The deadlift is one of the best exercises for building muscle strength and size across your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, back) But what are the differences between sumo and conventional deadlifts, and which one is best for you? Let’s jump right into it.
Sumo deadlift vs regular deadlift
Sumo deadlifts are performed with a wide foot stance and arms inside the legs, whereas conventional (regular) deadlifts are performed with a narrow or shoulder width stance and arms outside the legs.
Both deadlifts can be used for effective size and strength training, and both use similar muscle groups with different emphases. They mainly differ on technical set-up and execution.
Joints worked and ranges of motion
|Moderate to Large
|Moderate to Large
|Small to Moderate
Muscles worked during sumo deadlift
- Glutes: Your glutes are very active in the sumo deadlift, being one of the prime movers
- Hamstrings: Your hamstrings are also very active in the sumo deadlift
- Quadriceps: Your quads are active in the sumo deadlift, especially in the drive from the floor
- Erector Spinae: Your spinal erectors are recruited to assist with bringing your torso upright, and to stabilise your back position
- Trapezius and Back Muscles: Your traps and back muscles support the sumo deadlift by locking in your position and providing stability
Muscles worked during regular deadlift
- Hamstrings: Your hamstrings will be very active in a regular deadlift as one of the prime movers
- Glutes: Your glutes will be moderately active in the regular deadlift, mainly after the bar has passed your knee
- Erector Spinae: Your spinal erectors will be working hard to bring your torso into an upright position, as well as to stabilise your back
- Quadriceps: Your quads will be somewhat active in a regular deadlift, mainly in the drive from the floor (although the degree to which this occurs will vary on body shape and set-up)
- Trapezius and Back Muscles: Your traps and back muscles support the regular deadlift by locking in your position and providing stability
For a full guide on the muscles worked during deadlifts check out this guide.
Frequently asked questions
What is better sumo deadlifts vs regular?
Neither lift is inherently better than the other. Sumo deadlifts use a wider stance, and tend to use a bit more quads and glutes, whereas regular (conventional) deadlifts tend to use a bit more hamstrings and lower back. The best lift for you mainly comes down to which one feels more mechanically ‘natural’ for your build.
Is sumo deadlift easier than conventional?
Some people argue that the sumo deadlift is easier as the bar travels a smaller range of motion, and that the conventional deadlift is harder because it’s more difficult to keep the back flat and more difficult to extend the hips. Whilst there is some truth to this, the sumo deadlift can also be more difficult as it often requires more practice, better timing and better inner thigh mobility.
Plus, most coaches suggest that it really just comes down to how you’re built and where your individual strengths lay. As evidence for this, world record deadlifts across multiple weight classes have been set using both styles of deadlifts.
Does sumo help conventional deadlift?
Yes, absolutely. Sumo deadlifts place an additional emphasis on your glutes and quads, which can carry over to improvements both off the floor and at lockout in the conventional deadlift.
As a coach, I like to use variations of lifts to improve the main lift, so if a lifter predominantly deadlifts with a regular stance, then earlier in their training blocks I will programme things like sumo deadlifts 20-50% of the time.
Is the sumo deadlift a hip hinge exercise?
The sumo deadlift is both a hip hinge exercise and a knee hinge exercise. This means that when you’re setting up at the bottom position, you should feel tension throughout your hip musculature as well as in your legs.
Are sumo deadlifts safer than conventional?
Sumo deadlifts are easier for your lower back because the torso angle and resultant sheer forces are reduced. Most people also find it easier to maintain a flat back in a sumo deadlift.
With that said, strengthening your lower back progressively over time is also a great idea within strength training, so the conventional deadlift may have benefits in that regard if programmed properly and performed with good technique.
Should I do both sumo and conventional deadlift?
You can absolutely train both the sumo and conventional deadlift in the same training block. In fact, Cailer Woolam, deadlift world record holder with a gargantuan 881lb (400kg) deadlift at 198lb (89kg) bodyweight, recommends that most people should aim to become proficient at both lifts before specialising.
Should I lift sumo or conventional?
I recommending trying both for a few months and picking the one that feels the best for you with submaximal weights. For the most part your choice of sumo or conventional will come down to hip structure, and after a few months of training both lifts you’ll start to get a sense of which lift suits you better.
Should I switch to sumo deadlift?
If you’re thinking of switching to sumo deadlifts, keep in mind that they use slightly different muscles (a bit more quads and glutes, a bit less hamstrings and lower back) so there may be an adjustment period. Sumo deadlifts also require more adductor (Inner thigh) mobility which may take some time to develop.
I recommend putting both types of deadlift into your programme and alternating between the two on heavy workouts. So you might do conventional in one heavy workout, and then 5-7 days later do sumo in the next heavy workout. Try this for a few months and you should start to get a feel of whether or not the sumo deadlift is right for you.
Should tall people sumo deadlift?
Generally speaking, tall people do better with the regular conventional deadlift than they do with the sumo. This mainly seems to be because taller people can find it awkward to squeeze into the right sumo start position with the correct tension.
With that said, it still comes down to personal preference and hip structure, so I would still recommend trying both for a few months and deciding after that.
What builds more muscle sumo or conventional?
Whilst both lifts can build plenty of muscle, each lift has an emphasis. Sumo deadlifts work the quads and glutes a bit harder, whereas conventional deadlifts work the hamstrings and spinal erectors a bit harder.
Remember, though, that deadlifts might provide a great muscle building stimulus, but they are also incredibly fatiguing, so use them sparingly.
- Sumo deadlifts and regular conventional deadlifts are both great options for building strength and size.
- Both movements work similar muscle groups, but place different relative emphasis on different muscles. Sumo deadlifts work quads and glutes a bit harder, conventional deadlifts work hamstrings, lower back and spinal erectors a bit harder.
- To choose the right lift for you, train both movements for a few months, and choose the lift that feels the most natural for you.
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.