No, this is not about Japanese wrestling but keep that mental image.
The sumo stance for deadlifts and squats is a variation of the conventional exercise commonly used in strength training and powerlifting. It involves a wider stance with the feet positioned outside of the hands, and the hands gripping the barbell inside the legs. This positioning creates a more upright torso and emphasizes the involvement of the hips and inner thigh muscles.
So why is it ‘controversial’? Short answer, it’s not. Some lifters think of it as cheating on the conventional stance and Mr Bumstead gave a quick answer on a Q&A session (watch the whole thing), but like everything, there are pros and cons to sumo deadlifts and squats.
The various perspectives and debates within the powerlifting and strength training community are summarised around a few topics:
Mechanical Advantage: One of the primary arguments in favor of the sumo deadlift is that it offers a mechanical advantage for certain individuals. The wider stance and grip allow for a shorter range of motion compared to the conventional deadlift, which can benefit lifters with longer legs, shorter arms, or limited hip mobility. This shorter range of motion can potentially enable lifters to move heavier loads and lift more weight. This is the core of sumo deadlifts being ‘cheating’.
Targeted Muscles: The sumo deadlift places greater emphasis on the muscles of the hips, glutes, and inner thighs compared to the conventional deadlift. Some lifters find that the sumo variation better suits their body mechanics and allows them to effectively engage these muscle groups. It can be particularly advantageous for individuals with strong lower body strength or those who have experienced success with wider stance movements.
Individual Preference and Comfort: Personal preference and comfort play a significant role in exercise selection. Some individuals simply feel more comfortable and natural performing the sumo deadlift due to factors such as body proportions, flexibility, or previous training experiences. For these lifters, the sumo deadlift may be their preferred choice.
Sport-Specific Considerations: The choice between the sumo and conventional deadlift can also depend on the individual’s specific goals and the requirements of their chosen sport. In powerlifting competitions, lifters may choose the sumo deadlift to optimize their performance and leverage their strengths, as long as it adheres to the specific rules and guidelines of the competition.
Anatomical Limitations: On the other hand, some individuals may find the sumo deadlift less suitable due to their body mechanics, joint structure, or individual limitations. Factors such as hip anatomy, flexibility restrictions, or previous injuries can make it challenging or uncomfortable to execute the sumo stance effectively. In such cases, the conventional deadlift or alternative exercises may be more appropriate.
Ultimately, the perspective on the sumo deadlift can vary depending on individual factors, goals, and preferences. Both the sumo and conventional deadlift variations have their merits and can be valuable additions to a well-rounded strength training program. It’s important for lifters to experiment with different techniques, understand their own body mechanics, and select the deadlift variation that allows them to lift safely, effectively, and in a manner that aligns with their goals.
Now you know the story, how should perform sumo deadlifts and squats? A good while ago, Michelle Trapp put up a great video instruction on sumo stance form.
For those who prefer to read, here are instructions for performing the sumo deadlift:
Set Up the Barbell: Place a barbell on the ground in front of you. Position your feet wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed outward at an angle, typically around 45 degrees. The exact foot positioning may vary based on personal preference and body mechanics.
Grip the Barbell: Bend down and grip the barbell with your hands placed inside your legs. The grip can be either double overhand or mixed (one hand overhand, one hand underhand), depending on your preference and comfort. Ensure that your hands are positioned evenly on the barbell.
Set Your Body Position: Lower your hips by bending your knees and push them out to the sides, maintaining a wide stance. Your shins should be positioned close to vertical, and your torso should be more upright compared to a conventional deadlift. Keep your chest up and your back straight, maintaining a neutral spine position.
Engage Your Core: Brace your core muscles by taking a deep breath and contracting your abdominal muscles. This helps stabilize your spine and protect against excessive rounding or arching during the lift.
Initiate the Lift: Push through your feet, driving the force into the ground while simultaneously extending your hips and knees. Focus on driving your hips forward and keeping your chest up as you lift the barbell. Maintain a smooth and controlled motion throughout the lift, avoiding any jerking or sudden movements.
Complete the Lift: Stand up tall, extending your hips fully at the top of the movement. Ensure that you maintain proper posture with your shoulders back and down. Do not hyperextend your lower back. Hold this position momentarily to establish control and ensure a complete lift.
Lower the Barbell: To lower the barbell, initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Control the descent of the barbell as it approaches the ground, keeping your core engaged and your back straight. Once the barbell touches the ground, you have completed one repetition.
Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions while maintaining proper form and control. Focus on maintaining tension in your muscles throughout the entire set.
As with any exercise, it’s important to start with lighter weights to focus on proper form and gradually increase the load as your technique and strength improve. It’s also advisable to seek guidance from a qualified strength and conditioning professional if you’re new to the sumo deadlift to ensure safe and effective execution.
If you want to read more about sumo stance, the links below are great places to start.