When you mention the word deadlift to somebody, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a deadlift in the conventional sense (i.e. feet under the hips). Not to many people consider the sumo deadlift. This is a shame because the sumo deadlift is the key to your deadlift potential. But why is this? How come nobody considers seriously giving this exercise a try? Well, I believe the answer is pretty simple. People just don’t know too much about sumo deadlifts. With that said, I have written this post for anybody that is looking to make themselves stronger by pulling sumo. Let’s begin!
The Conventional Deadlift
The conventional deadlift is the simpler of the two. The feet are somewhere between hip width and shoulder width apart and the hands grasp the bar outside the knees. Many people find the conventional deadlift to be a better choice because they can lift more weight using this stance.
However, I often find that lifters who pull conventional lifting a good portion of the weight with a rounded back. Now, just to clarify I am not talking about a professional powerlifter who pulls 600+ lbs; I am talking about your average lifter who is pulling between 315 lbs and 455 lbs. Typically, this is where I see most people get stuck with their deadlift. They reach a certain threshold and their back starts to round with the slightest increase in weight.
Remember, the deadlift does place some stress on the spinal column. However, the main area worked should not be the spinal column, it should be the posterior chain (hips). The hips contain some of the most powerful muscle groups in the body, among them are the glutes. The glutes are responsible for extending the hips; i.e. moving your hips forward. The glutes also, when contracted, keep the spine straight. This is important, because if the glutes are weak, the lower back is more likely to round during the pull. You are only as strong as your weakest link, so if you are serious about making gains you have to learn how to address these weaknesses. That is where sumo deadlifts help.
The Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift is more complex than the conventional deadlift. The feet are now outside your hips, your hips are much lower to the ground and your chest must be more vertical than the conventional stance.
There are several noted benefits from this type of deadlift, including:
1. More weight is loaded onto the hips
This variation is much more technical than a conventional deadlift, therefore you cannot muscle your way through bad form. One of the main technical benefits of this exercise is the emphasis on the hips. This is probably the best benefit of this exercise. Once mastered, the lifter will now know how to properly activate his/her glutes for any other lower body exercise, such as squats.
2. Less weight is placed on the lower back
Since the torso is more vertical there is less weight placed on the lower back. This is a good consideration for lifters who may have overtaxed spinal erectors.
3. The distance of the lift is shortened
The hips are much lower to the ground for the starting position; therefore, with this variation we have significantly reduced the distance the bar needs to travel. This is very beneficial for lifters with a long torso and short legs.
4. More focus on abdominals than a conventional deadlift
Although less weight is placed on the lower back, you still have to keep you spine straight; otherwise you run the risk of hyper-lordosis. So instead of having excessive spinal flexion you will have excessive spinal extension. This is all prevented by breathing into your belly and keeping your abdominals tight throughout the entire movement. This is essential not just for the deadlift, but for any heavy barbell exercise.
5. Better deadlift variation for Olympic Lifters
You wont hear this brought up much, but sumo deadlifts are an excellent accessory exercise for the olympic lifts. Weightlifters use the high bar squat as their primary strength exercise to assist their lifts. However, you often hear weightlifting coaches tell their athletes to never deadlift. Sounds strange, right? Well, I thought the same thing until I began weightlifting myself. The starting position for the clean and snatch is very similar to the stance for the conventional deadlift. When deadlifting heavy weight, we want the bar to be as close the body as possible. Therefore, we often scrape the bar against our shins. Now, this is perfectly fine for a deadlift, but not for the olympic lifts. We do not want to scrape the bar during the olympic lifts because it slows the movement down. This bad habit is counteracted with sumo deadlifts. Now lifters wont integrate powerlifting movement techniques with weightlifting exercises.
Whichever style you choose to pull with is entirely up to you. If you have never tried the sumo style before, then give it a try, you may like it. If you pull conventional and you have hit a roadblock, then maybe pulling sumo can help you bust through that roadblock. Give it a try, you have nothing to lose and a whole lot of strength to gain.