Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked + Short Arms = PR!

Reviewed by: Taja Plaznik

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The Sumo Deadlift…unless you’ve been hanging out around some powerlifting meets, you may have never actually seen someone deadlifting like this before.

To be fair, it does look a little odd.

Feet wide…arms close…seems to go against everything we’re taught as lifters.

…but the sumo deadlift muscles worked are numerous!

sumo deadlift muscles worked

Also, if you’re body type and body proportions are built in a certain manner, sumo deadlifting might help you to lift heavier weights.

(my much-longer-than-they-should-be arms actually make sumo deadlifting harder for me…but I’m a weirdo, anyways.)

Let’s do a deep dive into all things “sumo” to help you decide if this deadlift variation is one you should be mastering.

Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked

The sumo deadlift muscles worked, include the:

  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core muscles
  • Trapezius & Rhomboids

Quadriceps

Quadriceps are the big muscles located in the front of the thighs; they play a big role in knee extension movements. They also play a crucial role in pretty much all of the movements of the lower body (ex. running, walking, jumping). 

@FitGirlDream

Sumo deadlifts involve a much wider-than-normal stance (with a name like…”sumo deadlift”, is this really that surprising?) This creates a more upright torso position and places a bigger demand on the quadriceps than a regular deadlift does.

Adductor muscles

Sumo deadlifts activate the adductor muscles of the inner thigh: the adductor magnus, adductor longus, and adductor brevis. These muscles stabilize the hips so you can maintain a wide stance during the sumo deadlift. They also help with the initial drive off the floor and help with the acceleration of the barbell.

Glutes

The gluteal muscles are part of the posterior chain and consist of gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three and plays a significant role in the sumo deadlift. It’s responsible for hip extension. It generates power and thrusts the hips forward during the lift.

The wide stance in sumo deadlift also places a heavy emphasis on the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius located on the sides of the hips. These muscles contribute to hip stability and abduction.

@contactdanswole

If you’re interested in learning more about glute development, check out how the leg press machine can really give your glutes a big boost!

Hamstrings

This is the group of muscles located at the back of your thigh and includes the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris. Hamstrings are activated in the conventional deadlift too, but the sumo deadlift works them in a bit different way. The inner part of the hamstrings (semimembranosus and semitendinosus) is activated to a greater extent.

Core muscles

The core is a group of muscles that includes the:

  • Pelvic floor
  • Transversus abdominis
  • Internal Obliques
  • Multifidus
  • Diaphragm
  • Hip muscles
  • Rectus abdominis
  • External obliques
  • Erector spinae
  • Quadratus lumborum
@FitnessFusion46

Core muscles are important for preventing lower spine injuries during the deadlift. Deadlifts apply a very high load on the lumbar region. That’s why stability during the lift is of maximum importance, and the core muscles are crucial for it. They ensure lumbar stability and proper load balance.

One of the important core muscles is the erector spinae, located along the spine. It is responsible for the extension of the spine and keeping the upright position of the torso. Because of this, these muscles are crucial for maintaining a straight back during the sumo deadlift. They stop the spine from rounding and make sure that you transfer the force generated from the lower body to the barbell.

Trapezius & Rhomboids

Trapezius and rhomboids are located in the upper back. They also play a significant role in the sumo deadlift. These muscles maintain proper scapular retraction and stop the shoulders from rounding forward.

How to Perform a Sumo Deadlift

It’s not every day that you see someone performing a sumo deadlift. As such, it’s probably pretty difficult to find someone at the gym (to include CrossFit gyms) to get some pointers from. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered!

@keeeela

Here, we’ll go over a quick primer on the steps for doing the sumo deadlift properly:

  1. Take a wide stance. Your feet should be positioned wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes should point out at an angle of around 45 degrees.
  2. Grip the barbell. Choose your preferred grip and grab the barbell while placing the hands inside your legs, close to the shins.
  3. Engage your core. Take a deep breath, brace your abs, and activate the core muscles to stabilize the spine.
  4. Lift. Push the hips back, lower your torso, and lift the barbell. Keep your back straight, chest up, and shins vertical, and drive through your legs and hips. The barbell should be close to your body so you can ensure a straight bar path.
  5. Lockout. When you stand up, squeeze your gluteal muscles at the top and keep a neutral spine. Your head and neck should be drawn back with the upper back muscles and aligned with the spine.
  6. Reverse the movement. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower the weight. Put the barbell back on the ground in a controlled movement (unless you’re maxing out or competing or whatever…then drop that bad boy!)

Sumo Deadlift Benefits

Sumo deadlifts share many of the same benefits as regular deadlifts. They work the lower body and posterior chain muscles. However, they also bring a few unique benefits of their own.

Less stress on the lower back

In the sumo deadlift, the weight is distributed more evenly, which puts less stress on the knees and the lower back. This is because of the wider stance and upright torso position.

Works the legs more

The leg position in the sumo deadlift engages the quadriceps and glutes more than in a regular deadlift. That makes it a great variation of the deadlift for those who prioritize legs and posterior chain muscles in their routine.

Allows bigger weights (for some people)

Many people find that they are able to “sumo” more weight than they can when performing “conventional” deadlifts. Thanks to the wider stance, lifters are forced to thrust your hips further backward. That means the quadriceps are more actively engaged and the total range of motion is reduced. 

Need more evidence of this? Check out the ratio of “sumo” vs. “conventional” deadlift stances for those competing in major powerlifting competitions. The sumo deadlifters really show up, particularly in the lighter weight classes, however, to be fair, this probably has more to do with the shorter arm lengths of smaller lifters than with their overall lighter personal body weights.

Frequently Asked Questions

Of course, a topic on something called a “sumo deadlift” is probably going to raise a few…inquiries. These last few questions and answers should cover any lingering doubts you have about the viability of sumo deadlifting and the sumo deadlift muscles worked!

Both regular and sumo deadlifts are effective exercises. It just depends on what you’re looking to work (on). Sumo deadlifts put a greater emphasis on gluteal muscles and quadriceps and can allow you to lift more weight. If you’re looking to hit a PR, some body types are generally better suited for sumo deadlifts while others will hit higher weights with traditional deadlifts.

You should switch to a sumo deadlift if you want to target lower body muscles and increase hip mobility. It’s also good for those who seek a deadlift variation that puts less stress on the lower back. If you have a long torso with short arms, the sumo deadlift might put your body in a more anatomically advantageous position to lift a lot of weight.

How often you will do sumo deadlifts depends on your personal goals and physical capacity. It is easy to rack up a lot of overall volume with deadlifts so they don’t generally need to be trained as frequently as other lifts, especially for beginners. In fact, beginner powerlifting programs like Starting Strength call for a single set of deadlifts only 3 days per week!

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong…I know it is tough to be a trailblazer. If you’ve decided to give sumo deadlifting a try and you don’t (yet!) have your garage gym setup on lock, you’re going to have to do them in your globo or CrossFit gym.

People are going to look at you weird; there is a good chance some weird old guy will rush over to “correct” your “bad” deadlift form (especially if you look like this chick):

Pay them no heed!

While you’re blowing up your quads and hitting PRs, they’ll still be (possibly) overloading their backs and having to go twice as far to hit lockout!

Give sumo deadlifts a try the next time you work out. After locking out a few heavy sets with ease, you might decide to never go back to conventional deadlifting!

After all of that, I think you know what time it is…time to tackle one of the top deadlift WODs!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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