Updated: Jul 9
The Sumo Deadlift became famous and most notably used by Westside Barbell in the powerlifting world in the 1980s and 90s and propelled many lifters to hit huge deadlifts and squats. The lift has now become more relevant to athletic performance due to its overall safety in comparison to traditional deadlifts and performance benefits shown by many performance facilities such as Strong Eight Performance in Florida who utilized the Sumo Deadlift in their baseball population seeing increases in Bat Exit Velo and Throwing Velocity.
Why do all the Ironworks Athletes Sumo Deadlift?
- Improves Weak Hips
- Strengthens the Glutes
- Keeps The Back In A Safer & More Upright Position
Additionally, the Sumo Deadlift has been shown to recruit more muscle groups due to its wider stance, increase lateral force development (vital for athletes who play in the frontal plane of movement & overhead athletes), and increase sprint speed and power.
When looking at formal athletics, power is typically produced in a wider stance (sumo). For example lets look at a few athletes and sports.
Pitching (Clayton Kershaw)
Shooting In Lacrosse (Paul Rabil)
Stances vary from sport to sport, and athlete to athlete.
Setting up in a Sumo stance variation, like a stance in a game/sport, can offer many benefits to individuals based on their hip structure, mobility, and comfort. This allows the movement to be more specific to each and every athlete and their specific sport.
The Sumo Deadlift is a variation that allows us to build more strength, especially at the top of the lift and allows us to increase overall strength and power, but muscle mass as well. We implement the Sumo Pull in a multitude of ways including pulling against bands, in a deficit, off of blocks, or against chains. (Pulling against chains & bands allows for more Accommodating Resistance).
Typically, the Sumo Deadlift allows for a heavier load to be lifted, which allows us to overload the muscles which helps us increase overall power & strength.
When we talk about power and strength increases we are specifically focussing in on our Max Effort lifts and our Speed Strength Days (Dynamic Effort).
Maximal Effort Method: lifting a maximal load against a maximal resistance.
- The Max Effort Method increases inter-muscular and intra-muscular coordination. The body will adapt to the stimulus placed on it, and is why we continuously change the stimulus or lifts we are utilizing. The max effort method will produce the greatest strength gains.
Dynamic Effort Method: lifting a non-maximal load with maximal speed.
- The Dynamic Effort Method (Sometimes referred to as speed work or speed strength) builds a high rate of force development. When we add bands or chains, it teaches athletes to fully accelerate through a range of motion, increasing the rate of force that can be produced by a muscle fiber without a load.
Remember being an athlete is all about fighting gravity; meaning that the more powerful we become, allows us to combat gravity increasing our vertical jump, sprint speed, etc.
What Muscles Do We Utilize In A Sumo Deadlift Pull?
The glutes are targeted to a high degree by the sumo deadlift, as the feet are set wider and turned outwards. The hip is placed in external rotation, which in turn involves the glutes to a higher degree. (Source Bar Bend - Sumo Deadlifts)
Though the conventional and Romanian deadlift recruits them more aggressively, the hamstrings are still primary movers for the sumo deadlift. That said, if a lifter is looking to target the hamstrings more exclusively, they may want to perform Romanian deadlifts instead.
Due to the foot placement in the sumo deadlift, the athlete must achieve greater knee flexion angles (bend) to perform the sumo deadlift. For this reason, the quadriceps (which are responsible for knee extension) are targeted to a greater degree than in the Romanian deadlift and conventional deadlift, yet similar to the trap bar deadlift. Simply put, you’re squatting a bit more with this deadlift variation and so using more of your thighs.
Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
The lower back muscles, also known as the erectors, work to keep your spine stable during the pulling phase of the lift. In doing so, the spinal erectors can be developed, which is a good thing since they’re often one of the key limiting factors for a heavy deadlift (lower back strength). Unlike the conventional and Romanian deadlift, the sumo deadlift stresses the lower back less so as the torso is more vertical, allowing other back muscles to pick up some slack.
Trapezius and Back Muscles
The upper back and trapezius muscles are used to maintain proper torso positioning and aid in the upwards pulling of the barbell. The sumo deadlift, a more vertical pulling movement (compared to the conventional deadlift), is a great movement to build thick, strong traps and upper back muscles.
To Wrap It Up...
Sumo Deadlifts are a key movement in all sports, and specifically in athletic development as it directly relates to positions we see on the field across all sports. These positions could be a simple stance on the football field, the lower half positioning on a pitch or shot in lacrosse, or even the defensive stance in basketball.
We want to remember, that most athletes move in the frontal place (side to side) and it is important to train in the positions that they athletes will more than likely experience on the field whether they are pitching, throwing, hitting, playing defense, or laterally changing direction the sumo "stance" is seen at some point or another.
Check out this video from JJ Morris at Strong Eight in Florida who goes into depth on how and why we want to increase our overall strength to develop a better rate of force development which directly correlates to an increase in throwing velocity, bat exit velocity, shot speed, or overall power.
Hunt, Bradford, and Paul Brady. “Sumo Deadlift - Proper Form, Muscles Worked, and Benefits.” BarBend, 5 Nov. 2020, barbend.com/sumo-deadlift/.
“4 Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift (That You May Have Overlooked).” BarBend, 10 July 2017, barbend.com/sumo-deadlift-benefits/.
Simmons, Louie. “Maximal Effort Method™ - Circa 2009.” Westside Barbell, www.westside-barbell.com/blogs/articles-2009/max-effort-method#:~:text=1.,possible%20in%20a%20fatigued%20state.
Morris, JJ. “LATERAL FORCE: Why Sumo Dead Lifts Build Power & Velocity.” STRONGEIGHT, STRONGEIGHT, strongeight.com/blog/sumo-dead-lift-for-velocity/.