In this guide you are going to learn not only the differences between the sumo vs conventional deadlift.
But also which one is going to be “most optimal” for YOU. Your structure, your goals, and which to implement into your own personal training program.
Rest assured this guide will give you everything you need. I pinky promise.
Yet what you have to pinky promise back to me is that you won’t just skim the article looking for the sh*t you want to read or find out then exit out.
If you try to take things out of context with this particular article, it won’t work. You will miss something and see less results.
So, to avoid that, just read the whole thing.. Mkay?
You already pinky promised.
Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift
There are a few distinct differences between the sumo vs conventional deadlift and I want to first start by laying that out first and foremost.
Let’s first cover the differences in muscles worked.
First, let’s go with the obvious (or, maybe not obvious, and that is okay too!).
A sumo deadlift is going to take a wider stance width, with your feet outside of hip width and toes slightly pointed out.
You can see here below.
With the sumo deadlift your hips start out a little bit closer to the bar because you can take that wider stance and “sink down” into the deadlift a bit more.
A conventional deadlift is going to take a more narrow stance, with your feet about shoulder / inside hip width.
You can also see that here below.
With the conventional deadlift, your hips start a little bit higher up & away from the bar due to your feet being a bit more narrow.
Is this good or bad? Eh, keep reading to find out.
Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift : Muscles Worked
Both deadlift variations are going to be a total body strength training exercise (More on this later to come in this article!).
These movements aren’t like you doing something like a bicep curl, or a leg extension, or a glute kickback.
In a bicep curl, you are ONLY working your biceps.
In a leg extension, you are ONLY working your quads.
In a glute kickback, you are ONLY working your glutes.
Those are what we call “isolation movements”. They are designed to isolate ONE joint and work only ONE body part.
Either the sumo or conventional deadlift is going to work your entire body. This is called a “compound movement”.
Yes, it is going to work your legs. Yes, it is going to work your back.
But it is also going your core, parts of your biceps, your upper back, etc.
Your lats have to do a tremendous amount of work to hold and stabilize the weight, as well as help you brace your core.
It involves multiple joints. Your hip joints, knee joints, shoulder joint to a degree for stability / bracing.
This is what makes it a phenomenal total body strength training exercise.
Which btw, people often ask me…
Eric should I do deadlifts on leg or back day?!
Well, first, I don’t necessarily promote you having a “back day” as much as I would promote you having an entire upper body day.
But nonetheless, you should perform deadlifts on leg days.
Yes, your back is working, but it is working in more of an isometric contraction rather than going through a full lengthening and shortening phase a muscle goes through.
It’s almost like if you did a bicep curl and just held the weight at the middle of the movement, not going up or down, and just squeezing your bicep as hard as you can.
That’s essentially what your back is doing while completing a deadlift.
Where as your leg muscles (which ones depend on which variation you choose, so stick with me a bit longer) go through more of a shortening and lengthening phase.
Meaning more muscle damage happens to your legs, for the sake of this conversation all that means is your legs get worked more than your back does.
Therefore, you should be doing deadlifts on lower body days.
Now, Back To Muscles Worked…
Sorry about that detour there.
Getting back to muscles worked here.
Now that we know the deadlift is a total body strength building exercise, the two variations offer distinct differences.
A sumo deadlift is going to primarily work your adductors (inner thigh muscles) due to the wider stance.
Some people make the mistake of assuming the wider stance works more of your glute muscles.
No, the wider stance actually works more of your quad muscles. This goes for any exercise too so the sumo squats you are doing to help grow your glutes..
Yea, growing more adductor than glutes.
A conventional deadlift is in fact going to work a bit more glutes and hamstrings.
Now, like we said earlier, both variations are going to work all of your body.
It’s not like the sumo deadlift works NO glute and the conventional deadlift works NO adductor.
No, it all has to work to a degree.
It’s just that with the sumo vs conventional deadlift you can lead to you BIAS one or the other more.
Now, Let Me Say This…
If your goal is to use the deadlift to build muscle, you might be initially in the wrong place.
But in the long run you won’t be, and let me explain.
( You pinky promised you stay around! ).
The deadlift FROM THE FLOOR is actually a pretty sh*tty muscle building exercise.
Because one of the major components of hypertrophy (muscle building) is being able to get into that fully stretched position under load.
Think like the bottom of a bicep curl. The bicep is fully stretching your muscle on the way down and stretching it with the weight (load) in your hand.
You aren’t letting anything support it on the way down or at the bottom or you aren’t bringing your hand all the way down to a bench or a box and stopping.
You are holding the weight by your side and your BICEP has to fully stretch & resist the force of gravity at the bottom. The tension is high going into the stretch position.
This is a huge part of hypertrophy.
When you deadlift from the floor, you completely stop that stretch position. You let it hit and stop on the ground each time which means you are essentially taking away all of the tension at the bottom, which, is the stretch position.
Therefore when you deadlift from the ground, this is why I said it is a great total body strength building exercise.
Building strength and building muscle can intertwined & overlap, but they can also be two different things.
Now, are going to build some muscle deadlift, especially as a beginner to intermediate?
Of – f*cking – course you will.
But because you lose tension in the stretch position it doesn’t make the deadlift from the floor a great “muscle building” exercise per say.
Doing deadlifts are a big tax to the central nervous system.
Without getting too in depth, just think of your central nervous system as the captain of the ship.
Imagine the captain of the ship being up for 3 days straight with no sleep trying to manage and steer your ship.
Not the ideal scenario, right?
That is what happens to your body after a hard & heavy deadlift session.
You build a lot of stress and fatigue on your body that your body then has to recover from.
More so than when doing other different movements.
I often say your body only has so many “recovery points” to go around.
When you require so much recovery points from ONE exercise, that limits how much recovery points you can use to other exercises.
Which means you either
- Can’t do as much volume throughout the course of a week otherwise you will not be able to recover from it. Volume is one main driver of hypertrophy.
- You can do a lot of volume but then not be able to recover from the workouts you do, which, if you can’t recover from the workouts… it won’t make a difference because you won’t see changes to your body
Because the deadlift is such a total body exercise that works multiple muscles. It uses multiple joints to complete the movement.
It’s hard to get a lot of tension and focus on ONE particular muscle group.
Like the conventional deadlift for example. Yes it will work your glutes say the most, but it also works hamstring, quads, and adductors as well!
So if you are trying to really grow your glutes, you might pick an exercise like a hip thrust or even a bulgarian split squat to really nail your glutes a bit more.
Deadlifts are usually performed in a lower rep range with very high intensity / weight lifted.
I don’t usually program regular deadlifts from the floor over 5 or 6 reps max because in most scenarios I don’t believe there is a point to it.
Again the deadlift is focused on gaining strength, not necessarily building muscle.
If you were to focus on building muscle, you would probably pick something like an RDL (Romanian Deadlift) for example. You can get a full stretch and you can do a bit higher reps, maybe 6-10 reps.
Here is an example of an RDL below.
If you were to really focus on building muscle with a deadlift, you’d have to do ungodly amounts of sets to get the adequate volume ( weekly sets and reps ) needed, which in the long haul would put a ton of stress on your..
- Connective tissue
To name a few.
This is why often touted the “best rep range for building muscle” is often between that 6-12 rep range. I wrote an entire in depth guide on why that is too if you want to click here to read.
Therefore when talking about the deadlift in of itself, no matter sumo vs conventional deadlift, they might not be the best “muscle building exercise” on paper….
Yet, The Flip Side Is
Okay, so I just laid out why the deadlift WASN’T a great “muscle building exercise”.
I mainly did that so all the keyboard warriors and overnight coaches who have never actually coached anyone didn’t leave some dumb comment about it.
It may not be the best exercise on paper, but I do in fact believe (& know because I’ve seen this happen coaching thousands of people) that in the long run it can be a great muscle building exercise.
Why do I say the long run?
Because the deadlift helps you build overall total body strength.
If you are stronger as a whole, don’t you think you will be able to then lift more weight in your other movements that can help you with building muscle?
For example I mentioned an RDL.
An RDL is a great movement to hypertrophy your glutes and hamstrings.
If because you are doing say conventional deadlifts and are gaining a ton of strength, when you go do your RDL’s, you will be able to lift more weight!
If you are doing deadlifts in the 3 4 5 rep range to build more total body strength.. When you go to your “muscle building exercises” and the 6-12 rep range.
You will be able to lift more weight in the 6-12 rep range, leading to more muscle building.
Which if you lift more weight, you will be able to build more muscle in those muscle groups.
Or even take something like a bench press.
If you get stronger doing a sumo deadlift, it doesn’t “directly” correlate to getting a stronger bench press…
But it kind of does! You are able to recruit those high threshold motor units and neurologically speaking be able to be used to moving very heavy weight for lower reps..
So when you go to do a bench press which is a great strength and muscle building move, you will be able to lift more weight. Which, once again, is going to help hypertrophy that much more.
Therefore when people say the deadlift isn’t a great muscle building exercise, they are somewhat right.
Yet I believe they are also looking at it from a shortsided point of view.
They are missing the forest for the trees so to speak.
This is why I believe including deadlifts into your program will help you build both strength AND muscle building, no matter if you choose the sumo vs conventional deadlift.
What Do These Differences Mean?
Okay so you are learning some of the differences between the sumo vs conventional deadlift.
But how do we take these differences and apply them to you, your body, and your program?
Great question. Let’s talk about body type / structure.
Body Type / Structure
Now that we are learning the differences between a sumo vs conventional deadlift we can start to maybe piece together which may be best for you.
Aside from the muscles worked which we learned above, yes they work different muscles, but the sumo deadlift is really a total body strength exercise.
Personally, I would not pick a deadlift variation based on muscles worked. I’d pick it based off what feels best for YOU to perform the movement safely and without injury.
- People with longer femurs (legs) do better with a sumo deadlift
- People with shorter femurs do better with a conventional deadlift
Again, this is a generality. It is not always the case.
But typically speaking this is the case because people with longer legs require more external rotation in their hips.
The sumo stance allows that to happen whereas a narrower stance doesn’t allow for as much hip external rotation which can end up jamming your femur into your hip joint.
This then causes all kinds of hip pain, lower back pain, etc.
Fun Fact this is also the case for squats. This is why people with longer legs typically do better with a wider stance squat to allow for more external rotation.
People with shorter legs doesn’t need as much external rotation and they may actually get better leverage on the bar doing a closer stance, so a lot of times people pick that one.
Typically with what I laid out above, the people who have those femur lengths have a much better “moment arm” for each
Yet here is the deal. These are generalities and you need to find which one works best for YOU and YOUR body.
I have met people who are 4’11 and LOVE to sumo deadlift.
I have met people who are 6’6 and they LOVE to conventional deadlift.
I would play around with both and see which one feels most “natural” , safest , and strongest to you.
Let’s just say you are someone who picks the sumo deadlift in the sumo vs conventional deadlift debate.
Does that mean you should NEVER do a conventional deadlift?
Eh, idk, it depends.
I think there is merit to doing different variations of deadlifts to avoid overuse injury from doing one repetitive movement over and over and over again.
But I don’t think it has to be a movement that just feels like dog sh*t for you.
For example, I never do conventional deadlifts because they feel awful for me.
But, I do in fact do Barbell RDL’s for my glutes and hamstrings.
So I can change the variation up without having to do a movement that feels like hot garbage to me.
But, let’s say you like doing both!
Yes, I think there is merit to doing both and you can / should work both into your training program.
At the very least, work in different deadlift variations throughout the course of the weeks / months.
I wrote an article HERE talking about how frequently to change up your workouts and how.
Sumo Vs Conventional : Is Sumo Deadlift “Cheating”?
Let me address this question briefly because it really isn’t worth my time or yours to discuss.
Sometimes you will hear people say “sumo deadlift is cheating!”.
- Live at home in their mommys basement
- Don’t have anything better to do with their lives
- Have no fucking clue what they are talking about
The reason people say sumo deadlift is cheating is because it seemingly requires less range of motion to move the bar.
Which depending on the person may or may not be true.
But even if it is true,
- Who cares
- If a sumo deadlift feels incredibly better on your back and hips.. AND you can lift more weight doing it that way.. Do the f*cking sumo deadlift my friend.
I also encourage you to ask that person this question.
“Okay, well what happens if someone moves their hands farther out on a bench press? Is that cheating?”.
“Well what is someone moves their feet out on a squat because it allows them to get deeper in a squat & it feels more comfortable?”.
They won’t respond because they do that so they can lift more weight.. But it’s only cheating when you do a sumo deadlift…
Get outttaaaaa here.
Sumo vs Conventional Deadlift : Which Is Better?!
Well, I hope you got from this article that neither one is inherently “better”!
The one that is “better” is the one that works best for YOU, YOUR body structure, and YOUR goals.
I would play around with both, see which one feels best, and use that one to progress with til the end of time.
I am going to drop two videos here below on both the sumo and conventional deadlift.
These videos are pulled straight from my exercise database that is used with each and everyone of my clients.
Hope this article helped. If it did and you were interested in taking your training a step further, got a few options for you.
First is going to be my Clubhouse HERE. This is where each month we have new training programs laid out in depth for you to just plug and play. You get the program, follow it, see results.
Second is going to be our 1:1 coaching. If you are someone who knows you want a bit more in depth help and guidance, then feel free to fill out our form HERE to start the application process.
Look to hear from you soon.