, awesome to see a girl lift and lift heavy.

  2. Ryan June 29, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    I am 6’2″ (Pretty tall I think, compared to most people – Obviously there are taller people) and I do ATG squats. I tried Sumo Deadlifts today. I was told that they don’t work the lower back as much as conventional deadlifts do because you aren’t leaning over nearly as much. I have to tell this to everyone, that is an outright lie. I felt almost nothing in my legs. My lower back took almost all of the stress.

    • jordan August 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      You dont feel it in your legs because you have no hamstrings. You probably just stiff leg the weight up and cant stay behind the bar or stay back… Which just leads to a back raise type pull

      • Ryan September 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

        I can Romanian deadlift 3×8 at 265 lbs… I do have some muscles in the hamstrings… The issue is that this is a very intense lower back workout.

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