The sumo squat is a terrific strength and power-building compound exercise. But unlike other squat variations, the sumo squat develops strength and size in the upper body just as much as it does in the lower body.
It’s the unusual position of the sumo squat (from where it derives its name) that makes it such a great whole-body building exercise.
When performing traditional squat variations, the bar is supported across the back of the shoulders. Resting on the frame like this requires little muscle contraction to stabilise.
Sumo squatting is very different. Throughout this exercise, the lifter must maintain a hold of the bar at their front. By doing so the anterior deltoids, trapizus, and muscles of the arms are constantly engaged.
Benefits of the sumo squat
We’ve already discussed how the sumo squat forges superior leg and upper body strength. However, I neglected to mention that summon squatting is also a brilliant lower back builder.
Supporting the bar anteriorly, with the hands positioned close together almost between the legs, places significant demands on the erector spinae; the muscles that run either side of the lumbar and thoracic regions of the vertebrae.
Additionally, the latissimus dorsi are engaged throughout the exercise in a synergistic capacity – that is, to stabilise the bar during the lift.
But the sumo squat is beneficial for other reasons beyond strength building. Many people who try the sumo squat report that it offers a far more comfortable position than the barbell back or front squat variations.
Furthermore, with the bar supported at your front, a lot of pressure is taken off the spine. The load, you could say, is more equitably distributed across a wider range of muscles.
More benefits of the sumo squat
Develops superior lower and upper body strength and size
Improves pushing power
Enhances the posterior chain muscles
Develops transferable strength that could improve performance in such sporting disciplines as rugby, wrestling and mixed martial arts
Reduces lower spinal disc compression
Engages wide range of muscle groups
Related: What's the best Olympic Barbell for the Home Gym?
Muscles targeted by the sumo squat
The sumo squat primarily targets the outer head of the quadriceps – vastus lateralis – and gluteus maximus. But sumo squatting also engages many muscles around the hip joint – such as gluteus medius, tensor fasciae latae.
And let’s not fail to pay homage to the barrage of upper body muscles that must assist this colossal exercise. Sumo squatting activates the muscles of the lower and upper back, the deltoids, and the muscles of the arms.
How to perform the barbell sumo squat
The barbell is on the floor and you are standing behind it; your shins touching the bar.
Space your feet one and a half shoulder-widths. Perhaps it may have been easier to say, adopt the stance of a sumo wrestler.
Bending at the knee and keeping that back perfectly straight, grasp the bar. Your hands are close together, almost touching.
Take up the strain before lifting.
Firing through both quads stand up out of the crouched position.
Complete the movement by returning the bar to the start position before initiating the next lift.
If performing the sumo squat with a heavy load, consider using bumper plates. Instead of having to lower the bar back to the floor, the most injury prone phase of any compound exercise, with 'bumps' you can drop the bar from the top position.
Sumo do and don’ts
Do keep your eyes fixed forward as this helps improve postural alignment.
Don’t hinge at the hips – that would constitute as a sumo deadlift, a very similar movement.
Do keep slight flexion in the elbows.
Don’t lock the knees out at the top position.
Do breath throughout the movement.
Don’t hinge back when upright – this only serves to compress the intervertebral discs.
Key teaching points
With the bar at your front, you are going to take a double-wide stance – about 1.5 shoulder widths.
Bending at the knee grasp the bar ensuring to take a narrow grip – hands are very nearly touching.
Take the strain and, when you’re ready, stand up.
Remember, lift with the legs, not the back – as that is a sumo deadlift.
For more tutorials, see our dedicated Exercise Archive Page