This is more of a pet peeve than a tip, really. Watching poor form drives me crazy, particularly when a bencher completely ignores half their muscle mass when benching: legs hanging limply off the bench, feet dancing around as the reps get tough, feet up in the air during the press.
Ok, that last example actually has a useful function. However if you’re 5’9”, weigh 155lbs, and are pressing 135lbs with your feet in the air, you’re wasting your time. Learn to bench properly first, add some muscle, build some strength, and then start playing with isolation techniques.
Failing to involve your lower body in the lift is a common error. How exactly do you involve your lower body in the lift? Leg Drive!
What does leg drive do for you?
Driving through your feet creates muscle tension from your toes all the way up to your traps. It helps you maintain stability throughout the lift, and helps you maintain your back arch and keep your chest up. Put together, these lead to a bigger bench.
How do you incorporate leg drive into your bench?
- Plant your feet flat on the floor. You may have to try different foot positions to find what works for you, but start with your feet underneath your hips.
- Keep your shoulders firmly planted on the bench (you may need to chalk them so they don’t slide on the bench), drive though the balls of your feet and push your hips toward your shoulders. This will push your torso up into a tight arch.
- Continue pushing through your legs maintaining the drive throughout the full range of your bench press. Your entire lower body should be tight, from the balls of your feet through your thighs.
- If your legs are too short to plant them firmly on the floor and drive hard, try placing a plate underneath them as you bench.
If you are maintaining proper leg drive and tension, the only noticeable motion in your bench is the bar moving up and down. Your feet, legs, hips, abdomen, and chest should remain stable and motionless.
The sumo deadlift is much more than a conventional deadlift with a wide stance. When setup properly you may find that the sumo deadlift allows you to get more leg drive into your pulls, and reduces tension on your lower back given the more upright starting position. Sumo deadlifts also can favor certain body mechanics (longer femurs, shorter arms) and strengths (dominant hip strength).
To leverage the sumo’s advantages, you need to set up properly for your sumo pull.
- Foot Position:
- You are going to take a very wide stance for sumo deadlifts. Although there are not set starting points for sumo as for conventional pulls, try starting with your shins at the rings on the bar and move in or out from there, depending on the length of your legs.
- Point your toes outward sharply. As your knees should track in the direction of your toes, with a wide stance you want your toes pointed out.
- Keep the bar very close, within an inch of your shins.
- Create a solid base. When the lift is completed, your legs angled outward form the base of a solid pyramid.
- Since you do have a wide stance and there can be significant lateral force on your feet, you will want to make sure that you perform sumo deadlifts on a non-skid surface, and that your shoes are clean and free of any materials that may make them slip.
- Hand Position:
- In most cases your sumo hand position should be identical to your conventional hand position. Your arms should hang straight down to the bar giving you the maximum distance between your shoulders to the bar. This creates an advantageous starting position by further reducing the the lift’s range of motion (ROM). It also reduces non-productive lateral forces created by taking a wider than shoulder width grip.
- Grip: Your grip will be the same for sumo deadlifts as for conventional deadlifts
- Double overhand grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated (overhand). This is the toughest way to grip the bar. As the bar weight increases, the bar will begin to roll out of your hands. It can, however, further lengthen your arm span shortening the deadlift ROM.
- Alternating over/under grip – Grip the bar with one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand). Which hand you use is your preference, but generally speaking it’s more effective gripping with your dominant hand pronated. Using the over-under grip prevents the bar from rolling out of your grip.
- Hook grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated. Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, lie them along the bar and wrap your fingers around your thumbs. This is a very effective grip, locking the bar in and preventing it from rolling or slipping out of your grip, but it can be exceptionally painful.
- Setting up for the pull: I promote a three step setup for sumo deadlifts, as I do for conventional deadlifts. This allows you to tighten up before the pull and create muscle tension that will help with your pulls.
- Hinge at the hips to reach down and grab the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades downward to tighten your back. Think about tucking them into your back pockets. Take a deep breath into your lungs and abdomen, and force it downward to create a very tight and stable core.
- Bring your hips down and chest up. Drive your knees out so you can push your hips forward toward the bar – try and drop your sack on the bar [a reference I stole from Dave Tate]. When you are set for the pull, your torso should be more erect than for a conventional pull, allowing you to drive straight up.
- Notice from the videos below that you will drop your hips much lower than you do for conventional deadlifts.
- Drive the bar straight up to lock out. Shove your knees out, and push against the outside edge of your shoes.
- Sumo deadlifts are notorious for coming off the floor very slowly. Don’t get discouraged and quit on the lift if it is stubborn off the floor. Keep pulling and you’ll find the lockouts to be stronger.
The deadlift is a technical lift whether you pull conventional or sumo. To be successful pay as much attention to your setup as you do to your weight, sets, and reps. Simple corrections to your setup and technique can add a lot of additional lbs to the bar.