The Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift has been a popular lift for powerlifters for many years and is growing in popularity among bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and everyday gym goers. This is mostly due to the many benefits the sumo deadlift can provide including a great deal of muscle activation, reducing lower back pain, and reducing range of motion which is especially beneficial for powerlifters.
Many people may look at the sumo deadlift and think it is just a conventional deadlift, but with the feet in a wide stance. Although there are similarities between the two lifts, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Whether you’re a complete newbie, or an advanced lifter, you can always benefit from focusing on form and the technical aspect of the lift. The sumo deadlift is a very technical lift that requires practice and a conscious effort to perform correctly.
It is my preferred form of deadlfiting and I am going to describe the proper sumo deadlift form and how to complete the lift to maximize performance, muscle activation, avoid injury and maximize your deadlift potential.
Breathing / Bracing
The first and most important consideration we are going to look at is how to breath and brace the core for strength training. This concept can and should be applied to every exercise as it is the most important factor in power production and force transfer. The purpose is to get the spine in a neutral position by drawing the rib cage down and pressurizing the abdominal muscles. I’m not going to go extremely in depth about how to do this as it is outside the scope of this article, but please watch the following video by Chris Duffin for a more in depth explanation.
Now that we know how to breath and brace for the deadlift, let’s move on to the actual lift.
The first thing to do is figure out how wide to stand. Stand as wide as possible while still being able to maintain good form throughout the lift. What is good form? We will get to that.
How wide you stand is largely dependent on how long your legs are and current hip mobility. A good place to start would be putting the shins right around where the bar knurls are and adjust as needed.
Another factor to consider is the bar length. Deadlift bars are longer than standard barbells and allow the lifter to stand wider, which is especially important for us lanky folks. Personally, without a deadlift bar, I am unable to get in to a good starting position simply because the bar is too short.
The next thing to do is set the feet. You want the feet pointing out toward the front of the plate at about at 45 degree angle. Do not point the feet straight forward. That is just a wide stance conventional deadlift and aside from looking ridiculous, it is a disadvantageous position. By pointing the toes out, you are able to open the hips and get close to the bar.
The shins should be touching the bar and when you plant your feet, put the pressure mostly on the outside of the foot.
As you complete the lift, think about pressing the feet out away from the body. A common cue for this is to “spread the floor”. Another way to think about this is to create torque by essentially screwing or twisting the feet into the floor and driving the knees out. It is important to drive the knees out so they are in line with the toes throughout the duration of the lift.
Standing up tall with the feet in the proper position, draw the rib cage down, creating a neutral spine and brace the core.
Squeeze the glutes, bringing the pelvis into a neutral position.
Engage the lats bringing the shoulder blades back and down being sure to not put the upper back into extension. Remember, the spine should be neutral throughout the duration of the lift.
After you have your feet set, it is time to start the lift.
Take a big breath and bend that the waist toward the bar. Be sure to not round your back at this point and keep the core tight. If you are unable to reach the bar you most likely have tight hamstrings and this is something you should work on.
Bend down and grip the bar at shoulder width with either a hook grip or alternating grip.
Get the lats tight by creating torque in the shoulders by thinking about the hands and arms out.
Now bring the hips down toward the ground while simultaneously pulling up and back with the upper back. While you do this, also take your last big breath into your belly and brace the abs.
This will pull all the slack out of the bar and get you in a good starting position. When done correctly, if the bar is anything less than your body weight, the plates should come off the floor before you even start the lift.
At this point you should be in your starting position, hips wide, knees in line with the toes, hips higher than the knees, arm straight down below the shoulders, and the back straight with a neutral spine and core braced properly.
From this starting position, extend the knees and drive the feet and knees out. The bar should run along your shins, so I suggest wearing long deadlifting socks to protect them.
Once the bar gets to the knees, continue to lockout the knees and drive the hips forward forcefully until they are fully extended. Squeeze your glutes as you do this so at the top, the pelvis is in a neutral position, the same as in your set up. As you are doing this, pull the shoulders back until they are in line with the hips at lockout.
The hips and knees should fully lock out at about the same time. Rather than thinking about lifting the bar, think about pushing the hips in between the shoulders and knees. This is called the “wedge technique”, taught to me by The Mad Scientist of Powerlifting, Chris Duffin.
The lift is fully locked out when the knees are in full extension, the hips are fully extended and the shoulders are in line with the hips.
Be sure to not over extend the back as this can cause the knees to unlock, ruining the lift and putting unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine. This is a common mistake and can usually be prevented by focusing on extending the hips rather than pulling the shoulders back farther than necessary.
After lock out, bring the bar back down in a fast, yet controlled manner. To prepare for your next rep, bring the hips up, extending the knees and get back into the starting position following the steps we outlined.
After your last rep, be sure to drop the weight, or better yet, throw the weight down aggressively because you just completed one of the most badass lifts there are. Celebrate as you see fit. (Don’t do this in competition, or the lift won’t count.)
- Obtain a neutral spine by breathing and creating abdominal pressurization
- Create torque by screwing the feet into the floor and driving the knees out
- Keep the knees in line with the toes
- At the starting position, the hips should be higher than the knees
- When the bar is at the knees, drive the hips forward and lockout the knees and hips at the same time
- The lift is locked out when the knees and hips are in full extension and the shoulders are in line with the hips. Be sure not to over extend the back
- Throw the weight down violently when you are done and don’t be afraid to grunt and/or yell.
- Hit PRs, make gainz, be safe, have fun
The sumo deadlift is one of the most badass lifts you could do in the gym. It is a great lift for developing the hips, glutes, quads, and back. All powerlifters should learn how to sumo deadlift correctly as well as bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and anyone who wants to get stronger. The sumo deadlift a very technical lift and it takes time and lots of practice to master. I am far from a master at sumo deadlifts, but I understand that in order to be good, it is necessary do everything deliberately and always focus on good form. Although it might be hard to understand at first, once you get the hang of it, the lift itself is not much harder than any other lift.
So now you know how, go try sumo pulls, and let me know what you think.
Here’s a video of how it should look, bringing everything together. This is by no means 100% perfect form, but this will give you a good idea of what you are looking for.