The sumo deadlift is often a difficult movement to teach new lifters. Although a difficult movement, it is well worth the time and energy spent practicing form as it is a lift that should fit into any lifting program. Like the traditional (sometimes known as the conventional) style deadlift the bar starts on the floor with the goal of picking it up.
Seems pretty simple right? Lots of things can go wrong from the point of lifting the bar off the floor to the point of standing up. My hope is that this article will provide you the basics to work in sumo deadlifts both safely and effectively.
Before we begin to talk about the lift itself, it may be best to explain why it’s important. The sumo deadlift is an important lift for all lifters no matter their training goals. The traditional style deadlift often requires much more back in the movement than that of the sumo deadlift. The opposite is also true that the sumo deadlift also often recruits more leg involvement than that of the traditional deadlift.
The sumo deadlift is a great compound movement that will help build most muscles in the body. Your hamstrings, groins, hips, lower, mid, and upper back will be the driving forces in the movement. It will be a great all around developer for your muscle growth.
Step 1: Bar placement, width, and foot position
When approaching the bar for a sumo style deadlift the bar should be as close to the shin of your leg as possible. This will often mean it starts pressed up against your leg, and that is a fine starting position. Your feet placement will be determined through multiple factors. I suggest that you start with your feet slightly outside shoulder width. Those who are more flexible may have the ability to go much wider than this.
The important thing to keep in mind is that wider may not always be better. You may force your legs out too wide and take away proper positioning and force your sumo deadlift into a straight leg deadlift. You now know how wide you want your feet, but what direction should your feet be pointed? While the angle of the foot can always be debated, for most people it should be simple to find.
If you start with your feet straight forward at 90 degrees with the weight, your knees will often cave in or shot forward as you are reaching for the bar. There will be very little power there, thus making the lift very hard and leading towards injury. Most should start with their foot placement at about 45 degrees with the bar. This will allow for your knees to be out and your power to travel up the leg effectively.
Step 2: Hand placement
Hand placement in the deadlift is pretty simple. Once your feet are in place, reach down and grab the bar using the gnarling, but as close to the smooth as you can. Most lifters will use an over and under grip to have better control of the bar. Be sure to get the bar deep into the palm of your hand, and keep it griped tight. You can close off your hand by wrapping your thumb around your fingers.
There are alternatives to the over under grip, such as the double over hand, and the hook grip. These are not the most common form, and as weights increase those forms of grip will be difficult to maintain.
Step 3: Back and Hip position
Your back position should follow the natural curvature of your spine. In other words you should have a “flat back” initially, but it will change slightly later. As your hands are on the bar, work on pulling your shoulders back so that the bar is staying tight to your legs and your chest becomes “up”. By pulling your shoulders back you will bring your chest up naturally, and create a small arch in your back. You should not be trying to arch your back, but by pulling your shoulders back and your chest up it will do it naturally.
Step 4: Breaking the bar off the floor
Once you are in the correct position it is time to actually perform the lift! The bar is moved with your legs off the floor. You should be pulling the bar both up and into your body at the same time. The arms should still be locked and remain that way. You do not “jerk” or “snatch” the bar off the floor. If your arms are bent as you pick the weight up, odds are you are trying to snatch it off the floor.
Now that you have the bar off the floor it is important to keep your head behind the bar. If your head drifts forward, it will often result in losing the bar out of your toes, or a bad rounding of the back. At this point if you are still in the proper position, you should be able to involve the glutes. Once the bar is at knee level, you have to push the hips forward while continuing to try and lock your legs.
An effective way to do this is to squeeze the glutes tight and it will naturally push your hips forward. If you follow those tips you should be finished in a legs locked,back and arms straight position. Be sure not to over exaggerate the lift by leaning back too drastically. If you do this it will often result in the knees coming unlocked.
One last coaching tip: When doing multiple repetitions do not bounce the weight off the floor. Reset, pull yourself back down, and follow your coaching ques again. You do not necessarily have to take your hands off the bar, but resetting each repetition will make you stronger ini the long run, and keep your form solid.
Author: Jonathan Byrd