How to Sumo Deadlift: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman setting up for sumo deadlift

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Targets: Glutes, adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, back, core, calves

Equipment Needed: Barbell, weight plates

Level: Intermediate

The sumo deadlift is a variation that uses a broader foot stance, similar to how a sumo wrestler sets up before a match. This version of a deadlift is often less demanding on the lower back and spine while still providing challenges for the same muscle groups.

The sumo deadlift is especially beneficial for anyone who finds conventional deadlifts aggravate their lower back. However, the sumo deadlift emphasizes some muscles more or less than the traditional deadlift. Both types of deadlifts are worth including in your weight lifting routine.

While it is still vital to perfect your form and seek care for any back tightness, sumo deadlifts provide an alternative for those who wish to deadlift without as much load on the lower back.

How to Sumo Deadlift

Begin by standing in front of a loaded barbell in a wide stance, and toes pointed slightly out. Your stance should be broad enough for your arms to be inside of your knees. Your elbows should be just inside your knees with your hands on the bar inside of your feet.

While everyone's form will vary depending on their anatomy, for most people, your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor while your shoulders should be above the bar, and your back should be flat.

Your knees should be wide and pushed out, with your outer hip muscles feeling strong and activated. Your torso should be a bit more upright than how you would set up for a traditional deadlift.

  1. Brace your core and bring your hips toward the bar. Engage your lower back, legs, and glutes so you feel as if your whole body is turned on and your muscles are activated.
  2. Turn your quadriceps so your femurs rotate open in your hip sockets, lining up your knees with your feet and toes.
  3. Grasp the bar with an overhand or mixed grip and slide your shoulder blades back and down, locking them into place.
  4. Pull up on the bar until it comes into contact with the top of the inner circle of the weight plate while simultaneously pressing your legs into the floor. Do not lift the bar off the floor yet.
  5. Inhale and drive your legs into the ground while pulling the bar up. Keep your chest high and your hips down.
  6. Pull the bar along your legs as close to your body as you can and press through your heels as you push through your legs to raise up.
  7. Squeeze your glutes and fully lock out your knees and hips at the top position.
  8. Reverse the movement slowly and mindfully, keeping the bar close to your body to avoid injury to your lower back.

Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is an excellent compound lift, meaning it works multiple muscle groups using more than one joint. As such, this movement pattern helps build functional strength, which is the type used during everyday activities such as lifting things off the ground.

Sumo deadlifts build strength in the posterior chain, which includes the back, glutes, and hamstrings, while also activating the quadriceps and adductor muscles. There are several benefits to performing the sumo deadlift. Here is an overview of how you might benefit from the sumo deadlift.

Puts Less Stress on Lower Back

Due to the upright positioning and closer proximity to the ground with the sumo deadlift compared to a conventional deadlift, there is less strain placed on the lower back. If you weight-train multiple times per week, or you tend to experience lower back tightness, substituting a sumo deadlift in place of a conventional deadlift for some of your training may be beneficial.

Increases Pulling Strength

Sumo deadlifts typically can be performed with heavier weights than you would use during a conventional deadlift. Because of this, as you lift the bar to the top of the movement using a heavier weight, you can increase the strength needed for pulling. This movement can translate into an ability to hold heavier weight in other exercises or daily activities.

Improves Conventional Deadlift Performance

As with any strength training exercise, adding a variation can help improve muscular imbalances or weaknesses that hold you back from increasing your performance. Sumo deadlifts are an alternative to conventional deadlifts that allow you to add more volume and variety while building strength in muscles needed for traditional deadlifting.

Builds Glutes and Quadriceps Strength

With the feet, hip, and knee angle used in a sumo deadlift, the quadriceps and glutes are activated more than during a conventional deadlift. This fact makes the sumo deadlift an excellent exercise to help build these muscle groups while also increasing the strength needed to perform other glute and quadricep dominant exercises and daily activities.

Other Variations of the Sumo Deadlift

Sumo deadlifts are often performed with a barbell but can be done with other weights and equipment as well. Here are some variations for the sumo deadlift that you may want to try.

Resistance Band Sumo Deadlift

Place a large loop resistance band around your feet and grasp the middle. Alternatively, use an open-ended resistance band and hold the handles in your hands while standing in the middle of the band in the sumo stance described in the barbell version above. Make sure there is no slack in the band.

  1. Hold the band or handles with an overhand grip as you would the barbell.
  2. Keep your chest high and your hips down while you hold the band up along your body.
  3. Lockout your hips at the top of the movement and squeeze your glutes.
  4. Lower back down slowly and with control to the starting position.

Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift

Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hand with an overhand grip and get into your sumo stance with your feet wide and pointed slightly outward.

  1. Start bending your knees and pushing your hips back, keeping your chest high while lowering the dumbbells toward the floor.
  2. Drive your legs into the ground and keep your chest up while you pull the dumbbells back up, squeezing your glutes and locking out at the top.
  3. Lower back down with control.

Alternatively, begin with the dumbbells on the ground and use the same form you would for a barbell sumo deadlift.

Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift

Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly rotated outward and the kettlebell under your hips. 

  1. Inhale, brace your core, and start to bend your knees and hips, keeping your chest up and your spine in a neutral position.
  2. Grasp the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip and stretch your shoulder blades down and pull up to feel the tension in your lat muscles and legs.
  3. Begin to push your legs into the floor while raising upward, keeping your arms and the kettlebell close.  
  4. Raise your hips to fully extend and squeeze your glutes, exhaling at the top with the kettlebell between your legs.
  5. Lower back down slowly to the starting position maintaining an engaged core and neutral spine.

Common Mistakes

When performing the sumo deadlift it is important to use proper form and take care to prevent strain or injury. Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise.

Caving in Your Chest

Make sure to keep your chest high during this exercise. Avoid allowing your chest to cave in and your shoulder blades to round. Keep your shoulder blades retracted—back and down and locked in. Look forward without bending your neck.

Rounding Your Back

Do not let your back round as you lift the bar. To avoid this, set your shoulder blades back and down and keep your hips down until you raise the bar close enough that they naturally raise. Do not start the exercise by lifting your hips. Doing so can cause your back to round to compensate for not using your legs to push first.

Neglecting to Bend Your Knees Correctly

With a sumo deadlift, you are not just hinging from the hips as with a conventional deadlift. Sumo deadlifts begin with knee and hip movements. Bend your knees out toward your feet as you hinge your hips backward. It is essential to push your knees out and not let them cave inward.

Safety and Precautions

As with any strength training exercise, it is vital to practice your form with a lighter weight until you are confident you can perform it correctly with a heavier weight. You must also learn to properly engage your core and keep your spine neutral to avoid lower back strain.

If you are injured or experience lower back or knee pain, you should avoid the sumo deadlift. Be sure you are cleared for exercise before attempting this exercise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sumo deadlifts harder than regular deadlifts?

Sumo deadlifts are not technically harder or easier than conventional deadlifts. However, they may be better suited for someone's specific anatomy. For instance, those with longer legs and arms may find sumo deadlifts easier because they do not have to lift the bar as far off the ground with this form.

Sumo deadlifts are often able to be completed with a higher weight than conventional deadlifts as well. This fact may make them appear harder or easier, depending on your point of view.

Is a sumo deadlift a real deadlift?

Sumo deadlifts are as real as any other deadlift variation. They are a variation of a deadlift that emphasizes different muscle groups than a conventional deadlift. However, they are unique since they are not solely a hip hinge movement. They are also knee-hinge-initiated movements.

Are sumo deadlifts better than regular deadlifts?

Sumo deadlifts are not better or worse than regular deadlifts and training with both variations is an excellent choice. Sumo deadlifts focus more on your glutes and quadriceps than conventional deadlifts, which use more of the hamstrings and lower back muscles.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cholewa JM, Atalag O, Zinchenko A, Johnson K, Henselmans M. Anthropometrical determinants of deadlift variant performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2019;18(3):448-453. PMID:31427866

  2. National Strength and Conditioning Association. The deadlift and its application to overall performance.

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.