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I <3 the Sumo Deadlift

 

 

 

 

 

By Miguel Aragoncillo

I have had a love-hate relationship with the sumo deadlift in the past few years.

When I first started, I thought I understood it. We clicked well together. All I had to do was pull the weight off the ground? Easy.

Then things started to get heavy. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I switched on and off with the conventional deadlift. I felt like I was cheating. Things got really crazy when I felt like my groin/adductors were being strained every time I pulled sumo.

MIGDEAD

Now, some say if you love something let it go, and if it comes back, it was meant to be.

Well the sumo deadlift came back in full force – and now I am exhibiting more patience, perseverance, and understanding of this movement than ever before.

Much of this can be attributed to talking with other coaches like Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechio, along with working on my technique and never stopping. I don’t know how to let go of something that I’ve liked doing for so long, so I’m happy now that I feel like I have a greater understanding of how to perform the sumo deadlift than ever before. I’m not sure how many individuals can safely say they have deadlifted over 3x bodyweight with more left in the tank, but I’m happy with my progress thus far in my lifting career.

Don’t make the same mistakes I’ve stumbled upon and managed to make over the years. My interest is in you getting better at the deadlift, and even if you pull conventional, you too can still learn something.

Why Pull Sumo?

 

Some say it is easier, some say it is cheating. I have to ask – in comparison to what?

The conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift are different. In fact, there are multiple reasons for performing the sumo deadlift, with some teachable lessons that are not found by strictly using the conventional deadlift.

It’s Easy to Teach

 

The barrier for entry to sumo deadlifting is relatively low. Barring pain, I find it extremely easy to begin everyone with a sumo deadlift variation. In fact, I teach many of our athletes and beginner clients how to deadlift with a kettlebell between their feet before graduating to a barbell – also known as a kettlebell sumo deadlift.

If you are competing in powerlifting, there are a few choices you can make – high bar back squat, low bar back squat, wide stance/moderate stance, and on the deadlift – conventional or sumo deadlift.

Many have chosen to utilize their leverages and anatomical structure in order to make sure that they are performing which ever movement is most adaptable and easiest for them to perform.

I’d recommend trying both, and seeing which is most comfortable for you to perform.

I’ve seen tall, short, and medium sized lifters all perform the sumo deadlift. No matter the height discrepancies, performing the sumo deadlift is something that many can benefit from.

Teaching Purposes

 

From a big picture perspective, the sumo deadlift can teach an individual how to develop tension in the glutes and hip abductors. Since the setup of the movement will require hip abduction along with activation of the hip external rotators, it may be impossible to setup ideally without addressing the notion of “spreading the floor.”

If you are primarily a conventional or even trap bar deadlifter, using the sumo deadlift as an accessory movement can enhance your understanding of what “tension” really entails.

 

My Mistakes (and Other Random Thoughts)

 

I’ve mistreated, mishandled, and under appreciated the nuances of the sumo deadlift in the past. To make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I do, I’ve compiled a combination of my mistakes along with advice to make sure you don’t lose that loving feeling for the sumo deadlift ever again.

1. I initially treated the deadlift like a front to back pull.

 

What I Should Have Done:

Performed the deadlift with tension in the hips, spreading the floor, and focused on only going back after improving my tension throughout the hips.

2. I ignored soft tissue quality.

 

What I Should Have Done:

Depending on structure of your hips, position of your pelvis, and current quality of the structures and musculature surrounding these joints, you may be leaving pounds on the platform for various reasons. Seek out further help to reduce soft tissue problems at the hip level, or aim to improve your positioning in order to improve your technique. Also, get these issues fixed before they become big glaring obstacles in your path.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
In this case, pounds on the bar.

3. I ignored my starting position.

 

What I Should Have Done:

Along with being proactive about my intention, there needs to be an intention for pulling backwards. This is something talked about, but not explained very well in many lifting circles.

Simply, every motion that is going forward in the sumo deadlift is wasted energy.

Set up behind the barbell for efficiency’s sake. If you are in front of the barbell before you perform your sumo deadlift, your first movement will entail rocking back before breaking the floor. If you set up behind the barbell, your first movement will involve breaking the floor.

4. I wasn’t proactive with my intention; I wasn’t aggressive enough from the start.

 

What I Should Have Done:

“Whenever there is doubt, there is no doubt.” Whether the bar has 135lbs loaded, or if the bar has 500lbs loaded, you must approach and attack the barbell similarly – fast, aggressive, and with the intention of never letting go.

Look at this 455lb deadlift from October of 2014, and this more recent 455lb deadlift from March 2015. While I’m obviously stronger now than earlier late last year, the intention is completely different. I can tell you I was thinking, “Go fast!” in the deadlift video from March, and in the video from October it was more of a shaky, almost uneasy feeling of “Will I get this? I hope I get this!”

With these amalgamation of thoughts, I hope you are now more informed on how I approach the deadlift, and perhaps learned a few things along the way that can help you in your lifting and/or competing endeavors.

5. I didn’t work on my weak links.

 

What I Should Have Done:

I have a few weak links in my sumo deadlift, and I have sought out to aggressively solve these weak links. First, I’m weak off of the floor – much like everyone else is when they are starting to deadlift.

If I am pulling without all the intention to rip the bar off the ground, the lift will be slow (but with solid technique).

So first fix for me was to improve aggressiveness and intention of the lift – essentially improve rate of force production.

Also, improving position of my body in relation to the barbell is something that I’ve worked on with Greg and others as well.

Lastly, if I am grinding out a heavy deadlift (95% or higher), the actual speed of the lift will theoretically be slower than the lighter reps during the warm-up. Grinding on the deadlift can equate to roughly 3 to 5 seconds (or more) of holding the weight while I’m performing the movement. During this timeframe, my grip was a limiting factor simply because my hands are small. Whether or not this is a mentally limiting factor, I compared hands with all of the staff, and my hands are the smallest out of everyone’s on staff.

MIGHand
This picture was as awkward as it looks. Plus, I also measured all the staff’s hand length on top of this.

 

Im of the belief that if you can hold on longer with a bigger grip, or at least, have the bar unfurl to a longer hand/finger length, your ability to hold a barbell with more weight will be enhanced – which is key for the deadlift.

 Think of a rope – if you loop around a barbell, it is secure. If you have more rope to loop around it, it is theoretically more secure than with just a once-over.

ROPE1

Seinfeld jokes aside, hand length (which you cant control) and grip strength (which you can control) is certainly important for improving your ability to hold heavy ass weights.

GRIP1

6. My setup at the hip level was too wide in the beginning.

SPILT

What I Should Have Done:

Go wide in the sumo, but not too wide. You need to develop tension in your hips, not do a straddle split. If your feet hit the plates on each end of the barbell, your ability to produce force will be shortchanged. This inverse relationship is something that I have to explain to beginner sumo deadlifters all the time, more so in females and other very flexible individuals.

With these initial tips under your belt, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I have made. When it comes down to getting better, get a coach, film some videos, be objective, and stop failing reps.

arangoncillo

Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.

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