By: Keith Hobman

I recently made the switch from conventional to sumo style deadlift after I tore my biceps tendon. My thinking was that the sumo is a much safer lift. I can feel my back 'rounding' on heavy pulls and, even though I can pull more conventional, I felt in the long run the sumo is safer. I've studied this out a lot and talked to Jason Burnell and several other sumo specialists. Here are my thoughts based on what works for me.

1. You can't expect the sumo to blow off the floor like a conventional - it just won't go that way. Develop a different mindset for the sumo and be prepared for a long break off the floor. I myself feel if I can break it I can pull it, so all I'm trying to do is get the thing moving! In the conventional, I was a rocket ship, in the sumo its just a matter of moving it.

2. I found that taking my box squat stance to the sumo works best. My feet are pointed straight ahead and the inside edge of my feet is right outside the rings. Play around with your feet angle to maximize your hip and hamstring involvement.

3. Set up your feet and then reach down, flatten and arch your back and pull in one move. Keep the stretch reflex involved, especially in the hips. This makes a huge difference in the initial pull of the floor - 30-40 pounds difference in my case. I also work very hard at locking out the arms prior to reaching down. [ruefull grin here]

4. *Don't* think of driving your feet through the floor!! I know, I know - in conventional its the only way to go. But in the sumo you have to make a conscious effort to keep the knees pushed out - just like the box squat. If you let the knees come in (and driving the feet tends to do this) the move becomes a stiff-legged, wide stance deadlift and you will fail with heavy weights. The bar will feel too much in front. Instead focus on pushing the knees out and driving the hips forwards.

5. Assistance work. Obviously the crucial one is the low box squat to build hip strength. I liked Ed Coan's comment on the hamstrings and the sumo and Roger Boerg also confirmed this. The intitial pull has a lot of hamstring involvement and if you don't prepare the hamstrings for this with assistance you risk a pull! This happened to Coan. The best exercise for preventing this? Yes, the Manual Hamstring Curl.

I've been thinking of this as I started sumo deadlifting because I had no problem. But the manual hamstring curl is unique in that it places a huge stress on the hams when they are almost fully extended. The reason you feel so burnt in the hams from this exercise is because of this: Most other exercise stress the hams most when they are contracted, but the manual hamstring stresses right from the beginning of the movement. IMO, based only on my own case, this exercise is a must for sumo pullers.

I also like Hatfields 'keystone' deadlifts for the sumo, as they also work the hams and hips. Doing a max effort low box squat at times will also help. Belt squats very low and zercher squats round out what I feel are specific assistance for the sumo.

Taken together, I would do the following as assistance on either speed or max effort day.

Manual hamstring curls

Keystone deadlifts for high reps

Box squats

Belt squats

Reverse hypers

I would add the following max effort exercise into the cycle.

Very low box squat

Zercher squats

Raised box sumo deadlifts




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