The sumo deadlift builds superior strength in the glutes and lower back. This monstrous exercise also enhances raw pulling power in the muscles of the posterior chain.
Sumo deadlifts offer a novel alternative to the conventional barbell deadlift. By interchanging deadlifting variations you will work a wider range of muscles. As Arnold Schwarzenegger informs us in The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, to develop strength beyond those muscles targeted by standard movements, we must expand our exercise repertoire.
In addition to building strength and power in a broad range of muscles, the sumo deadlift is a safer exercise than the more commonly used barbell variation.
With the feet spaced wide, like that of a sumo wrestler, you form a stable base from which to execute the lift. Also, in this position, you are closer to the bar which reduces excessive hinging at the lower back. (The most common mistake made by deadlifters.)
Sumo deadlift benefits
The sumo deadlift is a true compound exercise. Consequently, it activates one or more major muscle groups. In the case of sumo deadlifting, it’s more. As well as activating the glutes and the quads, sumo deadlifting also enhances strength and size in the lower, mid, and upper back.
Frederic Delavier, author of Strength Training Anatomy, classifies the sumo deadlift as one of the three primary powerlifting movements. And, ‘unlike normal deadlifts,’ Delavier tells us, the sumo variation ‘places primary emphasis on the quadriceps and adductors.’
This shift in muscular focus is a consequence of the reduced flexion at the hips.
Like all deadlifting variations, the sumo deadlift activates the posterior chain. The posterior chain is an important group of muscles that form an interconnected link from the hamstrings to the trapezius.
Why is the posterior chain important?
A weak posterior chain can lead to poor posture alignment which can increase injury risk. For example, inadequate erector spinae development may result in ‘flat back’, a poor postural position that is caused from weakness imbalances in the muscles of the lower back. Flat back, according to the NHS (2022), can result in neck and upper back strain.
By building posterior chain strength, you can effectively iron out these postural imbalances. In addition, stronger back muscles also enable us to maintain correct posture when seated or in prolonged states of inactivity.
Posterior chain strength is a transferable physical attribute. The group of muscles that form the posterior chain is used extensively throughout exercise and sport. It would be almost impossible to get through a gym session without engaging the posterior chain in some way. The same can be said of sport. How many sports can you name that do not rely on hamstring, glute, lower, and upper back strength?
Benefits of the sumo deadlift
Increased strength in the glutes and lower back.
Activated posterior chain.
Improved pulling power.
Improved postural alignment.
Engages a wide range of muscle groups.
Develops transferable physical attributes.
Muscles targeted by the sumo deadlift
As previously noted, the sumo deadlift enhances muscular development in the hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back, trapezius, and also muscles of the arm. In short, sumo deadlifting engages pretty much every muscle of the body.
How to perform the sumo deadlift
Prior to performing the sumo deadlift, you should organise your training area first. Ensure that it’s safe by clearing away any objects that could impede the movement of the bar. Also, if you are sumo deadlifting for the first time, it might be worth practicing the movement with an unloaded bar.
If you plan to go heavy, it’s worth heeding the advice advanced in Strength Training Anatomy. ‘Be sure to do this movement very carefully; execute the proper technique to avoid traumatizing the hips and adductors [and] the connection between the sacrum and the lumber vertebrae, which is directly involved in the exercise.’
Furthermore, when performing big compound movements such as deadlifts, hang cleans, or snatches, it's wise to use bumper plates. 'Bumps' enable you to drop the bar after each lift, which is much safer and less tiring.
Stand in front of an Olympic barbell and space your one and half shoulder widths. Basically, you’re adopting the stance of a sumo wrestler.
Bending at the knees, grasp the bar remembering to take a narrow grip. The gap that separates your hands should be about a hand’s width.
Before executing the lift, drop your hips, straighten your back, and apply force against the bar. This will stop you from making the common mistake of ‘snatching’ the bar off the floor.
Using quadriceps, glutes, and lower back strength stand up.
The bar should remain close to the legs, and you should focus on forcing your hips forward.
If you’re using bumper plates drop the bar. If not, lower to the start position under control.
How to modify the sumo dead lift
When you can perform the sumo deadlift perfectly, you can increase the range of movement by standing on a raised platform. Other methods of modification include attaching resistance bands or chains to the bar. By doing so the load progressively increases throughout the range of movement.
Sumo deads dos and don’ts
Do ensure to make your training area safe before starting the lift.
Don’t round the back.
Do select a weight commensurate with your strength.
Don’t snatch the bar from the floor.
Do keep the muscles of the core actively engaged throughout the lift.
Don’t lean back at the top position.
Do use deadlifting shoes as they improve the stability of your base.
Don’t ratchet the bar up your quads – the movement from start to finish should be smooth and continuous.
Sumo dead lift video tutorial
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