Exercise of the Week: Sumo Deadlifts

If you all haven’t been able to tell yet I am a big advocate of lifting heavy things for a set number of reps and thus am an even bigger proponent of the deadlift.  As a strength coach, one of my main jobs is to get people stronger (duh) and there are not many lifts that compare to the deadlift for measuring overall strength.  Starting out though, there may be some people who do not possess the proper flexibility to get into the proper setup for a conventional deadlift.  Also, working with all types of clients I have found that some people are mechanically at a disadvantage from the start due to the relative length of their femurs and/or arms.  In this case I use the sumo deadlift.

The big difference between a conventional deadlift and a sumo deadlift is the stance and more specifically the position of the feet and legs.  Picture a large (very large) half-naked Japanese man setting up to do battle with another very large half naked Japanese man.  Sexy huh?

The Benefits:

  1. Strengthen your back, legs, hips, and forearms.
  2. Grip strength.
  3. Teaches you how to pick up heave objects off the floor without screwing up your back.

The Setup:

  1. Your feet should be positioned wider than shoulder width with your toes pointed out.  I have seen this done multiple ways so you will have to do some experimenting to figure out what works best for you.  I have seen obnoxiously long stance with the toes pointed straight out. I myself prefer a comfortable “reasonably wide” stance with my toes pointed out at about 45 degrees.
  2. NOTE: make sure the bar is close to your shins.
  3. Keep your chest “tall”, get your air and keep your abs braced (as if you were going to get punched in the stomach)
  4. Instead of squatting down, focus on pushing your hips back as far as possible so you can “sit” in the stance.
  5. Keep your shoulder blades back and down (I tell people to visualize putting your shoulder in your back pocket) to engage your lats and activate your thoraco-lumbar fascia to stabilize your spine.
  6. NOTE: you should feel tension in your hammys at this point.
  7. Keep your chin tucked and you should find a spot on the floor about  10-15 feet in front of you and stay focused on it.

The Pull:

  1. Keep your core tight and drive through the heels, pulling the bar with your elbows locked.  Shoulders should still be back.
  2. DO NOT: bring your hips up first!
  3. Your hips and shoulders should rise simultaneously while keeping the bar close to your body.
  4. NOTE: remember to slowly breath out while lifting.  Think: hissing by letting the air out of a tire.
  5. Finish in the lockout position by firing your glutes and getting your hips into extension.  Many people fail here but it is very important.

The Descent:

  1. This part is very important as I see many people finish a great set then finish by bending over at the lumbar spine.
  2. To descend, start at the hips and push your but back (just like in the setup) while maintaining a slight arch in your lower back.
  3. Breaking with your hips rather than your knees (the knees can bend, don’t confuse this) and keeping the bar in contact with your body control the weight back to earth.

A Few Recommendations:

  1. You should pull frequently but only pull heavy once a week or once every other week.
  2. Find and fix your weaknesses whether it is your back, your shoulders, your glutes, or your core.  I wrote an article on this a few months ago.
  3. Go barefoot.  Your body will learn better neurologically and you will get better ankle mobility.  I think barefoot is the way to go but flat soled shoes work just as well.
  4. Get your ass into the picture by doing extra hip extension work such as glute bridges and barbell hip thrusts.
  5. Do speed work such as speed deadlifts or kettlebell swings.

My own deadlift PR stands at 405 lbs and is slowly rising.  If you want to get stronger then I recommend a great program such as 5-3-1, westside barbell, and Eric Cressey’s Maximum Strength which I highly recommend for beginners.

Happy sumo deadlifting!

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About s2bfitness

I am a Certified Health and Fitness Specialist and Strength and Conditioning Coach working out of Fitcorp in the Financial District. I have a no-nonsense approach to training and desire to provide the most up-to-date, results based, and fun training environment for my clients. I specialize in fat loss, strength training, program design, corrective exercise, and nutrition. View all posts by s2bfitness

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