How To: Sumo Deadlift

by Bryan Henry     •     October 12, 2020     •     Training

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Ahhhhh...THE DEADLIFT! Don't be scared friends, there are many different variations of the deadlift and today we are going to be covering one of them which is the SUMO Deadlift.

Now, first and foremost, I won't sit here and claim that the Sumo Deadlift is easier to teach or perform. What I will say is that in my eyes and having taught many athletes and individuals how to deadlift I feel that the learning curve on the Sumo Deadlift is much less.

In reality, every strength and conditioning coach has his own opinion and that is fine. That is the great thing about opinions...everyone is allowed to have one (right, wrong, or indifferent).

What is a Deadlift?

Definition: The deadlift is a weight training exercise in which a loaded barbell or bar is lifted off the ground to the level of the hips, torso perpendicular to the floor, before being placed back on the ground. It is one of the three powerlifting exercises, along with the squat and bench press.

To make it easier to understand the deadlift is a hip dominant movement. Meaning we initiate the movement through the hips and it shouldn't be confused with the squat. Mastering the hinge is crucial when we talk about performing any type of deadlift. I like to dumb things down as much so that they are easy to absorb, comprehend, and implement. Imagine a door hinge and how it moves and that is how your hips should move.

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Now, what is a Sumo Deadlift and how is it different?

The Sumo deadlift is a variation of the conventional deadlift often adopted by powerlifters. The difference between the two lies in the setup of the lifter's feet and hands. When the bar is gripped with the lifter's hands inside their legs, the form is considered "Sumo".

Let's not complicate things when we talk about the Sumo Deadlift. The way it sounds is exactly how you should take it. Imagine a Sumo Wrestler and the stance and setup that they demonstrate. Is it starting to paint a pretty clear picture in your mind? It should, if not you can take a look at the pictures below that will give you a clear idea of what it looks like. (Hopefully you get the idea)

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The Million Dollar Question: What are the risks of deadlifting?

With anything you do in life, there are always risks associated! You can be crossing the street with no traffic in sight and still find some way to get hurt. With that being said I like to be completely transparent and open with you so you aren't blindsided by anything! I'm not telling you the risks to scare you. Instead, I am telling you the risks so that you are educated.

Here are the Top 5 biggest mistakes when deadlifting:

  1. Bouncing the weight (Touch-and-Go Deadlift) - We've all seen it. Someone struggles mightily to complete a single rep on a heavy deadlift. The lifter's eyes are almost bursting out of their sockets. You think the guy is going to pass out... and then he proceeds to do 6 MORE reps with that weight! Essentially a touch and go is letting gravity take over so that the bar bounces back up in attempts to achieve more reps then you would have normally completed.
  2. Crashing your nervous system - No other lift is as devastating on the nervous system as the deadlift. Maxing out on the deadlift, or doing a high volume of heavy work, can negatively impact your subsequent workouts for an entire week. For that reason, training the deadlift hard every week might not be a good idea unless your nervous system is formidably resilient.
  3. Using the wrong flexion - The deadlift is a hip flexion and extension exercise, also called hip hinge. It's not a trunk flexion and extension movement. There should be no trunk flexion in the deadlift. But a lot of people – especially if they have mobility issues – compensate by bending at the waist. This means that to complete the lift the spine angle will have to change during the rep, which is just about the most dangerous thing you can do while deadlifting.
  4. Using a risky grip - It should only be used by competitive powerlifters and only in the specific or pre-competition phase. Most of the year they should deadlift with a double pronated (overhand) or hook grip. Even using straps from time to time is fine. If you're only training to improve your appearance, gain muscle, and get stronger and you have no intention of competing, then there's nothing wrong with using straps for most of your heavy deadlift work. It's much better than using a mixed grip.

HERE WE GO! Let's talk about the steps to properly Sumo Deadlift!

Let's make this super simple to understand and give you the bare bones of what you need to know to be successful. I am going to cut out the technical mumbo-jumbo and give it to you straight.

Here are 6 tips to mastering the Sumo Deadlift:

  1. Find Your Stance - Get your knees out to where your ankles are. The sumo deadlift is harder to get moving off the floor and easier to lock out, so don't go so wide that you can't even get the bar moving.
  2. Point The Toes Out - Take this with a grain of salt. You don't want to "duck" your toes all the way out because that would make it very difficult to create any tension, but you certainly can't keep your feet straight ahead; that would put the bar an extra inch out in front of you which makes it that much harder. Turning your toes out slightly places the bar on the smooth part of your inner shin. This ultimately allows the bar to start closer to the body and set the position for a smoother and shorter pull.
  3. Drop Down To The Bar - The length of your legs and the current level of mobility depends on how low your hips can start. Don't squat the weight up...you want to get your hips as close to the barbell as possible to improve your leverage. We want your hips low without letting your knees come forward. If your knees come forward this puts the bar out in front of you and you'll be putting yourself in a bad start position. A good rule of thumb is to get your hips low enough to get your back straight and still have good hamstring tension.
  4. Get Your Body Behind The Bar - Once you have your hip position figured out, it's important to start to leverage yourself behind the weight. The more of your body weight that's forward of the bar, the harder it'll be to lock out . If your head and chest are in front of the bar at the start, it's going to be very hard to finish the lift. Pull yourself down into the bar before the lift and then pull the bar into your body. This helps keep tension on the lats and helps prevent the upper back from collapsing and the hips from shooting up.
  5. Spread The Floor - The term spreading the floor is super important for breaking the weight off of the floor. This helps keep tension on the hips and get the bar moving. The hardest part of the sumo pull is the start, so you need to be patient and create a lot of torque in your hips to crack the plates off the floor. It's important to keep forcing the knees out on the way up so your knees don't get in the way as you get close to lockout.
  6. Shoot The Hips Through - It's important to focus on driving your hips into the bar to finish with a smooth lockout. This will help save your lower back and teach you to finish with your hips. Don't make the mistake of overextending the lower back it will force the knees to unlock.

There you have it. We have covered everything from risks to steps to mastering the Sumo Deadlift.

Let's be completely clear on one thing. Everything takes time to learn and master. Take your time when learning any new movement, especially a deadlift movement as there are a lot of moving parts.

If you have any other questions you can feel free to shoot us a message at info@lightsoutacademy.com. Other than that we will see you on the next post! Take it easy and #TrainLightsOut

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