How To Do The Sumo Deadlift With Proper Form

By Steve Hall

August 22, 2013

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The deadlift is a true test of strength. Literally lifting dead weight off the floor. Along with the squat, the deadlift is one of the foundational lifts for any training regimen. It builds strength and increases power. The variation we will be discussing in this article is the sumo deadlift. Learning the proper sumo deadlift form will help you to build up massive strength whilst lessening the load on your lower back.

Standard Deadlift vs Sumo Deadlift - What's The Difference?

Any mistakes when deadlifting can cause serious injuries, especially to your lower back. If your concerned about this then the sumo deadlift variation can help.

The main difference between a standard deadlift and a sumo deadlift is the width of your stance. With the sumo deadlift your feet are wider apart which allows your upper body to be closer to the ground so you don't have to lean over and down to grab the weight.

Widening your stance also changes the muscle focus of the exercise. In a standard deadlift we are mainly using our hamstrings whereas with the sumo deadlift there is more emphasis on the glutes and hips.

Even if you have great form with the standard deadlift, changing things up and using variations like the sumo deadlift works your muscles from a different angle. This challenges your muscles and can ultimately lead to improvements in strength.

Traditional style deadlifting begins with the feet together and the hands just wider than the spacing of the legs. In a sumo deadlift, the feet are wider and the hand positioning is in-between the legs.

sumo deadlift form

You can see in each of the above images the different positioning. On the left the traditional style and on the right the sumo style.

You can clearly see that the positioning of the back in the traditional deadlift is a little more bent over as the knees are over the bar and the glutes are pushed back. Sumo deadlift form positions the lifter with a more upright back in a somewhat sitting like position.

The Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift requires use of every muscle just like the squat. By squeezing and contracting the fibers we force them to get stronger. Once you begin deadlifting you will never want to stop. You may experience things like . . .

Overall gains in Size and Strength—Like the squat, the deadlift puts your body under a heavier load than it is used to. You call on all the various muscle groups to work together. Bigger deadlifts mean greater gains.

Increased Flexibility—Since you start the lift in a crouched sitting position, you are stretching the muscles in your body simultaneously. The legs from crouching and the back and arms from having to drive upward, as well as the neck.

Better Posture—Perfecting form will not only help with increases in strength it will also help in your posture. With proper form our muscles become stronger and more stable helping to reduce any posture infractions.

This movement, like the squat, is a powerhouse and with the proper sumo deadlift form you can learn to lift big weights and avoid injury. Taking the time to learn proper sumo deadlift form will surely have its benefits.

Sumo Deadlift Setup

When setting up to perform the sumo deadlift, it is best to take the barbell out of the power rack and position yourself where you can move freely.

Approach the loaded bar and place your feet wider than shoulder width and your toes pointing outwards at a 45° angle. This is so that your feet follow the line of your knees (because you have wider stance your knees will not be facing forward!). Make sure to position yourself so that you have enough space for your arms to hang down inside the knees.

Bend at the waist and grip the bar using whatever grip your usually use for deadlifts. You might want to try an alternating grip as it can making lifting heavier weights easier to hold and it locks the bar into place and prevents rolling in your hand.

With the bar over the center of your foot and hands locked in at the position you feel most comfortable, bend down at the knees dropping your hips until you feel your shins touch the bar.

With your hips low and hands and feet in position, lift up your chest putting tension on the muscles in the upper body.

You will be in a pseudo sumo-wrestler stance, hence the name sumo deadlift.

This is the position you want to be in prior to lifting the weight off the floor. Your body should be firm and muscles tight ready for action. Now you are ready to sumo deadlift.

Pushing Up

Before pushing upwards, ensure your back is flat at the bottom position!  Be careful not to round your back at any point (you might want to check yourself in the mirror until you get the feel for this).

Pick a spot a few feet in front of you and focus on the floor. Keeping your head in line with the body.  The first few inches of the sumo deadlift are the most difficult. After that its a breeze.

With tight, tense muscles, firmly squeeze the glutes, engaging the hips and leg muscles.

Blasting out of the bottom of the deadlift is a lot like getting out of the bottom of the squat. Hip drive and tension in the leg muscles are key. Avoid pulling with your back.

Drive your feet into the ground then extend your knees and hips to lift the weight using the power of your leg muscles. As the legs are forcing the body to lift upwards our grip and tightness in the back will allow for us to firmly hold onto the weight as we pull it up off the floor.

The back should be tight and remain in the same angle throughout the lift, again be careful not to round your back at any point. Arching or rounding of the back can be caused by improper setup and too heavy a weight.

The combination of pushing from the legs and pulling from the upper body will continue to bring the weight upward off the floor. Continue the movement and lock out at the hips bringing the weight to mid-thigh height.

By fully driving through with the hips and contracting the glutes at the top of the movement, you have completed the lift.

Keeping the shoulder blades back and chest high makes for good sumo deadlift form and should be what you aim to accomplish in each of your lifts.

Learning to proper sumo deadlift form teaches you functional movement and how to properly lift heavy objects with your legs and not rely on the back. It builds strength throughout the body and enables you to progress in any sport.

Learning to sumo deadlift is a little simpler than learning to squat. However, it is a case of trial and error. It is important to progress through the weight and start at a point much lighter or with no weight at all.

Developing the motor patterns required for serious pulls is a test of time.

A great video showing the proper sumo deadlift form is this one from Jordan Syatt:

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Steve Hall

Steve is a strength training fanatic who geeks out over the best, most efficient workouts, nutrition and gear to help get you stronger and healthier!

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