Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift: Differences, Pros, Cons

Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift

In powerlifting, the deadlift is the king of all three movements. Okay, perhaps it’s not. But when you think about the big three movements of the squat, bench, and deadlift, the deadlift is the only one-phased movement that presents an immediate challenge from the start! This makes the deadlift a simple yet extremely challenging movement to learn. However, does the stance of the deadlift affect the intensity of the movement?

The choice between sumo and conventional stance deadlifts has been a huge debate amongst those in the strength community. Many ask which is tougher or which requires more effort. When it comes to the deadlift, the sumo stance and conventional stance both have their pros, cons, differences and similarities. Neither stance is better than the other, as it truly depends on the athlete and their body size if they will thrive with one stance over another. But regardless of stance, form has to be of the utmost importance in order to become not only a better deadlifter but also a safer athlete.

The importance of maintaining an impeccable deadlift form cannot be overstated. This exercise, which involves lifting a heavy barbell from the ground to a standing position, places considerable stress on the body. Correct form not only maximizes the effectiveness of the deadlift but also minimizes the risk of injury. In this article, we will dive into the importance of maintaining proper deadlift form, shedding light on how this crucial aspect of lifting weights can influence not only your performance but also your long-term health and strength. We will also explore the unique characteristics of the sumo deadlift and its conventional counterpart, emphasizing why understanding their similarities and differences is key to tailoring an effective strength-training routine.

The Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift stands apart from its conventional counterpart with its distinct technique, especially its wider stance. To execute a sumo deadlift, a lifter uses a wider stance, positioning their feet beyond shoulder width and angling their toes outward. The grip occurs inside the knees as the lifter keeps their arms long to attain a more advantageous position. The use of this stance offers advantages like increased hip mobility, as it allows for a more upright torso position during the lift, reducing the need to bend over deeply. However, it demands good flexibility and comfort in this wider stance, making both hip mobility and hip strength a crucial factor for success.

The benefits of the sumo deadlift include its emphasis on the quadriceps and adductors, making it an excellent choice for individuals seeking to develop these muscle groups. Additionally, it can be less taxing on the lower back, making it an appealing option for those with lower back issues or limited mobility. On the flip side, perfecting the sumo stance deadlift is good for the sumo stance deadlift, while the conventional deadlift mimics a more athletic-based stance that could translate to many more functional movements in human performance such as standing, bending, running, jumping, and much more.

Muscle Groups Targeted in the Sumo Deadlift

With the sumo-stance deadlift, the muscles recruited for success are:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors


The glutes, which consist of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, play a significant role in the sumo deadlift. These muscles are responsible for hip extension, and in the sumo deadlift, they are heavily engaged when you push your hips forward to lift the weight. Strong glutes are crucial for generating power and maintaining stability during the lift. Especially with the stance of this lift, there is a ton of leverage on the glutes to be key muscles in this lift.


The hamstrings, located on the back of the thigh, are also heavily involved in the sumo deadlift. They work in conjunction with the glutes to extend the hips and provide stability during the lift. Strong hamstrings help strengthen your sumo deadlift and prevent injury that’ll enable you to lift heavier weights safely. Strengthening the hamstrings is a key aspect of sumo deadlifting and enhances overall lower body strength.


The quadriceps also play a supportive role. During the initial phase of the lift, as you push your legs against the ground to initiate the movement, your quadriceps come into play. They help in providing the initial upward force. However, the quadriceps are not as heavily stressed in the sumo deadlift as they are in the conventional deadlift.


The adductor muscles of the inner thigh are essential for maintaining stability and control in the sumo deadlift. They help keep the knees from collapsing inward, ensuring proper form and preventing injury. Adequate adductor strength is crucial, especially in the sumo stance, where the feet are placed wide apart.

Posterior Chain Activation

With the sumo-stance deadlift, the posterior chain is not as activated due to the way the athlete leverages the bar with a wider stance and an upright position. The lifter is in a taller position, eliminating the parts of the posterior chain that would be challenged on a conventional deadlift.

The glutes and hamstrings of the posterior chain get developed. However, it does so to a lesser degree than the conventional deadlift due to the differences in stance and posture.

The Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is a classic strength training exercise that is renowned for its ability to test raw strength and power. The sumo also tests raw strength and power, but the conventional stance seems to be the classic stance most people think about with the deadlift. The technique for the conventional deadlift is characterized by a shoulder-width stance and gripping the barbell outside of your stance.

This conventional setup places more emphasis on the lower back and hamstrings during the lift. This has to do with how the lifter leans over the bar during a conventional deadlift, which might be different for a sumo deadlifter. In sumo, you can stand tall and upright. However, with the conventional stance, lifters could naturally lean forward just a bit more and could put more emphasis on the upper aspects of the posterior chain.

The benefits of the conventional deadlift include its effectiveness in targeting the lower back muscles, promoting grip strength, and developing the hamstrings and glutes. It’s also the go-to choice for individuals engaged in traditional sports such as football, volleyball, and basketball, as the conventional deadlift mimics the biomechanical demands of these sports more closely. Drawbacks of the conventional deadlift, on the other hand, may include a higher risk of lower back strain if proper form is not maintained. It’s important to understand and promote optimal mechanics for being a successful lifter, especially during the deadlift. .

Muscle Groups Targeted in the Conventional Deadlift

With the conventional-stance deadlift, the muscles recruited for success are:

  • Glutes
  • Erectors
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Trapezius Muscles


The glutes, particularly the gluteus maximus, are heavily engaged in the conventional deadlift. They play a crucial role in hip extension, which is essential for lifting the weight off the ground. Strong glutes are vital for generating power and maintaining proper form during the lift. They work in conjunction with the hamstrings and quadriceps to provide stability and strength.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae muscles run along the spine and are responsible for keeping the spine in an extended and neutral position during the conventional deadlift. These muscles are heavily engaged in maintaining an erect posture and preventing the spine from rounding. Because the conventional deadlift might leverage the lifter forward, the erector muscles must be strong to keep the athlete upright, more so than a sumo deadlift. Lifting belts can be used to help assist the erectors staying strong and upright during lifting. .


Like in the sumo deadlift, the hamstrings are important in the conventional deadlift. They are responsible for hip extension and play a role in the initial phase of lifting the barbell off the ground. Strong hamstrings help provide the necessary force to initiate the lift and prevent injury.


While the quadriceps are not the primary movers in the conventional deadlift, they still contribute to the lift. This is due to the idea that the conventional deadlift occurs in front of the athlete, and it’s hard for the athlete to lift within their center of gravity which could optimize leg drive for better quadricep engagement. During the initial phase, when you push the ground to begin the lift, the quadriceps help in straightening the knees. They provide stability and support and are secondary muscles to aid the effort of other muscle groups in this lift.

Trapezius Muscles

The trapezius muscles, particularly the upper trapezius, are involved in stabilizing the shoulders and upper back during the conventional deadlift. They help maintain scapular retraction, which is important for a secure grip on the barbell and for preventing the shoulders from rounding forward. Strong trapezius muscles are essential for maintaining proper upper body posture during the lift.

Overall Strength and Muscle Growth

The conventional deadlift recruits more muscle groups than the sumo deadlift, mostly due to the positioning and demands of the conventional deadlift. The conventional deadlift requires a ton of muscular engagement to get the deadlift exercise started and to maintain optimal posture throughout the whole lift. Not only does it challenge the entire posterior chain, but because of how many muscle groups are recruited, the conventional deadlift requires massive exhaustion of the nervous system, more so than the sumo deadlift. Additionally, it recruits various stabilizing muscles, such as the core and the upper back, contributing to full-body strength.

Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift - Comparison and Contrast

Below is a chart that defines some of the key similarities and differences between the sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift:

Performance Trait Sumo Deadlift Conventional Deadlift
Hip Position Lower, enabling a more upright torso for leg drive Higher, leading to a slight forward lean
Muscle Groups Recruited Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Adductors Glutes, Erector Spinae, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Trapezius muscles
Best for… Lower Posterior Chain (Glutes and Hamstrings) rowing Hips and Back (Erector Spinae, Hamstrings, Quadriceps)


The comparison chart illustrates the key distinctions between the sumo deadlift and the conventional deadlift, shedding light on the unique characteristics of these two popular strength training exercises. The sumo deadlift, characterized by a lower hip position, offers the advantage of allowing lifters to maintain a more upright torso during the lift enabling more lower-body leg drive. This position can often be beneficial for taller individuals, as it minimizes the risk of excessive lower back strain and can reduce the potential for back pain.

On the other hand, the conventional deadlift, with its higher hip position, challenges the full posterior chain and helps to grow different muscles besides the lower body. Besides muscular recruitment, the stance of the conventional deadlift simulates the biomechanical demands of many sports like football or wrestling, making it a valuable tool for athletes looking to improve their performance in their sport.

One significant difference between the two styles lies in the level of muscular recruitment. The conventional deadlift engages a broader spectrum of muscle groups, including the glutes, erector spinae, hamstrings, quadriceps, and trapezius muscles. This comprehensive recruitment arguably exerts greater demands on the body’s nervous system, potentially leading to higher levels of fatigue and requiring more recovery time between sessions.

This isn’t to speak ill of the sumo deadlift, but one argument about the sumo stance deadlift is that it requires more technique and precision to keep your body in an upright position. The sumo stanced deadlift tends to be programmed more frequently in programming, to cater to technique and mastery. The conventional stance deadlift is easier to perform, but because it requires a high level of muscular recruitment, it might need to be programmed less to help recover the nervous system better.

Deadlift Variations

If you want to become a better deadlifter, it’s said you should deadlift more! However, the more you master a movement, the more you need to consider the idea of incorporating variation lifts that expose weaknesses in your performance.

Immediate ideas for improving your deadlift could be the use of accommodating resistance, such as band resisted deadlifts. Bands could be tricky to set up, especially for a new lifter. Below, we have included variations that could work for a sumo stance or conventional stance deadlifter.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL):

The Romanian Deadlift is a valuable variation of the deadlift that emphasizes glute and hamstring development. The RDL is executed by holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of the body and hinging at the hips, meaning moving the hips forward and backward in a horizontal fashion.

For any deadlifter, the beauty of the RDL is its adaptability. Meaning, lifters can choose between sumo and conventional stances to cater to their specific needs, allowing them to replicate the stance used in their deadlift. This variation enhances the lifter’s ability to isolate and strengthen the glute and hamstring muscles vital for a powerful deadlift while emphasizing proper hip hinge mechanics. The RDL could be inhibited due to a double overhand grip, as this grip tends to be weaker. THe use of lifting straps or lifting hooks, though, could help with this problem so the athlete can focus primarily on the RDL motion.

Trap Bar Deadlift:

The Trap Bar Deadlift, also known as the hex bar deadlift, is a versatile exercise optio that has a unique design and benefits for deadlifters. This hexagonal-shaped bar allows lifters to stand inside the bar, placing the load at their sides. The Trap Bar Deadlift promotes better leg drive and hip extension, which is particularly beneficial for individuals who predominantly perform conventional deadlifts. By positioning the load at the lifter’s sides, it encourages a more upright posture and recruits the quadriceps and glutes more effectively. This is especially advantageous for those aiming to improve their leg strength and enhance their deadlift performance. It’s also ideal for those who want to limit back pain or potential injury during a traditional conventional deadlift.

Floating Sumo Deadlift:

The Floating Sumo Deadlift is a unique exercise that challenges lifters to maintain constant tension throughout each repetition. In this variation, the lifter lifts the barbell off the ground but never allows it to make contact again until the set is complete. This “floating” aspect keeps time under tension higher and leads to greater muscular recruitment and development, making it an excellent choice for those seeking to maximize the benefits of the sumo deadlift.. This variation can be particularly useful for advanced lifters looking to break plateaus and elevate their sumo deadlift strength.

Incorporating these variations into a training regimen can offer a well-rounded approach to strength and muscle development. I would recommend variations to be done at a higher intensity instead of the barbell deadlift, or if you do want to perform the traditional deadlift, do these variations at a lighter weight and focus on form and power output.

Practical Applications

After examining the conventional and sumo deadlift styles, let’s discuss the selection process to which stance abides by your needs and better caters to your body type.

Conventional Deadlift:

  • If you possess lower back and hamstring strength, or you aspire to further develop these muscle groups, the conventional deadlift would be the best choice.
  • Lifters with longer arms may discover the conventional deadlift as a more comfortable option, given its reduced necessity for extensive bending to reach the barbell.
  • Athletes engaged in traditional sports may naturally gravitate toward the conventional variation, as it closely replicates the biomechanical demands close to their specific sport.

Sumo Deadlift:

  • For those equipped with great leg strength and a desire to develop their quadriceps and adductors, the sumo deadlift offers a compelling alternative.
  • Individuals with elongated limbs, both arms and legs, may find themselves well-suited for excelling in the sumo deadlift, leveraging their body effectively.
  • Additionally, if you encounter limitations in mobility within your lower back or hamstrings, the sumo stance may provide a more accommodating option for your deadlift stance.


The choice between sumo and conventional deadlift stances depends on individual preferences, body type, and objectives. Both stances have their pros and cons, with form being crucial for both. Sumo deadlift, with its wider stance, emphasizes hip mobility and quadriceps development, making it suitable for those with lower back concerns or limited mobility. On the other hand, the conventional deadlift, with its classic athletic stance, targets the lower back and hamstrings and mimics various functional movements in sports.

To enhance deadlift performance, variations like the RDL, trap bar deadlift, and floating sumo deadlift can be beneficial. They address weaknesses, promote muscle development, and offer a well-rounded strength training regimen.

Regardless if you choose to participate in a sumo stance or conventional stance, form and technique need to be of utmost importance. It’s important that you learn about these two styles of deadlift from those with the best credentials, from strength coaches and physical therapists. Then, you will be prepared to partake in the deadlift exercise and perform to the best of your abilities.