Exercise Face-Off: Traditional Deadlift vs. Sumo Deadlift
Find out the pros and cons of these two muscle-building variations.
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Bending over and pulling a weight off the floor ranks as one of the biggest testosterone-builders on the planet. Not only will it help to plant more muscle virtually everywhere on the body, it also helps to build grip and core strength, two huge benefits for nearly every lifter. The deadlift emphasizes hip extension, making it crucial for developing the hamstrings and glutes and building lower body strength for jumping and athletic endeavors.
While bending over and hoisting a weight off the floor may seem simple, form and technique can be different for each individual depending on limb length, height, flexibility, and other factors. Two main variations - sumo deadlifts and traditional deadlifts - actually place slightly different demands on the body.
Traditional vs. Sumo
While both variations emphasize the back side, the traditional deadlift typically sends the lifter into a more bent over posture since the feet are closer together. This may be okay for some but those with a weak lower back may find that the traditional variation gives them some slight back aches. Although the narrower stance may cause trouble, it also helps lifters generate more power. By placing their base of support directly underneath the hips, many lifters are able to pull more weight off the floor.
As the name implies, the sumo deadlift forces lifters to assume a wide stance bringing them closer to the ground and allowing them to keep their torso up taller. Lifters may feel more comfortable being upright. Dean Somerset, CSCS, trainer and Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator cautions that the sumo squat does place a huge emphasis on hip flexibility. “The big issue with sumo is that since it takes a lot more mobility to get into the position properly, it may be difficult for some to do without having their knees cave in and get exposed to stresses they don't like.” To get in the proper position, lifters should work on flexibility around the hips, especially the adductors.
Lifters may simply have a preferences for one variation over the other. Aside from flexibility, torso and limb length can have a huge impact. According to Somerset, “Guys with longer legs and shorter torsos tend to do better with conventional, whereas guys with shorter limbs and longer torsos work best with sumo.” Lifters should experiment with both variations to determine which one works best for them.
The Training Balance
Whether sumo or traditional, make picking weights off the floor should be a mainstay in your program. Along with strengthening the lower body, deadlifts help to emphasize proper posture by engaging muscles along the upper back. While both variations are important, lifters are going to find they are more comfortable with one than the other for heavy lifting. Use the other for an accessory lift to further strengthen the hip extension motion. To start, many lifters will feel better with the traditional deadlift while they build the necessary hip flexibility to go sumo style. Use this progression to introduce the sumo variation into your routine:
Perform the following lifts on the same day at the beginning of your routine. Allow at least three days in between sessions for your lower body and back to recover. During this time, incorporate upper body lifting days as normal.
Day 1 Traditional Deadlift; Sets: 3 Reps: 5
Day 2: Sumo Deadlift; Sets: 3 Reps: 10-12
Day 1: Traditional Deadlift Sets 4 Reps: 5
Day 2: Sumo Deadlift; Sets: 3 Reps: 8
Day 1: Traditional Deadlift; Sets: 5 Reps: 5
Day 2: Sumo Deadlift; Sets: 3 Reps: 8
Day 1: Traditional Deadlift; Sets 3 Reps: 3
Day 2: Sumo Deadlift; Sets: 4 Reps: 8