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Which Deadlift Variation Is Best For You?

Sumo Or Conventional?

Posted by Scott_Herman - January 17th, 2018

Today I’m going to talk about how to pick the right deadlift variation for your goals. I did make a video in the past, one of my VS series videos, that goes really deep into detail on both of these exercises, and I’ll put a link to that HERE if you want to check it out. But for today, I’m just going to go over some of the basic mechanics for each movement, to help you decide where to start.

If you’re getting into powerlifting, the conventional and sumo deadlift are accepted in powerlifting meets, so you can do either one. At that point, it comes down to preference more than your body itself. What I mean by that is, some things that are going to affect you and your ability to do a conventional deadlift or a sumo deadlift is going to be your flexibility, and obviously your ability to get into position to use proper form.

What Does A Conventional Deadlift Look Like?

Your feet should be about shoulder width (maybe a little closer, maybe a little further) apart. You’ll then bend down, and grab the barbell so that your arms are as straight as possible. Whether you’re doing sumo or conventional, the wider your arms are, the heavier the weight is going to feel, and the more the bar is going to have to travel. In order to maximize the deadlift, you want the bar to have to travel as small a range of motion as possible. That’s why personally, I wear wrestling shoes or go barefoot, as opposed to wearing a shoe with a thick sole on the bottom. That’s a big no-no, and if you have shoes like that, take them off when you deadlift!

Once you’re in position with your arms hanging down as straight as possible, you want to also make sure that your hips are low, and not up high so that your torso is parallel to the ground. They should be nice and low so that when you pull the weight up, you’re actually pushing through your heels and explosively through your hips to bring the bar to the top of the movement.

What Does A Sumo Deadlift Look Like?

The set-up for a sumo deadlift is going to be a little bit different. You’re going to have your feet a bit wider, and as your feet get wider, you’re going to adjust your legs so that your knees are always tracking over your toes. For example, if you were to sumo deadlift with a wide stance but had your toes pointing forward, your knees would be put into a slightly compromised position where you’d be putting a lot of strain on them because they’re trying to track out, but your toes are pointing forward. This means you MUST make sure your toes are pointing out, so that as you do your reps, your toes and knees go out and in the same way. Once in position, you’ll again grab the bar so that your arms are as straight as possible, and pull the bar up.

Which Variation Should You Use?

Now that you know what each variation looks like, you can figure out which one you should start with. In my opinion, if you have the flexibility, you should start off with the conventional deadlift, and I think this for a few different reasons. Firstly, it is a bit more taxing on your Central Nervous System (CNS), and I want you to make sure you’re challenging yourself and getting stronger overall, which is something a conventional deadlift will definitely help with. Secondly, it can transition better into other exercises that you might be doing if you’re getting into cross-fit or competitive powerlifting.

However, if you cannot get into position for a conventional deadlift, then obviously there’s a clear issue. If you have tightness in your hips, and you can’t get low enough to actually grab the bar and push through your legs and hips to get to the top of the movement, it’s not going to end well. What happens is you’ll get down into position, but instead of pushing with your legs, you’re going to end up pulling with your back. If you’re pulling with your back, you’re going to blow out your lower back, probably, as you start lifting heavier and heavier weight. Therefore if you have a hard time with flexibility, I suggest you start off with the sumo variation.

What Is The Difference Between The Two?

Keep in mind that the sumo variation works the same muscles as the conventional deadlift, but it will place a bit more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings. So if your leg routine is good, but the muscle development of maybe your glutes and hamstrings is sub-par to the rest of your muscles in your legs, it would be really nice for you to switch up your conventional deadlift to a sumo deadlift. This way you can try and get a bit more activation in those glutes and hamstrings, to try and even out your legs, and to get bigger and stronger.

These are some of the things you should be thinking about when picking a deadlift. Whichever variation you choose, you can take it to a crazy level. There are people who competitively powerlift, who lift super heavy doing both conventional and sumo variations, and at that point it is mostly about personal preference. But when you first start out, you have to make a decision. Do you want to deadlift conventional, so that you can maybe strain your body a bit more, get used to it, and then take that with you into other exercises? Or maybe your hips are tight so you want to do a sumo deadlift, which is a little bit less taxing on your CNS, meaning you can do it more times throughout the week, and it won’t tear you down as much as conventional does. This would mean you can also improve some imbalances you might have in your glutes and hamstrings.


One last thing – if you DO have tightness in your hips that you just can’t seem to get rid of, and it’s affecting other exercises you’re doing, there is another article here on my site that shows a lot of amazing exercises and stretches and warm-ups that you can do to help fix the tightness in your hips as you progress with your lifting routine. You can check that out HERE. I hope this has helped you figure out which deadlift variation you should use!

Related Videos:

Sumo Deadlift VS Conventional Deadlift | WHICH BUILDS MORE POWER & STRENGTH?

8 Dumbest Deadlift Mistakes Sabotaging Your GAINS! | STOP DOING THESE!

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My shins always get scraped to hell on deadlift day , but i dont mind