When it comes to building raw muscle, there's no exercise quite like the deadlift. There's an animalistic instinct that comes along with lifting heavy weights off the floor and holding them in your hands. It's an experience that transcends the body and connects you with the true power stored in your muscles.
But, which deadlifting exercise should you perform? There are a few deadlift variants that are popular in the weightlifting community. The most common of them is the conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift — both of which are excellent at building muscle, shredding fat, and forging body recomposition.
Today, we're going to talk about the differences between conventional pulls and sumo deadlifts, and how you can master your sumo deadlifting form to boost your results and build solid muscle and core strength.
The deadlift exercise is a multi-muscle, multi-joint exercise that involves lifting a set of weights (usually a barbell) off of the floor. The entire exercise will go from a bending position to an upright standing position. This exercise activates a few different muscle groups
With so many muscle groups activated, the deadlift is considered a full-body exercise — which means it works a large group of muscles throughout your body.
And, it's not just for show. Deadlifts have a wealth of science, backing up their ability to assist in strength training. They help increase overall core strength, help with back pain, and they increase bone density, resting metabolic rates, and muscle mass (1,2,3,4,5)
Overall, deadlifts are a fundamental exercise that almost everyone who is interested in increasing strength, losing weight, improving their mood, or overall conditioning should utilize.
Conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts are remarkably similar exercises. And, just by glancing, you'll probably be able to tell the main difference in form between the two. Sumo deadlifts are engaged with legs spread further apart, which allows you to keep your torso more upright. This makes sumo deadlifts less stressful on the back.
The sumo deadlift is also a more technical exercise that activates different muscles, stresses completely different flexions, and has a unique biochemical composition. That's not to say that conventional pulls are less effective than sumo deadlifts — they just activate different muscle groups.
Let's break down both exercises and talk about what groups of muscles they target and which types of goals they're best suited for.
"There is no point in being alive if you cannot do the deadlift" - Jon Pall Sigmarsson
Both deadlifts require the user to lift weights off of the ground into a standing position. But, conventional deadlifts require more bending. The feet start close together with conventional deadlifts, which forces you to bend a little to pick the weight up. This means that the hands are outside of your shins and your elbows are on the outside of your knees when you bend over. This also puts the chest lower than it would be in the sumo deadlift.
Due to this stance, conventional deadlifts put more stress on your spinal erectors and your hamstrings. The bar also has to travel a greater distance with conventional deadlifts, which means that you're performing more mechanical work (around 20% more.)
Like the conventional deadlift, sumo deadlifts require you to bend over and pull a heavy weight off the ground. But, there's a fundamental difference. Sumo deadlifts start with your feet spread further apart. That means that your hands are inside of your knees — which are more bent than they would be for a conventional deadlift. So, your legs are going to be utilized more than your back during the lift.
This stance requires less spine mobility, and it works well for anyone with back issues. From crossfitters to bodybuilders and athletes, sumo deadlifts are a staple in the performance community for a reason — they work!
Let's talk about how you to do the sumo deadlift technique in a step-by-step guide.
Let's go over some tips that will help you dominate the sumo deadlift.
Tip #1 Get your knees out of the way when you're lifting the bar up.
This is the most common issue for beginners. Make sure you don't knock your knees into the bar while you're lifting it up. Bumping into your knees can be painful and completely ruin your lift.
Tip #2 Put your weight behind the bar.
If you're having issues making the lift or locking out, try putting more weight behind the bar. When you put your weight into the bar, it makes the lift much more difficult.
Tip #3 Don't overextend your back.
A crucial part of nailing the sumo deadlift is making sure that you are locking out with your hips. Beginners often make the mistake of lifting with their lower back when they pull the bar up to their hips. Don't do that! You want to leverage your hips throughout the entire lift. Always drive your hips into the bar — not your lower back.
Tip #4 Make sure your toes are pointed out.
Don't point your toes straight forward or directly to the side. You want to point your toes out. This means pointing your toes at an angle.
Tip #5 Try out different grips.
There are five main grips that you can use with a sumo deadlift. We'll go over the benefits of each.
Should you use a conventional pull or sumo deadlift? It really depends on the situation. Sumo deadlifts are certainly less stressful on your back than conventional deadlifts, and they can do wonders for your leg muscles.
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