November 9, 2016
The Sumo Dead Lift
Dave Mansfield MA, MSPT, CSCS
In part one of this series I discussed some of the general advantages of adding Dead Lifting to your training routines. In that article the technique and benefits specific to the Conventional Style of Dead Lifting were addressed. This time we will enter the wonderful world of the “Sumo” Dead Lift. This style is a useful alternative to the Conventional style especially for competitive Power Lifters and fitness trainees who find that low back pain or stiffness and long recovery times from bouts of Conventional Dead Lifts limit their ability to train aggressively on the Dead Lift. If your training progress or max lifts are stalled it may be that switching to the Sumo technique will allow you to get back on track and make progress again. Many find that they can train more frequently or with higher poundage by using this style for part of their training. Some competitive Power Lifters have found that they can substantially boost their Dead Lift max by switching to the Sumo style.
The Sumo Dead Lift technique differs significantly from the Conventional. First of all, you will need good hip flexibility, as the stance is much wider. You will set up with your feet turned out (as much as 60 or 70 degrees in some cases) and out as far as the weight plates will allow, in extreme cases. The actual width of your stance will depend on comfort and your personal biomechanical advantage. At any rate your stance will be wider than shoulder width. The shins should be tight against the bar and your grip will be narrow and inside your legs. As with any Dead Lifting, you can use a full overhand grip or an alternate grip with either a thumb over (standard grip) or a hook grip (thumb under). When you reach down for the bar maintain a “neutral spine”. Think of sitting back, not down, while maintaining the normal curve in your low back. It is also important to keep your shoulder back (scapular retraction) and your arms straight. Consider that your arms are only there to attach your torso (from the shoulders) to the bar. You will most likely find that your torso is much more vertical than with the Conventional technique. Finally, lift by squeezing the bar off the floor by extending your hips and knees simultaneously. You may find it useful to cue yourself to “spread the floor” or “push your feet apart”. At lock out you will find that you are unable to square your shoulders as much as you can with Conventional technique. This is because of the narrow grip on the bar. The bar path should be straight up: that is, the shortest distance from floor to lock out.
Once you have mastered this technique you will find that it puts much less stress on the low back since it transfers a great deal of the effort to the hips and legs. Your hamstrings and glutes will get a real workout. If you grow to know and love this style of Dead Lifts you will find that the amount of weight you can lift goes up significantly. My recommendation is that if you train Sumo you should cycle into your training year some Conventional Style Dead Lifting so that you maintain optimum low back strength. Also, be sure to do plenty of core training.
An interesting aspect of this type of Dead Lifting is that you will need to work on and think about “speed” off the floor for the initial pull. Once you break the bar from the floor the lock out should follow without too much trouble. With Sumo Dead Lifting that initial drive off the floor is the real key to success. Be sure your set up is consistent and your technique is as perfect as possible and you will be well on your way to picking lots of weight off the floor. If you don’t drive hard off the floor you will find yourself wondering who snuck in and glued the weights to the floor!
In the next installment I will address some of the other popular variations on the Dead Lift such as Romanian, Stiff Leg and some thoughts on partials and rack pulls. Until then train hard, train smart and stay healthy.
© David Mansfield MA, MSPT, HFI, CSCS 2016