Written by Gage Reid of Nova Strength Systems
I’ve caught some heat in the past for saying, “There’s no such thing as a weak lockout in the Sumo Deadlift, only a poor starting position” and I will die by that statement because I wholeheartedly believe it to be true.
In my opinion, the Sumo Deadlift is the most technical dependant and misunderstood lift in the strength and conditioning community. No matter where you look on social media you’ll see a video of someone pulling a huge Sumo Deadlift, followed by an array of comments ranging from “Sumo is cheating!” to “I bet he/she couldn’t even Conventional Deadlift 225!” (Even if the person in question is pulling 500-700+ pounds, but I digress). The reason that the Sumo Deadlift gets so much hate is due to the range-of-motion commonly used during the lift itself- since many athletes tend to use their own individual leverages to their advantage on the Squat and Bench, it only makes sense to do the same with the Deadlift. Many people assume that since the range-of-motion is shorter, that the lift is vastly easier and shouldn’t be allowed in competition, but in my opinion, the Sumo Deadlift requires both a higher degree of skill, as well as technical execution as opposed to the Conventional Deadlift.
First off, take any intermediate Powerlifter who has NEVER performed the Sumo Deadlift, then have them test their 1RM in comparison to their Conventional- 9 times out of 10 they won’t match their Conventional, let alone exceed it. This is due to the highly technical aspect of the lift- like any other lift, it’s a highly specific skill that must be developed and trained accordingly.
The overall development of the Sumo Deadlift starts with the athlete’s ability to perform the movement with the highest degree of technical proficiency possible for their individual leverages. It’s impractical to have every athlete perform the Sumo Deadlift with an ultra-wide stance, extremely upright posture like you see some of the best in the world doing (ie: Stefi Cohen, or Yury Belkin), but the overarching premise remains the same- you must be able to get as upright as possible while maintaining a strong base of support throughout the entire movement. In order to achieve this, the athlete must first do three things- gain the mobility required to get in the proper positions safely and effectively, have the stability required to execute the movement with the most precision possible, as well as have the general strength to continually drive the movement from training cycle to training cycle. All three of these can be achieved through repetition and lift specific movements- in steps the Pause Deadlift.
Before and After 12 Weeks of Deadlift training consisting of 80% of all training centered around the Pause Deadlift- no mobility drills were performed to specifically improve starting position, only a variety of Pause Deadlifts.
The Pause Deadlift, as well as the many variations that accompany it, is the cornerstone movement for developing the Sumo Deadlift (Aside from the Conventional Deadlift for General Strength and long-term developmental purposes, but I’ll be discussing this in a separate article). The Pause Deadlift allows the athlete to train the movement generally (By driving volume and/or intensity), as well as train the positions required to fully optimize the movement itself. For a newer lifter (and more often intermediate level lifters), the Sumo Deadlift will comprise 70-80% of all Deadlift training depending upon the phase that the athlete is in, as well as the athlete’s individual needs. If a beginner-level athlete comes to me with less than optimal Deadlift technique, I will almost always have the Pause Deadlift as their primary movement, with various levels of volume and intensity (Sometimes even 2-3 times per week). If you are able to perform a well-executed Pause Deadlift under load consistency with varying intensities (Often times up to 80-85% of the athlete’s 1RM), then you will inevitably be able to execute a full Sumo Deadlift. The overarching premise is teaching the athlete the proper positions required to execute the lift, as well as teach arguably the biggest aspect of the lift itself- patience off the floor and through to lockout. Double Pause, Pause off the Floor, Pauses at Mid-Shin and Pauses below the Knee are all excellent training tools to teach the positions of the Deadlift, as well as provide variety to training that many athletes have not utilized before. Since movements such as the Double Pause Deadlift are so unpleasant to perform, they are often overlooked by athlete’s who self-program- even though it is a movement that can vastly improve one’s Deadlift.
As I mentioned, patience is arguably the most crucial aspect of the Sumo Dead, and being able to pause immediately off the floor while simultaneously spreading the floor with your feet and forcing yourself upright is a massive key to success in the lift itself. I’ve caught some heat in the past for saying, “There’s no such thing as a weak lockout in the Sumo Deadlift, only a poor starting position” and I will die by that statement because I wholeheartedly believe it to be true. If you can fully optimize your start position, you will never miss a Deadlift due to a “weak lockout”. Many athletes will try to “fix” their lockout by doing endless rack and block pulls to only have their starting position remain the same and their Deadlift, not progress (This doesn’t include Deadlifts off short blocks of ~1 inch as I believe this to be a good training tool. I’m more so referring to those who will pull off blocks with the weight directly at their knee thinking they are “training their lockout”). If you want to improve your lockout, start by improving your start position with a variety of Pause Deadlifts while focusing on the specific aspects of the pull itself- spreading the floor, forcing yourself upright, maintaining a neutral spine and driving the bar up, NOT back).
“Get as upright as possible and push with the legs”
I can watch a lifter’s set-up with sub-maximal loads and know immediately whether or not they will have issues with balance or locking out maximal weights. If the lifter rushes/jerks the bar off the ground, is excessively bent over or is impatient with the lift, they will almost always miss maximal lifts. Consistency and execution are key. You must be honest with yourself about the efficiency of your pull if you truly want to improve and move big weights. I constantly see people executing the famous “Sum-Ventional” Deadlift, which is a Sumo Deadlift executed with an extremely bent over posture- the same people who will miss or grind maximal loads at lockout, whereas in the Sumo Deadlift the lockout should be the easiest part of the lift. If you listen to any of the great, great Sumo Deadlifters talk about the lift, you will often hear, “As long as I can break the floor, I know I can make the lift”. This is due to the mechanical nature of the lift, as well as their proficiency in the movement itself. My favourite cue to use with ALL lifters performing the Sumo Deadlift is this, “Get as upright as possible and push with the legs”. If you can do those two things while maintaining a good degree of positioning throughout the lift, you will be very successful.
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