I want to share some things I have learned about the sumo deadlift. I’ll start by saying that everyone is built different. We all have unique leverages, strengths, and numerous other contributing factors that will dictate what the best form is for each of us to use. The first thing that every lifter needs to do when approaching the deadlift is take a look at how they are built and what their strengths/weaknesses are, and then pick the form that best suits them. For me, this is the sumo deadlift, and I’d like to share some things that helped me make the best of what I had.
Style: You will see a number of different sumo variations; some with the feet out wide, some in narrow, some get the hips low, while others leave them high. Beyond that you will see numerous different foot positions and torso angles. Again, these are all things you will have to experiment with and assess what is the most beneficial to you personally. I played around with numerous different styles and setups before coming up with the one that I currently use. The way I pull now is with a narrow sumo stance (shins at the rings), hips opened up and low, knees out wide, and a very upright torso. This allows me to get the most out of my squatting muscles and my gear. I recommend this style to anyone who is flexible enough to get into the position and wants to keep stress off of their lower back. It will greatly increase your carryover in both single and multi-ply gear.
Setup: Just as there are different styles, there are different setups you can use to get into your particular style. I see some people squat straight down, while others bend over and pull themselves to the bar. There is rolling, bouncing, and all other kinds of funny rituals and dances people go through to get into position. But the main concern is getting into that perfect position, regardless of how you get there. For my particular style I have chosen a setup where I sit back into my suit like I am starting a squat. Once the suit starts to bind up, I then bend over and grab the bar with my overhand. I follow this immediately with my underhand and I pull my shoulder blades back together and tight. I then force my knees out as wide as I can while pulling my hips down and into the bar. Once all those things are set I arch hard and throw my head back as I begin to pull. This also took a lot of trial and error, but wound up putting many pounds on my competition pull.
Gear: This is yet another subject where there is a ton of versatility. You will see some great sumo deadlifters pull raw, other guys that pull in heavy briefs and a suit, and everything in between. This all depends on how much gear you can wear while still getting to the bar in the proper position while holding your air in and staying tight. You will see that I continually revisit set-up and position because without those two things being spot-on I won't pull to my full potential. I experimented with several different combinations of suits and briefs before finally finding that my squat suit with no briefs was the best thing for me. What I look for in a suit for my style is something that is snug in the hips and has adjustable straps I can really crank down. By doing this, I get tremendous pop off of the floor that carries me above the knees. With my opened knee style my hips are already very close to the bar at this point so all I have to do is lock my legs and keep my head driving back. The Metal Ace Pro Squatter does this perfectly. Again, there was a lot of trial and error and it took me a long time to get this all dialed in. One of the most surprising things for me was that tight legs on a suit did not work well with this style, while it is a must with other styles.
Training: I’m sure by now a lot of you know that Brian Carroll helps me with the bulk of my programming. Brian really knows his stuff when it comes to pulling and one thing that he suggested to me that made the biggest difference in deadlift strength was pulling conventional. Once I had my sumo form down Brian had told me to pull conventional three out of four sessions, and to do it for reps. At first I was skeptical, but I immediately started gaining tons of mass in my lower back and "PRing" almost every single session. All this added muscle and strength translated into a huge increase in my competition pull. While many of the other things I listed here will require a significant amount of trial and error, this is a sure thing in my opinion. Pull conventional for doubles and triples and moderate volume and your sumo deadlift will improve.
The long and short of things is this; be smart about what you're doing and why you're doing it. Experiment with different styles that suit your strengths, and then master the technique that works the best for you. By doing these things that I outlined here, I took my best competition pull from 605 pounds at 220 body weight to 725 pounds at 220 body weight in one year's time, and it is still rising. Do things for a reason and with a purpose and you will succeed.