A sumo deadlift is a great exercise to incorporate into your current routine. But it can be a bit daunting when you don’t know how to do it. In this article we are going to look at the sumo deadlift and how to perform it.

Let’s get right into it!

How to perform the Sumo Deadlift

This exercise can be performed with a wide variety of equipment, but a barbell sumo deadlift is the most popular. They can be performed with dumbbells, but it is really difficult to set up most types of deadlifts with dumbbells as they usually start from the floor. This means you will most likely end up rounding your back when you start the lift. This is not an ideal scenario and could lead to serious injury when you start packing on weight. So ideally it would be best to stick to barbell variations.

Step 1

Start by standing with your feet wider than shoulder width apart and your toes pointed outwards. Your legs should be wide enough apart so that your arms can be placed in between your knees. Your thighs and knees need to be aligned with your toes.

Step 2

Bend and grab the barbell and start creating tension by pulling the bar and pushing your feet into the ground. Keep your core braced, your back straight and your shoulders positioned directly above the bar.

Step 3

Pull the bar up while simultaneously pushing through your legs. Ensure that you keep the bar close to your body as you complete the movement.

Step 4

Lower the bar to the ground after you have locked out. Repeat the entire sequence for the desired amount of reps.

Tips to improve your form

Sumo Deadlift

Keep your chest up, back straight and shoulders above the bar as you perform the exercise.

Before you start moving the bar, anchor your feet. Some coaches call this spreading the floor. When you are “spreading the floor”, you are creating force by digging your feet into the floor.

Do not squat the movement. Only lower your butt as low as you need to go in order for you to reach the bar.

How to Deadlift

What are the benefits of a Sumo Deadlift?

Shortened range of motion

You are closer to ground and therefore the range of motion is shortened. This makes this type of lift a bit easier because the bar doesn’t have to travel as far. Hallelujah!

Less pressure on your lower back

It places less stress on your lower back. In a sumo deadlift you are in a more upright position than other deadlift variations. Therefore, there is less stress on your lower back.

This type of deadlift may be better for women who suffer from lower back problems and struggle to do the Conventional or Romanian Deadlift. Let’s not injure ourselves mkay?

Targets your glutes

The sumo deadlift is great for building your glutes. Due to the angle of your knees and thighs, your glutes are targeted more compared to other deadlifts.

So don’t be afraid to include these in your routine if you are trying to grow your butt. Or even if you aren’t.

Develops pull strength

It helps to develop your pull strength. Pulling strength is extremely important when you weight train because many exercises require pulling to some extent. Even lower body exercises.

Pulling strength will help with different deadlift variations, bent over rows, single arm rows, seated rows, lat pull downs and more.

Develops overall strength and size

It develops your overall strength and helps to build muscle all over. Sumo deadlifts are a compound exercise, just like conventional deadlifts.

This means you are using more than one muscle group when you perform this exercise. It also means you can lift heavier than with other movements.

More muscles used + heavier weight= more calories burnt and more strength and size. Hellloooooo gainz!

Do I even need to carry on?

Sumo Deadlift- Muscles Worked

Muscles worked in a deadlift and sumo deadlift

Glutes and quadriceps

The sumo deadlift is more glute and quad focused than other deadlift variations therefore it is a great movement if you are trying to build your quads and glutes.


In a sumo deadlift your hamstrings are worked however, you do not get the same kind of muscle involvement like you do in the conventional deadlift.

Erector spinae

Your lower back muscles are recruited when performing this deadlift however there is less pressure than with other deadlift variations.

Upper back and traps

Your upper back muscles and traps are recruited to help you maintain an upright position and to help with pulling the bar up.

Reps and weight recommendations

Here are some recommendations for reps and weights based on your goals. You can also do a combination of two or more of the below protocols.

To build strength

If you are trying to build strength, then you should perform 3 to 5 reps per set with a heavy weight.  

A heavy weight is subjective because it depends on your level of fitness and your size to some degree.

The best way to determine what weight you should be lifting is to select a weight you think will be challenging. If you can easily get to the last rep, then the weight is too light. If you struggle to get through the first two reps or your form is poor, then you need to drop the weight.

Don’t be afraid to play around with different weight combinations until you find the right weight for you.

To build muscle

If your main goal is hypertrophy (to build muscle), then you should do 8 to 12 reps per set with a moderate weight. For your hypertrophy sets you will need to lower the weight. You will not be able to lift the same weight as you did for your strength sets.

To develop muscular endurance

If you are trying to develop muscular endurance, then you should aim for 12 to 20 reps with a light weight.

Since you are trying to build endurance rather than strength and muscle it is not necessary to use heavy weights.

A lot of lifters tend to do a combination of strength and hypertrophy sets to build muscle and strength.  Which protocols you follow will be based on your individual goals.

Difference between sumo deadlifts and a conventional deadlifts

Conventional deadlift

Set up

The most obvious difference is the set up.

The sumo deadlift requires a stance of wider than shoulder width apart with your toes pointed out.

The conventional deadlift requires a stance of shoulder width apart with your toes pointing forward.

The stance used in your deadlift determines where your arms go. In the sumo it would be between your legs and in a conventional it would be right outside your knees.

The starting point for each deadlift also differs. With a conventional deadlift you stand in front of the barbell with the bar over your feet. With the sumo, the bar is right up against your knees to help you push your knees out.

Muscles targeted

The muscles targeted in each deadlift varies due to the stance required for each exercise.

Sumo deadlifts are more glute and quad focused with less stress on your lower back.

The conventional deadlift on the other hand is more hamstring and quad focused with less stress on your quads.

Both variations help build pull strength and recruit your upper back muscles so the main differences relate to the lower back and lower body muscles.

Range of motion

Sumo has 20-25% less range of motion than the conventional deadlift because the sumo stance brings you closer to the bar.

So which one should you do?

If you are training to build muscle, improve your physique or you’re just trying to stay fit then I would suggest both.

Each deadlift targets different muscles more effectively so including both variations into your routine will ensure that you get best of both worlds.

However, you should always listen to your body. Some people have difficulty performing the conventional deadlift and others the sumo deadlift.

If you find that a prior injury or your own anatomy is causing some issues, then stick to a deadlift that you are comfortable with.

You can always use other exercises to target whichever muscles aren’t being adequately targeted in the deadlift you choose.

I hope these tips help you to sumo deadlift like a pro in no time;)

Happy lifting!

PS: Don’t forget to grab your free copy of the Ultimate Bikini Body Guide!

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.