Sumo Deadlift: Variations, Pros & Cons, and Muscle Worked

The sumo deadlift is an incredible exercise to bolster multiple muscles throughout the body, enhance lifting strength, and build a firm lower body.

In this article, I’ll share all about sumo deadlifts, such as variations, pros and cons, and proper form.

Check this ultimate guide if you want to integrate Sumo DL into your training program.

Muscle Worked During The Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a compound exercise that works on several muscles throughout the body, including the legs, glutes, and back.

Here are all muscles engaged during the Sumo Deadlift according to a meta-analysis published by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.1 Escamilla RF, Francisco AC, Kayes AV, Speer KP, Moorman CT 3rd. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34(4):682-688. doi:10.1097/00005768-200204000-00019

  • Hamstrings: It is located on the back of your thigh, between the lower back and knees. It is the primary muscle that works when you lift the bar off the ground.
  • Quadriceps: It is the front thigh muscle and it is activated while you pull the bar using your lower body strength.
  • Hips and Glutes: These are lower body muscles, and they work throughout the lifting phase, from ascent to descent.
  • Back: The Sumo DL also engages the latissimus dorsi and helps you build a sturdy back.
  • Abdominals: The wide stance deadlift stabilizes your midsection while lifting and lowering the weight.
  • Forearms: The SDL requires you to hold the barbell throughout the movement, which helps build burly forearms and bolster your grip.

The Sumo Deadlift Form and Technique

The Sumo Deadlift Form And Technique

Improper lifting can cause unwanted back pain and injuries. That’s why knowing the proper technique is important to perform the sumo DL safely and effectively.

Here are the quick tips that can help you perform sumo deadlifts in the correct form.

  • Stance: Keep your feet two times wider than shoulder-width with your toes pointing out, 45 degrees externally to the sides, and ensure your ankles align with your knees. Maintain this stance throughout the movement.
  • Grip: You can grip the bar with a double, mixed, or overhand hook grip. Whichever grip you use, keep your hands approximately hip-width apart with arms straight between your legs.
  • Torso Position: Keep your chest up, core tight, and back straight before lifting the bar.
  • Weight Close to The Body: Keep the bar or the dumbbells close to your body throughout the movement to avoid injuries.
  • Breathing: Take a deep breath before you lift the weight.
  • Lift: Push through your heels and stand up, straightening your hips and knees simultaneously. Keep the barbell close to your body throughout the lift.
  • Lockout: At the top, fully extend your hips and stand tall with your shoulders back.
  • Use of Belt: Use a belt to perform safely and effectively.

The Sumo Deadlift Variations

  1. Smith Machine Sumo Deadlift
  2. Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift
  3. Sumo Barbell Deadlift
  4. Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift
  5. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

1. Smith Machine Sumo Deadlift

Doing a sumo deadlift on the Smith machine is comparatively easier than the free weight deadlifts. The Smith machine provides better control and safety than other deadlift forms.

Steps to do it:

  1. Set a barbell to the lowest section of the rack, stand upright with your two times wider than shoulder-width apart, and turn your feet slightly out to the sides.
  2. Externally rotate your hips back and lower yourself while maintaining your back straight.
  3. Hold the barbell with an overhand or mixed grip (your hands about hip to shoulder-width apart) with your palms facing the body.
  4. Brace your core, take a deep breath, and lift the bar until your hips are fully extended.
  5. Hold for a few seconds, exhale, then lower the bar to the start. That’s your one repetition.

Smith Machine Sumo Deadlift Tips

  • Raise your hips and shoulders at the same time.
  • Keep your back straight and chest up during the movement.
  • Maintain a neutral spine and head position during the movement.

2. Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift

Dumbbell SDL targets the lower body, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, and quad, while also engaging the core and upper body muscles. It helps improve lifting, increase muscle development, and enhance functional fitness, which is required in day-to-day activities.

Steps to do it:

  1. Place the dumbbells in front of you and stand with your feet wide apart and toes slightly turned out.
  2. Bend at your hips and knees, keeping your back straight, and grip the dumbbells.
  3. Pushing through your heels, straightening your hips and knees, and standing tall while holding the dumbbells. That’s one rep.

Dumbbell SDL Tips

  • Keep the weights close to your body throughout
  • Keep your back straight and chest up during the movement.

3. Barbell Sumo Deadlift

Barbell Sumo Deadlift

The barbell SDL is a popular exercise among powerlifters. It engages multiple muscles throughout the legs and torso and helps build an athletic body.

It also increases your ability to lift more weights, bolster grip and forearm strength, and improve your functional fitness.

Steps to do it:

  1. Place a barbell on the floor and stand upright in a sumo stance with your shin close to the bar.
  2. Bend at your hips and knees, keeping your back straight, and grasp the bar with an alternate grip, arms inside your legs.
  3. Push through your heels and raise your hips and shoulders simultaneously until your hips and knees are fully extended.
  4. Lower the weight back on the floor by bending at your hips and knees. That’s one rep.

Barbell SDL Exercise Tips

  • Inhale just before the beginning of the lift and exhale after completing one rep.
  • Avoid rounding the back by keeping your core tight and chest up.
  • Do not bend your wrist to lift the bar; focus on using your leg strength to return to a standing position.

4. Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift

Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift Form

The kettlebell sumo deadlift targets the posterior chain muscles while challenging core strength and improving hip mobility. You can also use it to warm up before doing barbell deadlifts.

Steps to perform Kettlebell Sumo DL:

  1. Stand in a sumo stance and place a kettlebell between your legs.
  2. Bending your hips and knees, lower yourself and grab the KB’s handle.
  3. Push through your heels and stand up straight, holding the kettlebell.
  4. Lower it back down by bending at your hips and knees. That’s one rep.

Kettlebell SDL Tips:

  • Maintain proper form throughout the movement to effectively engage your lower body and core.
  • Perform each rep in a slow and controlled manner, feeling the contraction in your lower body.

5. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

The sumo deadlift to high pull is a total body exercise that reinforces multiple muscles from the upper to the lower body, increases strength and explosiveness, and builds an athletic body.

Steps to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and turn your feet slightly out to the sides.
  2. Externally rotate your hips back and lower yourself by bending your knees. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip about hip-width apart. Palms facing the body.
  3. Brace your core, Inhale, and lift the weight (your elbows should be between the knees).
  4. When your knees are fully extended, bend your elbows and pull them up until they reach the neck.
  5. Hold for a second or two. Exhale and then return to the starting position.

SDL High Pull Exercise Tips

  • Maintain a neutral spine position throughout the exercise.
  • Drive your elbows at your sides while pulling the bar toward your neck.

Pros and Cons of Sumo Deadlift

Sumo Deadlift Pros

1. Build Lower Body Muscles

The Sumo DL is a compound exercise that reinforces the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes and helps build a firm lower body and increase muscle growth. Strong legs and glutes help enhance athletic and lifting performances.

2. Increases Strength

The sumo deadlift helps scale up your lifting ability and improve functional strength. Having decent strength helps you lift more during pull exercises, such as conventional deadlifts, bent-over rows, T-bar rows, and lat pulldowns, and maximize muscle growth.

3. Improve Posture

The sumo deadlift improves bad posture, helping you stand upright and look more aesthetic.

It requires you to maintain a neutral spine position throughout the movement. Maintaining a neutral spine during the lift promotes good spinal alignment habits that can carry over to your everyday posture.

4. Less Taxing on the Lower Back

The Sumo DL is less taxing on the lower back and great for people who want to maximize their lifting ability without going hard on the lower back.

Sumo Deadlift Cons

1. Limited Lift Height

Sumo deadlift involves a wide stance that limits the length of lifts, and you only have to pull the bar to a limited height, making it less effective than the conventional deadlift for increasing strength.

2. Put Much Stress on Hips and Groin

While the sumo deadlift is a bit easy on the erector spine, it puts more stress on the hips and groin, making it a challenging exercise for people with limited hip mobility and groin injury.

3. Less Involvement of Upper Body

The Sumo deadlift is more of a lower-body exercise than a total body. So, if your goal is to stimulate your lats and shoulders along with lower limbs, I prefer doing a standard deadlift over the SUMO.

Sumo vs. Conventional Deadlift

Let’s explore the differences and similarities between the Conventional and Sumo deadlifts that will help you decide which one you should prioritize first.

Differences Between Sumo and Standard Deadlift

  • Stance: Sumo deadlifts involve a wide stance with toes turned out, targeting the inner thighs and quads and placing less stress on the lower back, while the conventional deadlifts have a narrower stance, working the hamstrings, glutes and lower back more intensely.
  • Grip width: Sumo deadlifts typically use a wider grip inside the legs, while conventional deadlifts use a narrower grip outside the legs.
  • Range of Motion: Sumo deadlifts generally have a shorter range of motion because of the wider stance, making them useful for lifters with limited mobility.
  • Stress on the Spine: The sumo deadlift puts less tension on the lower back than the conventional deadlift. The reason is when we do the sumo deadlift, we keep our erector spine as straight as possible, but when we perform the conventional deadlift, it requires more use of the erector spine and puts stress on the lower back.
  • Quad Dominant: An analysis shows that the sumo deadlift is better for targeting the quads and hamstring as compared to the conventional deadlift. The sumo deadlift requires more knee flexion, which is important for the quad’s development; on the other hand, the conventional deadlift doesn’t require much knee flexion, which doesn’t help much in targeting the quads and hams deeply.2 Escamilla RF, Francisco AC, Kayes AV, Speer KP, Moorman CT 3rd. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadliftsMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34(4):682-688. doi:10.1097/00005768-200204000-00019

Sumo and Conventional Deadlifts Similarities

  • Grip Strength: Both deadlift variations require a strong grip to hold the barbell.
  • Strength: Both lifts develop functional strength that helps you in everyday activities, such as lifting a heavy object from the ground.
  • Compound Movements: Sumo and conventional deadlifts are compound exercises that engage numerous muscles simultaneously and help promote muscle growth and overall fitness.

Wrapping Up

The Sumo deadlift is one of the highly performed deadlift variations. Everyone, from bodybuilders to powerlifters, performs the sumo deadlift to maximize lower body strength and muscle growth.

You can perform the SDL with multiple equipment, such as the barbell, dumbbell, Smith machine, kettlebell, and resistance band.

You can try all sumo deadlift variations to enhance your overall lower body development and optimize your lifting and athletic performance.


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Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.

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