Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift: Which Is Easier?

The sumo deadlift vs conventional deadlift debate has raged on for decades and isn't likely to be ended by this article; however, I'll break down the physics and biomechanics behind each lift to show why one may be more advantageous for you. I'll also discuss my perspective after having tried sumo deadlift for a year after a decade of pulling conventional.

What Is Sumo Deadlift?

Compared to a conventional deadlift, a sumo deadlift features a wider stance that forces the lifter to place their arms between their legs to grip the bar. It's often adopted by powerlifters and resembles the wide stance characteristic of sumo wrestlers.

Is Sumo Deadlift Cheating?

Unless sumo deadlift is specifically banned by your powerlifting federation or competition committee, it's legal. Most lifters give a tongue-in-cheek answer to this question because many consider it to be easier than conventional deadlift. Famously, bodybuilder Chris Bumstead stated that yes, sumo deadlift is cheating. If you want a serious answer, what really should be asked is if sumo deadlift is easier.

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Is Sumo Deadlift Easier?

For many lifters, sumo deadlift is easier than conventional deadlift. The reason has to do with physics, more specifically the "work" equation. That said, there are biomechanical factors to consider that may make the lift easier or harder for you specifically.

The Physics of Sumo Deadlift

A basic understanding of physics shows that less "work" is required to complete a sumo deadlift:

Work = Force x Displacement

If you remember high school physics, you know that Force = Mass x Acceleration. You might also remember that displacement is simply the change in position of an object (measured in length). Therefore, we get:

Work = (Mass x Acceleration) x Length

We can assume that our force required to lift a barbell is the same whether you use a conventional or sumo stance because its mass and the required acceleration to move it are the same. Since the length the bar travels is less for a sumo deadlift, less work is required to complete the lift. One study comparing sumo and conventional deadlift concluded that, "Vertical bar distance, mechanical work, and predicted energy expenditure were approximately 25-40% greater in the conventional group." [1]

The Biomechanics of Sumo Deadlift

Generally speaking, there are biomechanical advantages and disadvantages to sumo deadlift. While I would argue the net of these factors results in an advantage for sumo deadlift, this may not be the case for everyone.

The biggest biomechanical advantage for sumo deadlift, in my opinion, comes from a reduced load on the lower back. This can be seen in how sumo deadlifters begin the lift in a more upright position compared to conventional deadlifters. They can get their hips closer to the bar and limit shear stress.

Realistic Side Views of Sumo Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift

This is also backed by hard data. Our first study noted that, "The sumo group had 5-10 degrees greater vertical trunk and thigh positions." [1] A second study found that, "The sumo deadlift style resulted in a 10% reduction in the joint moment and 8% reduction in the load shear force at the L4/L5 level when compared with the conventional lifting style." [2]

Nevertheless, getting into a sumo stance isn't for everybody. While a lot of people debate which type of deadlift is best based on their body type, the bigger concern in my mind is mobility. If you have poor mobility, it's going to be harder to get into an effective sumo deadlift stance. This stance and the muscle groups involved usually make it tougher to generate explosion off the floor, as well.

They Target Different Muscle Groups

If you just use the eyeball test, you'll see that sumo deadlifts target the quads and hips more than conventional deadlifts, which heavily engage your entire posterior chain. For this reason, some strength athletes choose to incorporate both deadlift styles into their training. Perhaps most famous of all is strongman Brian Shaw. While not a necessity, it's something to consider if you want to change up your program and try to strengthen muscles you don't typically use.

My Experience with Sumo Deadlifting

I did conventional deadlift for about 10 years. After an unrelated back injury that resulted in bulging discs, I decided to give sumo deadlift a shot to take pressure off my lower back. It took a while to feel comfortable getting into a proper stance, and I initially struggled with technique. However, I was able to pull just under my conventional max in a couple of months. In fact:

I pulled 15lb under my highest ever conventional deadlift before I truly felt comfortable with the lift, and was soon able to set rep records at weights I struggled with on conventional.

This makes sense when you consider the reduced range of motion with sumo deadlifts, and that less "work" and energy expenditure go into each rep.

Conventional Deadlift at 600lb            Sumo Deadlift at 585lb
Eventually, I ended up switching back to conventional deadlift. I didn't feel I was hitting my hamstrings enough despite incorporating more RDLs into my program. I don't have the most flexible hips, either, and was struggling to stack weeks with good sumo deadlift and squat days. Even my knees began to flare up more often. While my lower back benefited from less load, other areas of my body were taking a beating.

Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift: The Final Verdict

While sumo deadlift is more technically difficult than conventional deadlift, it is undoubtedly easier for pulling heavier weights in the vast majority of cases. Is sumo deadlift cheating? No. I consider it to be a different lift altogether.

I believe there should be different classes in powerlifting competitions, for example, to account for the general advantages provided by sumo deadlift.

You wouldn't have some competitors do incline bench press while others did flat bench press. They're both a type of bench press and look roughly the same, but are obviously significantly different. There's a reason why sumo deadlifters who switch to conventional deadlift can't pull as much weight.

Competition committees should also rein in form abusers (like the IPF recently did with big arch bench pressers). There are some sumo deadlifters who simply widen their stance to reduce range of motion further and make the movement easier. That's actually what I did to pull 585lb. I had no business touching that weight having just switched to a sumo stance, but was able to do it without issue.

Should You Pull Sumo?

It depends on your goals. If you're a powerlifter who can add 50lb to your total because of sumo deadlift, then why wouldn't you? You might take some flak from the fitness community at large, but it's allowed and can still be impressive. Just look at guys like Jamal Browner and Danny Grigsby (though Grigsby takes advantage of what I'd consider an excessively wide stance).

Sumo deadlift is certainly a legitimate movement to consider incorporating into your strength program, too. As you likely guessed from my experience, though, I think conventional deadlift is the way to go. There's no faking a strong conventional deadlift, and we all know it's a much manlier lift ;)


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1. Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Welch, C. M., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Andrews, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(7), 1265–1275.
2. Cholewicki, J., McGill, S. M., & Norman, R. W. (1991). Lumbar spine loads during the lifting of extremely heavy weights. Medicine and science in sports and exercise23(10), 1179–1186.
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