The “Sumo” Deadlift: What’s the Point?
by Mark Rippetoe | April 12, 2023
The “sumo” deadlift
(hereafter referred to as just sumo, to save some typing) was
invented in the late 70s/early 80s as a clever way to circumvent the
rules in powerlifting. The name refers to the western perception of
the start position in the Japanese sport of Sumo wrestling, because
we had to call it something (“wide stance” being insufficiently
novel). The first high-level lifter I remember using it was Mike
Bridges, and it has become so popular since then that most high
school kids and their “coaches” don’t know that there’s another
way to pull the bar.
By taking the widest
possible stance between the plates on the floor, you can 1.) shorten
the distance between your hips and the bar and reduce the moment arm
between the gravity vector and the hip and knee extensors, 2.) make
the back more vertical/the hips and knees more extended when the bar
comes off the floor, drastically improving your pulling position, and
3.) significantly shorten the range of motion of the pull, since you
are effectively shorter
in this position. So the sumo stance makes the deadlift easier
for lots of people. And easier
is what people want.
If you’re already short,
this can result in deadlifts pulled less than 2 inches. If the rules
of Your Federation Of Choice are so poorly-written that this is
legal, go ahead. It’s clearly not a deadlift in the common
understanding of the term, but you get your trophy. And trophies are
the whole point, right?
The recent phenomenon of
“spotting” the deadlift is the direct consequence of looking up
at the ceiling while sumo-ing the deadlift. The wide toe angle
reduces the sagittal distance covered by the feet, reducing stability
at the lockout position, the hands in contact with the thighs
increases the need to shrug back at the top, and looking up compounds
But for strength training
purposes – making yourself stronger for picking things up off of
the ground – sumo is almost useless, because you can’t pick things
up off the ground and then do anything with them with your feet
splayed out like that. No sport – not even sumo wrestling –
applies force from this position. It is not “functional” in any
sense of the word. Sumo serves one purpose: the total in a
powerlifting meet. It is, quite simply, a way to cheat that has not
been corrected by Your Federation Of Choice. It does not meet the
requirements of strength training since it does not strengthen a
normal human movement pattern.
One other thing: the
heaviest deadlifts ever pulled have been performed with the feet
inside the hands on the bar – “conventional” as it is known.
This might be significant.
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