Sumo Deadlift: Muscles Work, Form, Benefits & Variations

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 deadlift, such as how to do it with proper form, how many sumo deadlift variations you can do, what muscles they target, what their benefits are, and how is the Sumo different than the conventional deadlift.

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

The Sumo Deadlift Muscle Worked

The Sumo Deadlift Muscle Worked
lower body muscle

The sumo deadlift is a compound exercise that works on several muscles simultaneously throughout the body. Let’s find out what muscles are trained during the sumo deadlift based on 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

  • Legs: They target your thighs (quadriceps) and the back of your legs (hamstrings). These muscles help you stand up with the weight.
  • Hips and Butt: Sumo deadlifts work your hips and butt (glutes)when you lift the weight off the ground.
  • Back: The Sumo DL also engages the latissimus dorsi and helps you build a sturdy back.
  • Core: Your core muscles (abs and obliques) stabilize your body while lifting and lowering the weight.
  • Forearms and Grip: The SDL requires you to hold the barbell throughout the movement, which helps build burly forearms and a firm grip.

So, sumo deadlifts are a great full-body exercise that strengthens your legs, hips, back, core, and even your grip.

The Sumo Deadlift Form and Technique

The Sumo Deadlift Form And Technique

The improper way of 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. Sumo kettlebell Deadlift
  5. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

1. Sumo Deadlift on Smith Machine

Doing a sumo deadlift on the Smith machine is comparatively easier than the barbell sumo deadlift. The Smith machine provides better balance and safety than other deadlift forms. And it’s ideal for a beginner.

Steps to perform a Smith Machine Sumo Deadlift:

  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 grip 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 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 Dumbbell Sumo DL:

  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, straighten your hips and knees, and stand tall while holding the dumbbells. That’s one rep.

Sumo Dumbbell Deadlift 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 one of the widely performed deadlift variations. It helps build a firm and sizeable lower body, scale up your ability to lift more weights, bolster grip and forearm strength, and improve functional fitness.

Steps to do Barbell Sumo Deadlift:

  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.

Sumo Barbell DL 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
Sumo KB Deadlift (Photo by Ketut Subiyanto, Pexel)

Kettlebell sumo deadlifts uniquely combine strength and balance, enhancing functional fitness. They target the posterior chain muscles while challenging the core strength.

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 in your hands.
  4. Lower it back down by bending at your hips and knees. That’s one rep.

Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift Exercise 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 barbell CrossFit exercise that reinforces multiple muscle groups simultaneously, increases strength and explosiveness, and builds an athletic body.

Steps to do the Sumo Deadlift High Pull

  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.

The Sumo Deadlift Benefits

Here we take a look at the list of sumo deadlift benefits:

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 making you 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. Rehabilitation Exercise For Lower Back Pain

The Sumo DL can be used in rehabilitation programs. For example, it can efficiently work for rehabilitation patients with mechanical lower back pain because it increases spinal strength and prevents lower back pain.

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 as compared to 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. From bodybuilders and powerlifters to CrossFitters and typical sports athletes, everyone performs the sumo deadlift to maximize lower body strength and muscle growth.

You can perform the SDL with multiple pieces of 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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