Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Sumo Deadlift - Daniel Belcher (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of Strength & Conditioning Journal.


In the sport of powerlifting, the deadlift is one of the 3 skilled lifts tested in competition. It is also commonly used in strength-based sport training as well. It is described by the IPF Technical Rules Book as a full body compound exercise used to lift a barbell from the floor to a standing erect position.

In powerlifting, 2 deadlift variations, the conventional deadlift (CDL) and sumo deadlift (SDL) are used in competition. Of these 2 variations, the SDL is only described vaguely in the literature and often lacks specific detail on its technical execution. Given the increased risk for injury in powerlifting, because of the testing of maximal loads being the very nature of the sport, proper exercise technique, and coaching should be established.

Sumo Deadlift: EliteFTS Roundtable Discussion:

Choosing a Variation

For athletes such as powerlifters, there are a few factors to consider when choosing which deadlift variation to use. Factors such as anthropometrics (body measurements), mobility, muscular activity, and injury history should be assessed to choose which variation is best suited for the athlete to achieve the heaviest lift possible in competition. 

Anthropometrically, it is suggest by Hales that athletes with elongated arms should use the CDL and those with shorter arms would be better suited to use the SDL. Article: Those with average arm lengths are suited to use both variations. Arm segment lengths are defined as short by being less than or long by greater than 38% of total body height. Article:  

The athlete should also consider flexibility and mobility. The SDL requires greater hip mobility than the CDL to properly get into the starting position; therefore, athletes with reduced hip flexibility should  choose the CDL over the SDL.

Muscular activity should also be considered when choosing a deadlift variation for training programs and achieving maximal strength. Both the SDL and CDL generate similar amounts of large hip extensor moments Articles:  However, the SDL recruits greater quadriceps and knee moments than the CDL in addition to the hip extensor moments. Therefore, athletes seeking to limit excessive quadriceps activity should choose the CDL over the SDL.

An athlete's individual injury history also needs to be examined when selecting a deadlift variation. Because of the excessive trunk lean in the CDL increasing vertebral joint load shear, the SDL may be better suited for athletes with previous spine injuries. Articles:  

The deadlift has often been used in post-surgery ACL rehabilitation because of the co-contraction of the quadriceps and hamstrings. Articles:  Because of the greater involvement of the hamstrings over the quadriceps, the CDL may be a better option in the early stages of ACL reconstruction therapy. Articles:

Athletes with restricted hip mobility due to previous injuries should favor the CDL over the SDL because of the need for greater hip flexibility to properly perform SDL.

To summarize, when selecting a deadlift variation, anthropometrics, flexibility, muscular activity, and previous injuries should be taken into consideration for each individual athlete. Athletes with elongated arms, limited hip mobility, training calls for less quadriceps activity, or previous knee or hip injuries should lean toward choosing the CDL. Those with shorter arms, above average hip mobility, a need for greater quadriceps recruitment, or suffer from back pain or previous vertebral injuries should favor the SDL over the CDL for training and competition.

However, powerlifting athletes should feel open to exploring both variations in their out-of-competition training to find which variation works best for them. These advantages and disadvantages are shown below:

Sumo versus Conventional Deadlift Advantages and Disadvantages


Sumo -
Advantages -
shorter range of motion, less total work needed to complete lift, less lumbar load shear, greater quadriceps activity.

Disadvantages -
requires greater hip mobility, more time spent in the acceleration phase.

Conventional -
Advantages -
generally performed at a high velocity, may be more applicable to traditional sports skills.

Disadvantages -
requires greater work to complete the lift, causes greater lumbar load shear.


Sumo -
Advantages -
may be advantageous to athletes with shorter arms.

Disadvantages -
not advantageous to athletes with longer arms.

Conventional -
Advantages -
may be advantageous to athletes with longer arms.

Disadvantages -
not advantageous to athletes with shorter arms.

Injury History:

Sumo -
Advantages - 
may benefit those with lumbar spine injuries.

Disadvantages -
may not suit athletes with hip injuries.

Conventional -
Advantages -
may be better suited for athletes with knee or hip injuries.

Disadvantages -
may not be suited for athletes with lumbar spine injuries.

Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift

The SDL is a compound movement that can promote an athlete's total body strength. Powerlifters have the choice to use the SDL variation in competition. Powerlifters who wish to increase quadriceps development with exercises outside the squat may benefit from using the SDL during out-of-competition training. However, technique specificity should become more of a priority as they approach competition. Article:

Athletes involved in sports that require strong or rapid back, hip, or knee extension would also benefit from this movement. The SDL often requires less work to perform when compared with the CDL because of the shorter range of motion that is created by the reduced bar to lumbar moment arm and the wider stance associated with the SDL. Article:

Exercise Technique

Starting Position - Preparation.

Once the proper barbell setup is positioned on the floor, the athlete should assume a stance with the feet placed outside shoulder width. Actual foot width may vary to some degree based on the athlete's anthropometrics and mobility. The midfoot should be in line with the bar with the feet turned outward at approximately 40 to 45 degrees with the shins in a near vertical position.

The athlete should then actively squat down and grip the bar. The knees should be in line with the second and third toes of the foot. The arms should hang straight down directly between the knees with the hands gripping the bar in a double overhand (hands pronated), alternated (one hand pronated, one hand supinated), or hook grip (hands pronated with fingers over thumb).

Lower Photo: Schtraps
From: How to Deadlift: The Definitive Guide
from the guys at Stronger by Science

 MASS magazine: 

Set into the starting position by shifting the hips back while maintaining an upright trunk position approximately at or less than 45 degrees. The hips should be positioned slightly higher than the knees, and the spine should be arched in slight lordosis opposing lumbar spine flexion. Excessive lordosis or kyphosis should be avoided. The shoulders should be positioned slightly in front of the bar with the scapula in line vertically with the bar. The latissimus dorsi should then be actively engaged while simultaneously externally rotating the femurs, driving the knees outward.

Before initiating the movement, athlete should take a deep breath to "brace" the abdominal wall for lumbar support and isometrically contract the trunk muscles. This can be achieved by drawing air in through a large breath into the diaphragm. If the athlete is breathing correctly, this can be observed by a distended abdomen. The athlete should be able to "fill the belt and hold it" to reinforce that both the abdominals and erectors are braced properly.

Finally, the athlete should be cued to sit back, keep his chest forward and open with the head facing forward all while pulling the "slack" out of the bar. Hyperextension of the spine should be avoided when keeping the chest up. The cue of "proud chest" may help to avoid this. This will put the athlete in the proper starting position with correct spinal column support and hip height position. In addition, the athlete will be placed in a "tight" body position that will allow the bar to move in the most vertical path possible.

Pulling to the Knees

Just before starting the SDL movement, the athlete should isometrically contract the quadriceps, gluteus muscle group, latissimus dorsi, and back extensors. Abdominal tension and bracing should also be maintained.

To initiate the start of the movement, the athlete should simultaneously begin extension of the knees, hips, and back. Cues should focus on "driving the feet into the ground" and "pushing the feet apart." The knees should continue to be driven outward with femoral external rotation to oppose knee valgus and change in vertical shank angles as the bar leaves the floor and approaches the knees. The bar should "drag" along the anterior portion of the shin to minimize the length of the hip-to-bar moment arm.

Pulling From the Knees to Lockout

As the bar reaches knee height, forceful hip extension should occur to drive the hips into the bar by contracting the gluteus muscles. The cue "hips forward" as the bar passes the knees will assist the athlete in performing this at the correct time. The bar should continue to "drag the body" by staying in close contact with the anterior portion of the thigh. Simultaneously, the knees should continue to extend until full extension is reached. The hips should come to full extension either at the same time as knee extension is achieved or slightly after. Once the back, hips, and knees are all fully extended, "lock out" is achieved and the lift is considered completed.

Technique Checklist


Feet are placed outside shoulder width.
Feet are rotated outward at 40-45 degrees.
Bar is gripped with a double overhand, alternated, or hook grip.
Hips are positioned higher than the knees and trunk is at or less than 45 degrees.
Scapulae are in in line with the bar.
Spine is arched in slight lordosis.
Chest is open and "proud."
Head facing forward.
Athlete is properly braced.

Concentric Execution

Simultaneous knee, hip and back extension.
Knees are continually pushed outward.
Spine is kept rigid and opposing flexion.
Hips are rapidly pushed toward the bar as it passes the knees.
Head is kept facing forward.
Bar maintains contact with the body throughout the execution.

Lock Out

Athlete has fully extended his knees, hips, and back.
Head is kept facing forward.
Excessive hyperextension of the back has not occurred.

Eccentric Lowering of the Bar

Athlete continues to grip the bar until it reaches the floor.
Actively squats to lower the bar.
Bar continues to maintain contact with the anterior portion of the body.
Spinal rigidity and slight lumbar lordosis is maintained.
Once the bar reaches the floor the movement is ended.

Common Errors

The athlete may start the movement with the bar too far away from the body. This may result in increased hip-to-bar moment arm length and excessive forward trunk lean. This can often be seen in a "counter movement" during the start of the SDL, where the athlete will begin to lift the bar, slightly lean back forward, then re-extend the spine continuing to execute the movement. This may be corrected by ensuring that the scapulae are in line with the bar.

The athlete may begin the movement with the hips positioned too low or too high. This may result in greater muscular recruitment of the low back and increased stress on the lumbar spine (hips too high). It may also cause decreases strength by increasing activity of the quadriceps and reducing activity of the hamstrings (hips too low). This can also be the result of not executing triple extension of the knees, hips, and back simultaneously.

The athlete may not keep the bar close to or in contact with the body throughout the movement. This can cause increased vertebral load shear by increasing the hip-to-bar moment arm length.

The athlete's grip can fail because of fatigue or lack of grip strength. This will result in an incomplete lift and can be possibly dangerous. This can be avoided by reducing the weight until the athlete has the proper grip strength to handle higher loads or by using lifting straps or schtraps.

The athlete's knees can "collapse" in knee valgus causing decreased vertical shank angles. This decrease in shank angle during the execution of the movement can cause the knees to "get in the way" of the bar, reducing velocity and resulting in incorrect SDL technique. This can be avoided by keeping the knees pushed outward and by additional strengthening of the gluteus medius.

The athlete may lose spinal position and rigidity at some point during the SDL movement. This can put the athlete in compromising positions and result in injury. Strengthening of the spinal extensors and the latissimus dorsi may help to oppose this error. A reduction in weight may be necessary until the athlete obtains the proper strength needed to perform the lift correctly and safely.    

The athlete may hyperextend his neck at the onset of the SDL when pulling the weight off the floor. This can cause a loss of tension in the erector spinae and lead to neck pain or injury. This may be corrected by cuing the athlete to keep their chest open and "proud" and by ensuring they keep their head and eyes facing directly forward.

Common Errors in the Sumo Deadlift

Counter-movement of the trunk at the start of the lift:
Cause - Bar is positioned too far away from the body.
Correction - Ensure scapula are in line with the bar before execution.

Hips incorrectly position at the start of the lift:
Cause - Hips positioned either too high or too low during the setup.
Correction - Ensure that the hips are above the knees and the trunk is at or less than 45 degrees.

Bar is not kept in contact with the anterior portion of the body:
Cause - Starting bar position is too far away from the athlete; athlete is leaning forward during execution.
Correction - Position bar over the midfoot close to the athlete's shins; ensure knee, hip, and back extension occur simultaneously; cue athlete to "sit back on heels" during execution.

Athlete drops the bar during execution:
Cause - Improper grip; weak grip; use of a load greater than the athlete's ability.
Correction - Consider using an alternating or hook grip; use lifting straps; strengthen grip; reduce load.

Knees (coming in) collapsing in valgus into the bar:
Cause - Athlete is not keeping knees pushed outward; weak hip abductors.
Correction - Cue athlete to "push knees out" during execution; perform additional hip abduction exercises to increase strength.

Loss of spinal rigidity:
Cause - Weak spinal extensors and support; use of a load greater than the athlete's ability.
Correction - Perform additional spine extensor and latissimus dorsi exercises; reduce load.

Hyperextension of the neck:
Cause - Improper cuing or starting position; athlete is looking upward.
Correction - Ensure that the athlete's chest is open and in a "proud" position; ensure the athlete's head is facing directly forward.

Failures when performing the SDL that occur off the floor are the most common and often due ti either a lack of strength or by positioning the hips too low. This can be addressed by ensuring that the hips are positioned at the right height. Additional exercises such as deficit deadlifts may assist the athlete with increasing off-the-floor strength.

Deficit deadlifts are performed by having the athlete stand on an elevated platform or blocks with the weight still placed on the floor. This will increase the total range of motion of the SDL by increasing the length the bar has to travel before lockout.

Failures that occur as the bar passes the knees and through lockout are less common but may still occur. Failures at this point are often due to a lack of hip extensor strength. This may be addressed through additional direct gluteal training or through exercises such as "pin pull deadlifts" or "block pull deadlifts" where the athlete trains the upper portion of the SDL by deadlifting the bar from a heightened position.

Practical Applications

The SDL can be used in year round training cycles with the repetitions and intensities determined by the needs of the athlete and the mesocycyle goals. The SDL may also be used interchangeably with the CDL depending on the specific muscular needs of the athlete's training program. Powerlifters, specifically, should begin to train with the deadlift variation they plan to use in competition in the weeks before competing.

The SDL may have merit in a rehabilitation program for patients suffering from low back pain (LBP). Although the CDL has been used to decrease pain and increase functionality in those who suffer from LBP, Escamilla Article:  reported similar back extensor and trunk-muscle activity between the SDL and CDL. It is possible that the SDL may produce similar results in regard to LBP as the CDL. In addition, the SDL may be a safer option to the CDL for those suffering from LBP, because of the reduction in L4/L5 lumbar shear load as reported by Cholewicki Article:  This is likely the result of the more vertical trunk position of the SDL.

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