The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong

The Sumo Deadlift is a misunderstood exercise and I frequently see room for improvement in it with more lifters than you think.
Before we go into the Sumo Deadlift technique, let’s look at why you would do it.

Sumo offers advantages over conventional in some ways:

  • Shorter Range
    Less shear force on your lumbar spine
    May be anatomically better for some
    Improves your conventional Deadlift

And, let’s explain:

Shorter Range:
By spreading your legs out wider, you automatically shorten the distance the bar has to travel to lockout.
In theory, this equals more pounds lifted.
This one is common sense.

Less shear force on your lumbar spine

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong

This one is not so common sense unless you know a little about levers and how the body works.
Yes, I can bore you with all of the big words and science stuff, but I like to write in English.
Basically, since your body is in a more upright position, you realize less damaging shear force on the lumbar spine.
Your spinal column is a marvel of engineering. Most if it has structure to support it.
Your lumbar region however, does not. It only has the surrounding musculature to keep it safe.
When strength training, we have two forces to contend with:
Compression
Shear
Compression is basically gravity and the external forces you apply, think the bar on your back when squatting.

Compression is not bad, it’s actually good. Most of the time.
Shear is different. It is destructive.
Normal amounts of shear forces are ok for you as long as your movement pattern is good.
When your movement patterns are bad things can go south quick.
We can’t do anything to eliminate shear forces on the spine and the rest of the body (think knees and elbows).

We can minimize it though.
Proper form and technique will go a long way to minimizing shear as will proper exercise selection.
The conventional Deadlift and the low bar Powerlifting style of squatting place a higher amount of shear on the lumbar region that a high bar squat or a Sumo Deadlift.
This is due to the positions you are in.
The angle your body is at on a conventional Deadlift amplifies the shear on your lumbar due to how far you are bent over. This isn’t necessarily bad, just a reason you want to make sure your form is dialed in.
The Sumo Deadlift does not as you are supposed to be almost upright.
As a matter of fact, many forward-thinking therapists use the Sumo Deadlift and variations to rehab their patients from a back injury.
At TPS, we have done the exact same thing many times getting those with jacked up backs, and disc injuries back to life and to training.

May be anatomically better for some

We all have what is called Angle of Q in our hips.
Angle of Q is loosely defined as a measurement of the angle between the quad and the patella tendon.
Some people have a greater Angle of Q that others, and women have a greater Angle of Q than men.
Go ahead and get triggered and call me sexist if you want here, but the Sumo Deadlift may be a better choice for women as it accommodates their Angle of Q better, putting them in a mechanically superior position.
Lining up muscles and joints nice and straight will usually lead to better lifts. Sumo allows many to take advantage of their body’s natural leverage.
Long legged lifters will usually benefit from Sumo too.

Improves your conventional Deadlift

This should be a no brainer.
Performing exercise variations places a new stimulus on your body right?
Working Sumo Deadlifts in if you pull conventional generally makes your Conventional pull go up.
This is a result of different muscle recruitment and the strengthening of said muscles in a similar movement pattern.
Easy right?
It also applies the other way.
If you pull Sumo, adding in Conventional pulls will build your regular stance.
I call these Opposite Deadlifts.
You can too.

 

Now that we have the explanation out to of the way, let’s look at the Sumo Deadlift: How You’re Doing it Wrong

It’s not a Hip Hinge!
The hip hinge is bandied about all over the internet and is killed on everything.
It’s coached to death. It’s also not appropriate on many exercises.
I am 100% sure that I’ll be getting comments from certified trainers telling me I am wrong.
I’m not.

 

  • The Low Bar Squat is a hip hinge.
  • The High Bar Squat is a hip hinge.
  • The conventional Deadlift is a hip hinge.
  • The Sumo Deadlift is a knee hinge.

You are doing the Sumo Deadlift WRONG if you push your hips back first.

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong WRONG!

 

 

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong: Here’s the Right Way

 

Set your stance
Your feet need to be wide, your toes need to be out facing the bar so that your Angle of Q is optimal.
Get your toes pointed towards the plates so that your femur and kneecap are in line with your toes.

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong Nope

 

 

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong Yup!

 

 

Root Your feet
There are tons of cues for this. I prefer root. Many people say “Spread the Floor” that is fine.
Except when it is misunderstood and people spread so hard that they roll their ankles.
You want to create a big arch in your foot so that all of the muscles there are ready to support you through the lift.
Apply twisting pressure on the outside of your feet and pull your heels together.
Your feet will not actually move, it’s the act of generating force here that counts.
If you do this right, you’ll feel the arch in your foot increase.
Do a few sets barefoot and have a training partner look at your feet. If there is no arch, stop.

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong No root.

 

 

 

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong Rooted like a 100 year old Oak tree.

 

 

Maintain this pressure throughout the lift!
Turn your quads.
Rotate your femur in the socket to line up your toes, knees and feet.
It’s easy. Just turn your quads out.

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong Knees/quads out!

 

Brace
Not covering that here. I’ve already written a few logs on bracing and I hope you read them.

NOW
Here is where most of you do things wrong.
The Sumo Deadlift is not a hip hinge.

KNEE HINGE
You need to initiate your movement towards the bar by rooting your feet harder and driving your knees sideways.
KNEE HINGE
I got this cue from Boris Sheiko: imagine that you were deadlifting in a very narrow corridor with a wall about ½” in front of your knees and chest and ½” behind your butt. As you get to the bar, don’t let your knees, chest or butt touch the wall.
You need to Wedge yourself into the bar and squish.
Squish everything front to back as tight as you can and once you get your grip, wedge in.

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong Nope

 

 

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong Yesssss!

 

 

When you grip the bar you must make the arms long, take the slack out, bend the bar, you know what I mean right?
As you do the you MUST wedge the bar into your body and your body into the bar.
If you do it right the bar will force your legs out wider.
Part of the Wedge is getting your torso upright and your shoulders behind the bar.
This is pretty easy; pull the slack out of the bar and drop your butt down a hair and drive your chest up and open it.
You should now look like this.

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong

 

Not this

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong

 

Butt Business
Oh, and keep your arse high.
It’s not a squat.
Your butt needs to be higher that you think.
How do you know where to keep it?
Again, easy.
As you drive the knees out to get to the bar, STOP as soon as you take your grip.
Don’t go any lower.

The Sumo Deadlift: You’re Doing it Wrong

 

And there it is.
Hopefully you will practice this on your next session and smash a new PR!
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Vincere vel mori

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