Master the Deadlift, Part 2: The Sumo Deadlift

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Sumo Deadlift

The Deadlift is an exercise that should be a part of every athlete's training program. In Part 1: The Conventional Deadlift, we broke down the fundamentals of the Conventional Deadlift and explained how it improves athletic performance. In Part 2, we'll break down its lesser-known cousin, the Sumo Deadlift.

The Sumo Deadlift involves a wider stance and focuses more on the hips, in contrast to the Conventional Deadlift, in which the back muscles are more active. Some may argue that one form is a better or "purer" way to perform the Deadlift, but in reality, both versions offer similar benefits. It mainly comes down to personal preference and what's most comfortable for your body.

Mental Checklist
When setting up for the Sumo Deadlift, create a mental checklist to review right before you pull. This will enable you to pull in a safe and effective manner.

The Sumo Deadlift's wide foot position is extremely important. It allows you to be closer to the ground and decreases the distance the bar must travel. The wide stance also helps you keep your knees out of the way of the upward traveling bar, allowing you to keep the bar closer to your body. However, too wide of a stance decreases the amount of force generated from the hips, forcing you to activate the smaller and weaker muscles of the inner leg and lower back, which can lead to injury.

To produce the best results, you have to find best position for your body. As a starting point, place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and adjust from there. For perfectionists, your exact position can be derived by measuring your Snatch grip. Measure from the outside point of your right shoulder to the first knuckle of your extended left fist (your left arm should be extended straight out to the side). Now, position your feet at the same distance apart as this measurement. Your toes should be pointing out and in line with your knees. Squat and reach down to grasp the bar. The bar should be over the center of your feet, with your shoulders over or behind it. Do not let your shoulders travel in front of the bar.

Prepare for Lift
From here, the sequence of events that follows is similar to the Conventional Deadlift. Find a spot in front of you and fix your eyes on it. Push your chest out and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Drop your hips and tighten your core to lock your back. Before you initiate the pull, slightly tense your triceps. This will minimize your use of the biceps during the exercise.

Performing the Lift
The lift begins by sitting back slightly and pushing your legs into the ground. Keep your lower back and shoulders above your hips. You must extend your knees and hips at the same time, maintaining the same position in your upper body. In other words, hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate—the hips cannot rise before the shoulders. Also, make sure your knees do not collapse inward.

As the bar passes your knees, complete the lift by pulling the bar up, using your upper back and squeezing your glutes. Again, do not roll your shoulders back or lean excessively backward at the top of the pull.

If you master this technique, you will safely strengthen your lower body and become a better athlete.

In Part 3 of the series, we will break down different grips and explain how to incorporate the Deadlift into your training program.

Source:  Newton, Harvey. Explosive Lifting for Sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2002. 66.

Michael Palmieri is the president and founder of The Institute of Sport Science & Athletic Conditioning. He has lectured for several major organizations and associations and written numerous articles for multiple media outlets. He currently serves as state chairman for the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a state director for the North American Strongman Corporation and a judge for the International Natural Bodybuilding Association. A former powerlifter, Palmieri has been in the industry for more than 20 years. He is currently pursuing his master's degree in biomechanics at UNLV.

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