Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift (Differences & Which Is Best?)

If you want to build a strong body with well-defined muscles, the deadlift is an excellent exercise to add to your program. There are several variations of deadlift you can try, but which is best for you? 

In this article, I'll be pitting the sumo vs conventional deadlift against each other to help you decide your best option 

When it comes to sumo deadlift vs conventional, many factors should be considered 

After training hundreds of clients throughout my career, there are times when sumo is better than conventional deadlift and vice-versa. This is due to the differences between sumo and conventional deadlift.

1. Set-Up & Technique  

There are several differences between the conventional deadlift vs sumo setup. Firstly, the stance you take during the sumo deadlift is wider, and your hands are placed on the inside of your legs. Whereas the conventional deadlift requires you to take a narrower set up with your hands placed outside your legs.  

During the sumo deadlift, the range of motion is less and places less stress on your lower back, making it best suited for anyone who suffers from back pain. The sumo deadlift is also a preferred variation for taller gym-goers as it’s easier to get into position.

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Sumo Deadlift – How To Do It: 

  1. 1
    Stand over a loaded barbell and place your feet wide (roughly 1.5-2x shoulder width, leaving a gap between your toes and the weighted plates). 
  2. 2
    Grab the barbell with both hands placed evenly on the inside of your legs. Your grip should be shoulder width.  
  3. 3
    Bend your knees and straighten your spine (keep it in a neutral position).  
  4. 4
    Take a deep breath, brace your core, and stand upright with the barbell.  
  5. 5
    Once the barbell reaches your hip height, lower it to the starting point.  
  6. 6
    Repeat.  

Conventional Deadlift – How To Do It: 

  1. 1
    Stand over a barbell with your feet placed hip-width apart, toes pointing forward).  
  2. 2
    Place your hands on the barbell (hands outside your legs) shoulder-width apart.  
  3. 3
    Bend your knees but keep your hips slightly higher than your knees.
  4. 4
    Straighten your spine, drawing your shoulder blades back and down (engaging your lats).
  5. 5
    Take a deep breath, engage your core and stand up with the weight.  
  6. 6
    Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and return to the starting position. 
  7. 7
    Repeat.  
Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift (Differences & Which Is Best?)

2. Muscles Worked/Activation 

When it comes to the muscles worked in sumo vs conventional deadlift, there is a considerable difference.

  • For Back
    If you’re looking to work your back, the conventional deadlift is superior as it engages your lats and lower back more than the sumo deadlift. This is mainly due to the increased force placed on your back during the conventional deadlift.
  • For Glutes
    If you want to stimulate your glutes, your best option is the sumo deadlift. Sumo deadlifts activate your lower body more than the conventional deadlift, making it the perfect exercise to overload your glutes and quads.
  • For Hamstrings
    As the conventional deadlift requires more hip and glute strength, your body needs to recruit more hamstring muscle fibers to move the weight. This makes the traditional deadlift superior if you want to develop your hamstrings. 

3. For Hypertrophy Training 

When comparing the sumo vs conventional deadlift for hypertrophy, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, you need to ask yourself what muscles you want to develop the most.

If you want to achieve hypertrophy in your glutes and quads, sumo deadlifts are your best option. But, if you want to develop your lats, back, and hamstrings, the conventional deadlift is a better choice.

You should also consider the range of motion your body has to move through for each movement. During the sumo deadlift, your muscles move through less range of motion than they would during a conventional deadlift. The greater the range of motion, the more muscle fibers are recruited.

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4. Movement Difficulty 

If you’re wondering, "sumo vs conventional deadlift, which is harder?” the answer is... it depends.

Firstly, taller gym-goers might struggle with the conventional deadlift due to having longer limbs and torsos making it tougher to get into the correct starting position. However, sumo deadlifts are often easier for taller individuals. 

Several factors come into deciding the difficulty of the movements, ranging from the angles of your hip bones to limb length and torso size.

Your best bet is to try both variations and see which best suits your body and goals. 

5. For Building Mass/Strength Gains 

If you’re looking to build mass and strength, I firmly believe combining the two can help iron out the “cons” of each variation. 

The conventional deadlift will help you develop a stronger posterior chain as it engages more of your lower back and hamstrings. However, on the other hand, the sumo deadlift uses more glutes and quads.  

Generally, you can lift more weight during the sumo deadlift, but this isn’t always the case for everybody.

To develop strength, you’re best trying both types of deadlift for a few months and see which one you become stronger on; mixing things up is rarely a bad thing.

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man doing heavy sumo squat

Overview Of Sumo Deadlifts (Pros & Cons) 

The sumo deadlift is an excellent lower body developer which primarily targets your quads and glutes.  

It involves taking a wide stance (roughly 2x shoulder width) and lifting the barbell from the floor to hip height. The movement involves less hinging from the hips, reducing the work the lower back has to perform. This makes it ideal if you suffer from a lower back injury and want to limit lower back work.

The sumo deadlift has a reduced range of motion that helps you lift more weight than you would use during the traditional deadlift. By lifting heavier, you can overload your muscles easier, stimulating your muscle fibers for growth.  

But even though this may seem like a positive for some gym-goers, the lower range of motion can be a drawback. If you’re training for a powerlifting competition where you will be performing a traditional deadlift (which uses a larger range of motion), then the sumo deadlift isn’t suitable.

Another factor to consider is that the sumo deadlift is a more technical lift that requires coordination and experience to perform correctly. This makes the sumo deadlift best suited for intermediate to advanced weight lifters.

sumo deadlift

From my experience, my clients find it more challenging to learn the sumo deadlift, and I’ve found they’re best learning another variation first.  

To perform the sumo deadlift, you need an Olympic barbell and a set of Olympic weighted plates. Performing the movement doesn’t take much room, making it ideal for home or garage gyms. But, I must note, this exercise isn’t suitable for people living in an apartment... it can be rather noisy when you drop the barbell.

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Benefits 

  • Places less stress on your lower back 
  • Improved leg development 
  • Easier to lockout at the top of the movement 
  • You can lift heavier 

Drawbacks 

  • Shorter range of motion 
  • More technical, hard for beginners 

Overview Of The Conventional Deadlift (Pros & Cons)

The conventional deadlift is one of my favorite exercises to add to my client's programs (depending on their goals) for many reasons.  

Firstly, it’s an easier variation to teach beginners and is an excellent introduction to the hip-hinge movement. But, even though it’s easier to teach, its still a complex compound exercise that requires strict form to ensure your safety.  

Even though the movement is technically a whole-body exercise, the conventional deadlift primarily activates your back muscles, including your erector spinae, scapula, lats, and rhomboids. Your glutes and hamstrings are required to move the barbell through the lower portion of the lift.  

If you’re a competing weight lifter, this deadlift variation is best suited for you. It’s the standard lift for powerlifting competitions and will help you train for the next lifting meet.  

conventional deadlift

During the conventional deadlift, your body moves through a large range of motion, placing considerable force on your lower back. This might be an issue for some gym-goers if you’ve suffered a lower back injury or weakness.  

One of the drawbacks of this exercise is that it doesn’t target the legs as much as you’d think it would. If you want to target the legs, you’re best using a leg dominant variation like the sumo deadlift.  

To perform the conventional deadlift, you don’t need a lot of equipment, and all you need is an Olympic barbell and Olympic weighted plates. It’s a brilliant exercise to perform in most home gyms.  

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Benefits 

  • Larger range of motion 
  • Improved lat and lower back recruitment 
  • Best for powerlifters 
  • Easier for beginners 

Drawbacks 

  • Places more stress on the lower back 
  • It doesn’t target legs as much as sumo 

Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift FAQs 

Is sumo or conventional deadlift better for lower back pain? 

The sumo deadlift is far easier on the lower back as you don’t need to hinge from the hips as much as you would during the conventional deadlift. This decreases the shear forces acting on your back and places more force through your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.  

If you suffer from back lower back pain, try using the sumo deadlift.  

Can you lift heavier with sumo deadlifts? 

Generally, most people can lift heavier using sumo deadlifts than conventional deadlifts 

One of the main reasons for this is that the sumo deadlift has a smaller range of movement, making it easier to achieve complete lockout during the movement.  

Another reason to consider is the sumo deadlift uses less lower back and more quads (which are powerful leg muscles).  

Should I do both sumo and conventional deadlift? 

I’m a massive fan of variation and believe performing both types of deadlifts through your training program will give you the best of both worlds.  

By doing the sumo deadlift, you will recruit more glutes and quads, while the conventional deadlift will use your lower back and lats more. By training both variations, you iron out any gaps in your strength, giving you a well-rounded physique.  

Is sumo safer than conventional? 

Both lifts are safe to perform so long as you use good form and haven’t been told by your doctor not to do these exercises.  

If you’re worried, you can try and use a weight lifting belt to assist the movements.  

A lifting belt helps you create more internal abdominal pressure as you brace your core against the belt. Doing so improves your ability to maintain a neutral spine throughout the deadlift movement.  

While belts aren’t necessary, some lifters swear by them and wouldn’t lift without one. I find they should only be used for higher-end lifting (above 80% of your 1RM).  

But, you should note that while you’re using a belt, the core doesn’t have to work as hard, which can detrain your cores overall strength if you use the belt too often.  


Conclusion

If you’ve wanted to deadlift but have been wondering about the difference between sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift, you can find the answers to all your questions in the above article.

Have a read-through and see which type of deadlift is best for you and your goals.  

Last Updated on July 11, 2022