Master the Sumo Deadlift

by Jordan Syatt

Everything you need to know to dominate the sumo deadlift, from setup to bar speed.

Sumo: The Advanced Deadlift

The sumo deadlift a wide-stance deadlift where your hands are on the inside of your thighs. Seems simple enough, but the sumo is far more technically advanced than the conventional deadlift. It’s true.

And while it seems to be fashionable to write off the sumo deadlift as “easier” because it utilizes a shorter range of motion, most people don’t have a clue about how to do it.

Basic sumo deadlift technique – just like that of the conventional deadlift – is relatively easy to understand, but we’re not talking about the basics. We’re talking about advanced techniques designed to take your sumo deadlift further than most people can ever imagine.

The 3 Advanced Techniques

1. Speed Up Your Setup

The setup is the most important part of the deadlift, and not just for sumo, but conventional, trap bar and every other deadlift variation as well. Your setup largely determines the outcome of your lift.

For sumo, the hardest part of the lift is off the floor. Rarely do you see sumo lifters fail at lockout because that’s where their leverages are most advantageous. Instead, when a sumo deadlifter fails, he almost always does so immediately off the floor.

So how do you fix this? You speed up your setup. The faster you rip the bar off the floor, the easier lockout is going to be.

Think about it. Let’s say we’ve got two lifters, Lifter A and Lifter B, both attempting to pull 600 pounds. Lifter A rips the bar off the floor as hard and fast as possible while generating every ounce of force in an extremely short period of time. Lifter B, on the other hand, generates the same total amount of force but takes longer to achieve the same peak force output.

Who’s more likely to finish the lift? Lifter A. I’m not saying Lifter B wouldn’t be able to grind it out, but Lifter A would have a significantly easier time completing the lift. And, for what it’s worth, I would put money on Lifter A out-deadlifting Lifter B any day of the week.

So What Do You Need to Do?

Practice getting the bar off the floor as quickly and explosively as possible. Granted, you can’t go from 0-100 mph your very first time, so below I’ve provided the four-step progression to get you pulling monstrous weights with lightning speed.

First Progression

When first learning how to sumo deadlift, most lifters have trouble finding the “sweet spot,” the point at which their hips and torso are in the optimal position to pull the most weight.

To help find this position, start out slightly in front of the bar and using the bar to pull yourself backwards until you find the sweet spot. (See video above.) Once you find the sweet spot, pause, and then finish the lift.

Second Progression

Once you can find the sweet spot with ease, it’s time to practice starting from that position.

As demonstrated in the video, try to find the starting position without using an initial backward pull. Re-enforcing this movement pattern will drastically improve your performance when you start increasing the speed of your set-up.

Third Progression

Now that you can find the sweet spot without any conscious thought process, it’s time to start learning how to initiate the lift using speed and momentum.

As you saw in the above video, I’m starting out slightly in front of the bar just as I did in the first progression. This time, however, I’m moving faster and initiating the pull as quickly and explosively as possible. This progression allows me to accomplish several things at once:

  • It reinforces the sweet spot and teaches me how to find it at higher speeds. This is paramount for sumo deadlifting success.
  • It teaches me how to utilize the momentum from the initial backwards pull and transfer that into useable force during the lift.
  • It gets me used to starting the lift as quickly and explosively as possible, which is a skill in and of itself.

Fourth Progression

At this point you should be able to find the sweet spot in your sleep. And now that this movement is engrained in your nervous system, lift the bar as fast as you possibly can.

Spend as little time as possible down at the bar and focus on ripping it up with an incredible amount of speed. Lift the bar so freakin’ fast that if you were to let go of it, the bar would fly up and over your head and smash into the ceiling. Yeah. That fast.

2. Train the Sumo Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

If you want to sumo pull scary amounts of weight, then incorporate the sumo RDL into your training repertoire. It’s unquestionably the most movement-specific supplementary exercise for the sumo deadlift. It helps to improve:

  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular hypertrophy
  • Muscular endurance
  • Upper back strength
  • Grip strength
  • Lat recruitment
  • Lockout speed/strength

Generally speaking, train it once per week during any given 3-6 week cycle. Sets and reps can range from 8-15+ depending on your individual needs and goals. Obviously low(er) rep ranges lend themselves better to strength development whereas high(er) rep ranges tend to be better for muscular hypertrophy and endurance.

3. Spread the Floor Apart

“Spread the floor” is unquestionably the single best cue to improve your sumo deadlift performance.

Rather than think about pushing straight down or driving the floor away from you (as you would in the conventional deadlift), during the sumo deadlift imagine spreading the floor open as hard and fast as you possibly can while simultaneously initiating the lift.

Another way to think about this is trying to burst the seams open on the outside of your shoeswhile lifting the weight. By driving outwards and spreading the floor apart, you’ll better stabilize your pelvis, generate more force, and lift significantly heavier weight.

The key here is to spread the floor while simultaneously initiating the lift. Often lifters will initiate the lift and then try to spread the floor, which defeats the point of the cue entirely. Spread the floor while initiating the lift at the exact same time and you’ll immediately hit a new personal record.

Last Rep

Mastering these cues, techniques, and drills will take time… a lot of time. Don’t expect everything to “click” right away.

Go practice, practice some more, and repeat the cycle over and over again until things start to make sense. Approach all of your training with the mindset that it’s practice – not just any old workout – and your results will astound you.