Conventional vs Sumo Deadlifts

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Conventional vs Sumo Deadlifts

As we are in the midst of a deadlift cylce it is important for us to understand the differences and similarities between types of deadlifts. We ran across both the conventional and the sumo deadlift in the past few weeks. I often get the question “What’s the difference? Why are we doing this one instead of the other one?”, so let’s find out what the differences are and why we practice both.

While the deadlift can scare some people, it is one of the most important movements you can do in your life. It is great for building strength, power, athleticism and good posture. For most people with back pains (that are not injuries), the prescription for treatment probably is some form of deadlift, to strengthen the lower back muscles. So, if your question is: Should I be deadlifting? The answer is (again, if there are no injuries)… of course! But if the question is which kind of deadlift should you be doing, then we have do dig a little deeper.



The stance involves feet being wide, toes and knees are pointing out, hands are inside knees, chest is upright and knees are slightly more bent than in a conventional deadlift. The way up is done like a high box squat, keeping chest upright and giving more emphasis to the quads. It’s important to remember to keep knees out as there is more room for them to cave in.


In this deadlift our hands are placed outside the shins, with elbows outside the knees. Feet are hip-width. Hips are farther back and chest is slightly lower than in the sumo stance. As the bar comes off the ground, more load is given to the muscles along the spine and hamstrings. It’s important to keep in mind that your shoulders and the bar should move at the same rate.


Like mentioned above, these two forms of deadlifts have different muscle emphasis. Most athletes will have a preferred way of pulling the weight off the ground. Most likely it is due a inefficiency on the other form. So, if you have weaker quads you will most likely favor conventional deadlifts. While an athlete with a weak core and back will prefer sumo deadlifts.

That’s exactly why we should train both. If you have a weak back, and then to favor sumo, you should practice conventional more often! If your quads are not that strong, this is an opportunity for you to stray away from all those squats and do some sumo deadlifts. They complement each other and they supplement each other.


Reason number one is because it is more transferable to other movements we see in CrossFit. Cleans, Snatches and Kettlebell Swings are a few movements that share the same stance and movement patterns as the conventional deadlift. So when we improve on pulling the bar using that way we are also improving the movement patterns of other movements. Two bird with one stone. The sumo stance is really only seen on a couple movements.

Second reason is because it’s more functional. It resembles the way you would pick something off the ground. It focuses on the erector muscles that help with lower back pain and bad posture. Functionality is all about transferring your physical capacity from inside to outside of the gym and the conventional deadlift does a lot more than just helping you pick heavy weights off the ground.

Now that you know a little more about the sumo and conventional deadlifts you can apply those to finish this deadlift cycle strong and improve on not only both forms of deadlift, but also on other aspects of fitness like strength, power and athletiscism!


by Coach Matt