If you’ve been training deadlifts for any amount of time, you likely have a clear favorite between conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts. Have you ever wondered why you like one more than the other? Or considered that training your non-dominant deadlift for a block or two could actually improve your overall strength and functionality?
Typically, your build, mobility, and preference will all be a factor in deciding which lift you want to use in training. Keep in mind the following information is general. For example, you may have the build for a sumo deadlifter, but struggle right now with the mobility needed to utilize the sumo variation. That’s ok! We’re here to help you not only learn more about both stances- but also to help you find the one that’s right for you.
Let’s start with WHY we program deadlifts!
An analogy we love for deadlifts, whether sumo or conventional, is that they’re like cutting your grass with a lawnmower versus using a pair of clippers to trim each blade one at a time. You get a lot more bang for your buck with this compound movement!
You could do 4 sets of 8 deadlifts…. OR you could train your body one exercise at a time performing many more movements (and spending a lot more time). For example, in order to utilize the same muscles that you’re using in the deadlift through accessory movements, you would need to do 4×8 lat pulldowns for back, 4×8 leg extensions for quads, 4×8 hamstring curls for hamstrings, 4×8 booty blaster machine for glutes, and some sit-ups for your core.
Deadlifts are much more time-efficient and most women find they enjoy them because they are able to lift much more than they expect!
Let’s dive into the difference between Conventional and Sumo Deadlifts!
The Conventional Deadlift
To perform the Conventional Deadlift:
- Stand at the bar with it intersecting the middle of your foot.
- Keeping a flat, neutral back, reach down and grab the bar while keeping your chest up and gazing at the floor in front of you.
- Raise your hips until your shins are mostly vertical, pull up and back on to the bar enough to make your body feel tight, but not so much that the bar moves.
- Squeeze your triceps and PUSH the floor away while driving your knees out.
- Once the bar is moving, pull it back toward your hips as you stand up and squeeze your butt.
- Set the bar down with control.
The Ideal Body Type for the Conventional Deadlift: Typically those with long arms and short(er) legs are usually better suited for conventional. Their long arms will reduce the total range of motion and their shorter legs will prevent their knees from obstructing the bar path.
What are the positives for the conventional deadlift?
- Larger Range of Motion. To increase muscle hypertrophy, you may prefer the Conventional Deadlift as it requires the individual to work through a greater ROM, which may improve the hypertrophic response.
- Increased Energy Expenditure. There is a 25-40% greater vertical bar distance, mechanical work, and energy expenditure (amount of energy (or calories burned) for the conventional deadlift compared to sumo.
- Greater Involvement of the Lower Back/Erectors. Individuals wanting to specifically train their lower back may benefit from using this stance as it places greater demand on the Erectors than the Sumo deadlift.
- Forces Thoracic Extension. Our society lacks adequate thoracic mobility (keeps the shoulders and the lumbar spine working properly, and pain-free) because we sit and slouch a lot. By performing the Conventional Deadlift in a safe and efficient manner with sufficient thoracic extension (think: back tight), will improve your posture and overall function.
Now let’s move on to the negatives…
- Larger Range of Motion. Simply put, with conventional you move the weight further.
- More Stress on the Spine. The Conventional Deadlift places more stress on the spine than sumo potentially making it a more dangerous movement to perform. If you have a pre-existing back injury or strain, it may be better to lift sumo or hybrid position while doing accessory strengthening exercises for your back.
The Sumo Deadlift
The Sumo Deadlift is visibly different from the Conventional Deadlift in that the lifter will use a wider stance, pointing their toes slightly outward and opening their hips and grabbing the bar inside of their legs.
To perform the Sumo Deadlift:
- Get into a wider “sumo” stance. Focus on driving knees out with toes pointed out slightly and work on getting your shins vertical
- Keep your hips as close to the bar as possible.
- Initiate the movement by pulling on the bar far enough back to make your body feel tight, but not so much that it moves.
- Pull back on the bar as you squeeze your triceps.
- Push your hips forward until you are able to leverage the weight off the floor.
- Think of spreading the floor apart and driving the knees out.
- Once the bar is moving, pull it back toward your hips.
- Stand up and squeezing your butt.
- Set the bar down with control.
Ideal Body Type: Those with long limbs and a short(er) torso are generally best suited for the Sumo Deadlift. Their long arms will reduce the total range of motion and the wide stance will inhibit their knees from blocking the bar path on the way up. A sufficient amount of hip mobility is necessary in order to perform the Sumo Deadlift appropriately and without pain. Some lifters may match this description physically, but be unable to get into the proper position.
Let’s talk positives:
- Shorter Range of Motion. As mentioned above, strength athletes are most interested in lifting as much weight as possible while exerting the least amount of effort. The shorter range of motion in Sumo reduces the total work, theoretically allowing you to lift more weight.
- Greater Carryover to Wide Stance Squatting. The wide stance used in the Sumo Deadlift carries over to performance in your squats. Through properly using this stance, you can effectively train both movements simultaneously.
- Less Mobility Required for Ankles and the Thoracic. One study found a 10% reduction in joint moment with Sumo compared to Conventional. Specifically, those lacking ankle mobility and thoracic extension can attempt the Sumo Deadlift position without compromising technique.
- Less force on Lumbar Spine. A study found an 8% reduction in forces on the spine, most likely due to the bar staying closer to your body’s center of mass.
Onto the negatives:
- Harder on the Hips. It’s not uncommon to hear individuals who are new to Sumo Deadlift to have some hip discomfort and tightness. Oftentimes, this is a case of femoral anterior glide syndrome, but can easily be fixed through glute activation warm-ups and some time away from pulling Sumo. To prevent this pain in the first place, we recommend cycling between Sumo and Conventional on a consistent basis for a couple weeks when first making the switch.
- Shorter Range of Motion. Even though this was listed a positive, it has its downsides as a shorter ROM leads to less overall work.
Remember- there is no “right” stance. In fact, training both stances will only make you stronger overall. The most important thing is finding the optimal one for YOU and working every day to improve your skills.