When it comes to building raw muscle, there's no exercise quite like the deadlift. There's an animalistic instinct that comes along with lifting heavy weights off the floor and holding them in your hands. It's an experience that transcends the body and connects you with the true power stored in your muscles.
But, which deadlifting exercise should you perform? There are a few deadlift variants that are popular in the weightlifting community. The most common of them is the conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift — both of which are excellent at building muscle, shredding fat, and forging body recomposition.
Today, we're going to talk about the differences between conventional pulls and sumo deadlifts, and how you can master your sumo deadlifting form to boost your results and build solid muscle and core strength.
Why the Deadlift?
The deadlift exercise is a multi-muscle, multi-joint exercise that involves lifting a set of weights (usually a barbell) off of the floor. The entire exercise will go from a bending position to an upright standing position. This exercise activates a few different muscle groups
Muscles that Undergo Primary Activation During a Deadlift
- Gluteus — a group of muscles in the buttocks region that move the thighs.
- Quadriceps — a group of muscles located at the front of the thighs.
- Hip adductors — a group of five muscles that rotate and move the legs.
- Spinal erectors — a group of muscles that run along your back.
Muscles that Undergo Secondary Activation During a Deadlift
- Trapezius — a group of muscles in the neck
- Levator Scapulae — the muscle that runs from your shoulder to your jaw area.
- Rhomboids — a group of muscles located at the center top of your back below your neck.
- Rectus Abdominis — these are usually referred to as "abs."
With so many muscle groups activated, the deadlift is considered a full-body exercise — which means it works a large group of muscles throughout your body.
And, it's not just for show. Deadlifts have a wealth of science, backing up their ability to assist in strength training. They help increase overall core strength, help with back pain, and they increase bone density, resting metabolic rates, and muscle mass (1,2,3,4,5)
Overall, deadlifts are a fundamental exercise that almost everyone who is interested in increasing strength, losing weight, improving their mood, or overall conditioning should utilize.
The Conventional Pull vs. Sumo Deadlifts
Conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts are remarkably similar exercises. And, just by glancing, you'll probably be able to tell the main difference in form between the two. Sumo deadlifts are engaged with legs spread further apart, which allows you to keep your torso more upright. This makes sumo deadlifts less stressful on the back.
The sumo deadlift is also a more technical exercise that activates different muscles, stresses completely different flexions, and has a unique biochemical composition. That's not to say that conventional pulls are less effective than sumo deadlifts — they just activate different muscle groups.
Let's break down both exercises and talk about what groups of muscles they target and which types of goals they're best suited for.
The Conventional Deadlift
"There is no point in being alive if you cannot do the deadlift" - Jon Pall Sigmarsson
Both deadlifts require the user to lift weights off of the ground into a standing position. But, conventional deadlifts require more bending. The feet start close together with conventional deadlifts, which forces you to bend a little to pick the weight up. This means that the hands are outside of your shins and your elbows are on the outside of your knees when you bend over. This also puts the chest lower than it would be in the sumo deadlift.
Due to this stance, conventional deadlifts put more stress on your spinal erectors and your hamstrings. The bar also has to travel a greater distance with conventional deadlifts, which means that you're performing more mechanical work (around 20% more.)
- Great for working out back muscles (e.g., spinal erectors, levator scapulae, rhomboids)
- Easy to learn the form
- Starts off simpler than sumo deadlifts, though it is harder to lockout.
- Can be challenging to perform for those who suffer from back pain
- Doesn't work out legs as well as sumo deadlifts
- Conventional deadlifts require an unnatural stance, so it doesn't translate as well into real-life situations
The Sumo Deadlift
Like the conventional deadlift, sumo deadlifts require you to bend over and pull a heavy weight off the ground. But, there's a fundamental difference. Sumo deadlifts start with your feet spread further apart. That means that your hands are inside of your knees — which are more bent than they would be for a conventional deadlift. So, your legs are going to be utilized more than your back during the lift.
This stance requires less spine mobility, and it works well for anyone with back issues. From crossfitters to bodybuilders and athletes, sumo deadlifts are a staple in the performance community for a reason — they work!
- Sumo deadlifts put much less pressure on your back, which is excellent for those who experience back issues during lifting
- It's a more natural position (it's how you lift things in real life)
- Easier to lockout than conventional deadlifts because the bar doesn't have to travel as far
- Increased leg development (e.g., gluteus, hip adductors, etc.)
- It's more technical which makes it harder for beginners
- Has potential to overstress your hip adductors (this is especially prevalent in beginners)
How to Sumo Deadlift The Right Way
Let's talk about how you to do the sumo deadlift technique in a step-by-step guide.
- Place your bar on the ground. If you're a beginner, start without any weights on the bar.
- Settle down into a stance with your legs spread apart with your toes pointed out. This stance will vary from person to person. The length of your torso, limbs, and overall core structure will cause variations in how far your legs are spread.
- Bend at the hips and grip the bar with your hands. Your hands should be inside your legs. You can use a variety of grips with a sumo deadlift (e.g., mixed grip, pronated grip, etc.)
- Relax your shoulders and arms.
- Look straight forward with a straight head and chest. Make sure that you don't look down or sideways during the lift. Keeping your chest and head straight will help ensure that you don't suffer a neck or back injury.
- Drive the weight up with your hands firmly gripping the bar.Do this slowly.
- Extend through the hips/knees.
- After the bar comes to the knees, pull your shoulders together.
- Put the weight back down while keeping control of the weight the entire time.
5 Tips to Help You Maximize Your Sumo Deadlifts
Let's go over some tips that will help you dominate the sumo deadlift.
Tip #1 Get your knees out of the way when you're lifting the bar up.
This is the most common issue for beginners. Make sure you don't knock your knees into the bar while you're lifting it up. Bumping into your knees can be painful and completely ruin your lift.
Tip #2 Put your weight behind the bar.
If you're having issues making the lift or locking out, try putting more weight behind the bar. When you put your weight into the bar, it makes the lift much more difficult.
Tip #3 Don't overextend your back.
A crucial part of nailing the sumo deadlift is making sure that you are locking out with your hips. Beginners often make the mistake of lifting with their lower back when they pull the bar up to their hips. Don't do that! You want to leverage your hips throughout the entire lift. Always drive your hips into the bar — not your lower back.
Tip #4 Make sure your toes are pointed out.
Don't point your toes straight forward or directly to the side. You want to point your toes out. This means pointing your toes at an angle.
Tip #5 Try out different grips.
There are five main grips that you can use with a sumo deadlift. We'll go over the benefits of each.
- The mixed grip. This grip requires you put one hand in a pronated position (palm away from you) and the other hand in a supinated position (palm towards you.) The mixed grip gives you a much better grip on the weight. But, it stresses your biceps more than other grips, which can potentially lead to injuries.
- Overhand grip. This is the most basic deadlifting grip. Your palms will face you.
- Hook grip. This grip is an overhand grip that requires you to put your thumb behind your fingers. This grip gives you a ton of grip control, but it can definitely hurt your thumbs.
- Lifting Straps. You can also use the TUFF Figure 8 Lifting Straps to help you lift the weight. This reduces a ton of stress on your hands and helps you lift more weight — which means you can build more muscle!
Should you use a conventional pull or sumo deadlift? It really depends on the situation. Sumo deadlifts are certainly less stressful on your back than conventional deadlifts, and they can do wonders for your leg muscles.
Are you looking to get the most out of your sumo deadlifts? Our Villain Wrist Wraps , TUFF Figure 8 Lifting Straps, and are other TUFF Lifting Strapscan help you maximize your weight and reduce injuries. Pro bodybuilders like Leroy "The Machine" Walker have been using our Tuffwrap products for years. Ready to see the difference that a Tuffwrap can make in your lifts? Check out our shop.