How To Sumo Deadlift: Your Guide to the Proper Form

By Steve Hall

August 22, 2013

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The deadlift is a true test of strength. Purely lifting dead weight off the floor. Along with the squat, the deadlift is one of the greatest lifts that can be done in any training regimen. It builds strength and increases your power. Learning to deadlift with the proper form is essential for building up massive strength.

This guide will cover the basics of a sumo deadlift and how to begin doing them.

When beginning to deadlift you must understand that there are two variations to the common deadlift. In the art of deadlifting the two variations differ in hand placement and feet width. And there is also another great exercise which will be covered in later material called the stiff legged deadlift.

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. Each variation of the deadlift has its own benefits.


You can see in each of these diagrams the different positioning. On the left the traditional style and on the right the sumo style. The positioning of the back in the traditional deadlift is a little more bent over as the knees are over the bar, glutes pushed back and head up. Sumo style deadlifts position the lifter with a more upright back in a somewhat sitting like position.

The Benefits of the Deadlift

Deadlifting 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 deadlifts 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.

A Lesson in Deadlift Form

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

This lesson will cover the proper form used for a sumo deadlift.

Note: Smith machines are great inventions and have their purpose. However they are not beneficial for us during this workout. Deadlifting on a smith machine takes away the very core of the lift. By deadlifting we want to engage all of our muscle groups. Always deadlift with free weights.

Deadlift Setup

When setting up to perform the deadlift, it is best to take the barbell out of the power rack and position yourself in front or in a place where you can move freely. Some gyms have deadlift platforms.

  • Approach the loaded bar and place your feet wider than shoulder width.
    • A good starting point would be to align your feet with the outer rings on the barbell.
  • Bend at the waist and grip the bar using alternating- or double-overhand grips.
    • An alternating grip is common practice, making heavier weights easier to hold. The hand position 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 your 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 deadlift.

Power through the Deadlift

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 and lift the weight up with your legs. By driving with the legs you can make use of your raw power.
  • 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. Pronounced arching or rounding 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.
  • 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 form and should be what you aim to accomplish in each of your deadlifts.

Learning to deadlift teaches us how to lift objects with our legs and not rely on the back. It builds strength throughout the body and enables us to progress in any sport.

Learning to 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 on learning the sumo style deadlift  is “How To Sumo Deadlift” with Mark Bell.

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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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