Do You Know Which Deadlift is Right For You?: Conventional vs. Sumo

by Allen Gil March 15, 2015

Do You Know Which Deadlift is Right For You?: Conventional vs. Sumo

Deadlifts are one of the most badass exercises you can do. And, with good reason. They come with a ton of benefits:
  • Increased testosterone levels
  • Increased overall mass
  • Looking like a machine
  • Improved ‘seat of power’ strength (Posterior Chain, for the geeks)

There is no feeling quite like pulling a new deadlift one-rep max. It’s almost the same feeling as waking up next to a supermodel…almost. But, testosterone-fuelled excitement aside, the deadlift is a tricky exercise to do correctly. Have you ever looked around the gym and spotted all the bent spines? That's enough to make your teeth hurt.

With so many variations, it’s hard to know which one you should be doing. So, I want to clear the muddy water and give you a quick guide on the two most common deadlifts: the conventional deadlift and the sumo deadlift.

Now, let’s explore the pros and cons of each and see which one you should be doing the next time you’re in the gym.

The Conventional Deadlift

If you are not sure what a conventional deadlift is, it looks a little like this:  

  Just with less weight and without 80’s music playing in the background. The conventional deadlift has been a staple of training for a long time. It’s one of the big 3 exercises for measuring your strength and is at the heart of both powerlifting and bodybuilding.

But, is it for you?

Most of what I said at the start of the article are the pro’s of deadlifting. The conventional deadlift, if done right, is one the best lifts you can do.

But, here’s the problem, most of your deadlifts probably look like this:  

  Well… maybe not that bad. But good deadlift form is hard to keep. You have to be:
  • Flexible
  • Mobile (around the ankles, hips and thoracic spine)
  • Stable through your core
  • Strong in your glutes

If you’re not capable of all that yet, then conventional deadlifting might not be for you. The potential risk of back pain, for the rewards, doesn’t particularly pay off. In fact, strength and conditioning coach, Mike Boylerefuses to do conventional deadlifts with his athletes.

So, when are they suitable?

If you’re flexible and mobile enough to do them. It’s that simple. If you can do them, I’d recommend you do the conventional deadlift over any other variations.

You can even raise them off the ground for a higher lift if you need to.

To be sure, next time you’re in the gym, try this setup technique from Mark Rippetoe. It doesn’t feel comfortable, or something hurts? Don’t do it.  


The Sumo Deadlift

You’ve seen that there are a lot of things you need to get right to perform the conventional deadlift. Because, well, it’s nowhere near as easy as it looks. So, what is the Sumo Deadlift and why might it be a better fit?

Personally, this is the deadlift technique I use and I haven't looked back since. Basically, if you have any problems with flexibility, mobility or glute strength (I have, at different times, had all three) these are the way to go.

The Sumo Deadlift looks a little like this:  

  Again, this is usually done with a little less weight. But you can see he has a wide stance, lower butt and a more upright spine.

This has a big impact on glute strength, as well as eliminating a lot of the strain on your lower back.

So what?

Well, you see, this is important for us mere mortals and non-athletes, because if you sit in a chair for longer than an hour a day, you’re going to be pretty locked up in the key areas you need for a conventional deadlift.

The Sumo Deadlift is the solution to get a good pull workout in, without having to compromise your safety or lower back in the process. You can also get incredibly strong using this method in ways the conventional deadlift can't.

There is no right or wrong answer here.

There is only what’s right for your body and what you’re training for. 

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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