A sumo deadlift is a variation to the more “traditional” conventional deadlift. Sumo receives a lot of slack sometimes because people call them “cheat” deadlifts and “easier to do” than conventional. However, both conventional and sumo have their own pros and cons, so let’s look deeper into the controversy.
Sumo deadlifts are performed with a wide stance, whereas the stance used for conventional is considerably smaller. With this wide stance comes a shorter range of motion for the bar to travel, which consequently means you should be able to pull more in sumo than conventional when you are equally comfortable with them – not on your first time trying sumo. Because the stance in conventional is a lot smaller, the bar has a greater distance to travel from start to finish, which is generally more taxing (but not always). In sumo, some of the stress of the lift is taken off of the back and spread across the quadriceps, whereas in conventional, the majority of the stress is placed on your back when completing the lift.
Mobility and Flexibility for the Sumo Deadlift
Sumo deadlifts require insane hip mobility and flexibility, whereas conventional does not. However, conventional requires considerably more ankle mobility than sumo to get in the proper starting position. Pulling sumo means you will have to spend a lot of time working on your mobility (foam rolling and stretching before and after you lift, even at home if you’re a dedicated power lifter – as below, no excuses!) and tweaking your mechanics (feet placement, stance width, sinking down lower, altering how upright your chest is).
Sumo Deadlift Technique Pointers
Sumo is more technical and takes a while to learn, as it’s crucial to keep your knees out, your chest upright, your back tight, and the bar close to your hips. Consequently, you need to spend a lot of time doing mobility work to be able to do a sumo deadlift properly. Someone can’t just walk up to a bar and yank it off the floor sumo-style without a good warm up. On the other hand, conventional is a pull that can be done with less of a warm up because the mechanics aren’t as specific as those utilized in sumo – think about moving day and picking up boxes off the floor!
It’s harder to break the floor in sumo, and it’s easier to break the floor in conventional. However, it’s easier to lockout in sumo, and it’s harder to lockout in conventional. In sumo you don’t have to lean over as much to get your scapula under the bar, but in conventional you do. Sumo requires more quadriceps strength than conventional, but conventional focuses on working the back more than sumo.
Sumo Deadlift for Powerlifters
Powerlifters are generally the ones who favor sumo over conventional. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, then your goal is to be able to push as much weight as possible for the big three lifts. In order to do this, you want to shorten the range of motion for all three lifts as best as possible, and for deadlifts, that means utilizing sumo because the range of motion from start to lock out is shorter than it is for conventional deadlifts. Generally, you can lockout more weight with sumo than you can with conventional, because sumo reduces the range of motion the bar has to travel, and because of the stance, your back can remain more upright and flat than it would during conventional.
Sumo Deadlift for Bodybuilders
Conversely, a bodybuilder is more likely to choose to perform a conventional deadlift, because the crux of the stress of the lift is placed on the back (and bodybuilders generally want to use deadlifts to improve their back mass and strength). As you can see, there’s pros and cons to each variation of the deadlift, and it depends on your personal goals as well as your mechanics and muscle lengths (femur, arm, and torso length for example) as to what deadlift variation you will choose.
If you’re a conventional deadlifter, incorporate some sumo deadlifts to your program so you can work on your hip strength. Conversely, if you’re a sumo deadlifter, incorporate some conventional deadlifts to your program so you can work on your low back strength. Each comes with its own pros and cons, but just because you choose one doesn’t mean you have to ignore the other!