Leg Training – Sumo Deadlifts

The deadlift is a lower body exercise, but it taxes your entire body. It is one of your core strength building exercises and should be added to every strength training program. Behind the squat, the deadlift is the most important exercise in your training program. Because you can get lower and closer to the bar, the sumo variation of the deadlift allows you to get more leg and hip drive into the deadlift, and reduce the force applied to the lower back.

Muscles Used for this Exercise

  • Primary Muscle Groups: Glutes, Hamstrings
  • Secondary Muscle Groups: Quadriceps, Spinal Erectors
  • Stabilizers: Nearly every muscle in your body, from your forearms to grip the bar, to your upper back (Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Trapezius) to anchor the weight, and your core.

Exercise Classification

  • Primary
  • Compound

Exercise Technique

The wide stance of the sumo deadlift allows you to reduce the range of motion of the deadlift, and allows you to start the lift with your hips closer to the bar and your torso more upright, reducing the tension on your lower back, and allowing you to get more leg drive in the initial pull from the floor.
  • Equipment: The only equipment you need for the sumo deadlift is a bar and a whole lot of plates. Some suggestions for additional equipment include:
    • Round Plates – many commercial gyms today use octagonal plates which make deadlifting more difficult. As you set it down the bar wants to roll to the flat spot of the plate, which causes it to either roll away from you, causing you to have to reset your position, or back toward you, and may run into your shins.
    • Weight lifting belt – perform as much training as you can without the belt. It will strengthen your spinal erectors and the rest of your core. Use your belt when you need it to protect your lumbar spine and build more power. Generally speaking, I add a belt at around 80% of my max deadlift.
    • Chalk – your grip is one of the most important strength aspects of the deadlift. When your grip starts to slip, your body stops pulling. Chalking your hands generously helps immensely in holding the bar.
    • Knee length socks – you shins will thank me.
    • Baby Powder – When you are at your max lifts, powdering your thighs will reduce the resistance and allow the bar to slide up more easily.
  • Foot Position: While the conventional deadlift uses a hip width stance, sumo uses a very wide stance, with your toes pointed out. While individual foot positions will depend on leg length, I use the rings in the knurling as a guideline and line up my shins with the rings in the knurling.
  • Hand Position: Your hands should be placed inside your thighs on the bar shoulder width apart. Your arms should drop straight down from your shoulders. Try to place your hands so you can grip the knurling for a better grip. Your grip will actually be very close to how you would grip the bar for a conventional deadlift.
  • Grip: There are three common grips for the deadlift; gripping the bar for a sumo deadlift is exactly the same as how you grip the bar for a conventional deadlift
    • 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 effectively lengthen your arm span which shortens the range of motion of the deadlift.
    • 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.

  • Step up close to the loaded bar. At most your shins should be 1-2″ from the bar.
  • Rotating at the hips, bend down to grab the bar. Even though you’re not set up tight at this point, your back should remain relatively flat.
  • Pull slightly up on the bar creating upward tension on the bar removing any slack between you and the bar. Take a deep breath into your lungs and abdomen. Tighten your back by squeezing your shoulder blades tightly – try to tuck them into your back pockets.
  • Keeping your back flat, rock back, lowering your hips to the starting position. Bring your hips down and your chest up until your shoulders come back just behind the bar.
    • For the sumo deadlift, drive your knees out and your hips toward the bar as you rock back. I believe it was Dave Tate who put it best when he said ‘try to drop your sack on the bar’.
    • Tighten your glutes and hamstrings as you rock back into the starting position. This will prepare them to explode firing the barbell off the floor.
  • As soon as you hit the starting point, begin your pull explosively. Drive your knees out and your hips forward, propelling the bar straight up.
  • Keep your head and chest up and your back flat as you pull. Your hips, shoulders and the bar should rise at the same rate initially – don’t let your hips kick back and up ahead of the bar as you begin to pull.
  • Begin to exhale as the bar crosses your knees and continue through lock out.
  • Lock out your knees and hips, and bring your chest up to finish the lift.
  • After locking out, lower the weight in a controlled fashion. Reset before each repetition by rocking back again into the starting position.
  • Select a weight that you can perform all of your repetitions using proper technique. On your last 1-2 sets, your last repetitions should be very difficult, but it is very important that maintain good form on every rep.

500lb Sumo Deadlift

Strength Standard

  • Depending on individual body mechanics, strengths and weaknesses, and training background you will likely find that you are stronger at either conventional or sumo deadlift. Your deadlift should be relatively equivalent or even slightly higher than your squat.
  • If you want to understand where your deadlift ranks against deadlift strength standards, you can check them out at exrx.net. Note: strength measurements should be made assuming proper lifting technique.

Common Mistakes

  • Hitching: the pull should be one smooth motion from the point it breaks the floor until you lock it out; don’t support the bar with your thighs as you attempt to lock it out.
  • Beginning your pull with the bar too far forward: start the pull with the bar against your shins; if the bar is too far forward, you will end up over the bar as you start the pull, placing more of the strain on your lower back versus your hamstrings and glutes.
  • Not getting your hips deep enough: starting the pull with your hips and butt too high will place more strain on your lower back, reducing full leg drive to start the pull.
  • Hips coming up ahead of the bar: as you initiate your pull, don’t allow your hips and butt to kick back and up ahead of the bar, this leave your legs fully extended, again forcing you to complete the work with your lower back.
  • Shrugging/Pulling the bar with your arms: your arms should hang straight down the bar; resist the urge to pull the bar with your arms. If you do find yourself pulling the bar with your arms, try flexing your triceps as you start the pull, this will help you keep your arms straight.
    • Note: this may reduce the tension on  your biceps and reduce your chances of bicep injury.


Performed incorrectly, the deadlift can pose a risk of injury – it is crucial that you complete every repetition with proper technique.

  • Perform every repetition with perfect technique. If you cannot complete your sets and repetitions with proper form, reduce the weight. Performing deadlifts with weight that is too heavy to perform correctly will greatly increase your risk of injury.
  • Keep your back flat. Don’t let your lower back round. Rounding your back during the pull can increase the risk of lower back injury.
  • Don’t jerk the weight from the floor. Although explosive, your pull should be smooth and controlled.


Additional Leg and Back Exercises


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