So your preferred deadlift stance is sumo, but would there be a benefit to also training the conventional stance as well?
Yes, absolutely. The conventional deadlift is a great accessory movement to the sumo deadlift as it trains patterns of the hip hinge that many times are neglected if sumo is the only stance you pull in. Adding in conventional deadlifts to supplement your sumo deadlift can:
- Help build lower back strength
- Teach and ingrain the hip hinge pattern
- Allows for higher training volumes at times, dependant on the individual lifter
To better understand how the conventional deadlift can have good carry over to sumo we need to first understand the differences between these two movements, and then dive deeper into how conventional deadlift strength can transfer to your sumo deadlift.
Understanding Sumo vs. Conventional Deadlifts
A misconception that some might have is that sumo and conventional are very similar movements since they are both deadlifts.
Biomechanically though, a sumo deadlift is more so a mix of a squat and conventional deadlift rather than a close brother of conventional. In an efficient sumo deadlift, there are significantly greater knee flexion demands and you will typically hear some of the most proficient sumo deadlifters describing the feeling of the movement as a “compound leg extension”. This basically means the quads are heavily involved in a sumo deadlift, and at times almost mimics what would be a slightly above parallel squat.
While the conventional deadlift has slight knee flexion and quad demands, it is much more a hip extension dominant movement. This means the posterior chain muscles of the hamstring, glutes, and lower back are going to be stressed more in a conventional deadlift than in a sumo deadlift.
If you’re interested in learning more about the conventional vs sumo deadlift and which one you should do, then make sure to check the article that Avi Silverberg wrote.
Let’s dive into the three reasons why doing conventional deadlifts will help your sumo deadlift.
1. Conventional Deadlift Builds The Lower Back
In the sumo deadlift, lifters are typically able to maintain a much more upright torso position than in the conventional deadlift, which leads to less stress and demands on the lower back. While this statement might lead someone to think the low back is not that important in the sumo deadlift, that could not be further from the truth.
There are two reasons why sumo deadlifters need to have a strong low back:
First, the lower back is still involved as there is a hinge at the hips and forward torso lean in everyone’s sumo deadlift, with the degree of that being based on each individual’s own mechanics.
Second, a strong low back can assist with maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis under heavy load.
How many times have you seen someone during a sumo deadlift on a max attempt hit a hard sticking point at about mid-thigh?
The reason for this is because at these maximal attempts lifters tend to lose position slightly, usually resulting in slight flexion of the lumbar spine and the pelvis tucking under. This position causes the hamstrings and glutes to shorten and once a lifter reaches that mid-thigh area they have already reached full hip extension, and the last bit of that lockout all is lumbar extension.
This position is notoriously pointed out incorrectly as having a weak lockout, where the actual issue is the starting position off the floor with the loss of neutrality in the lumbar spine and pelvis. But during a max attempt sumo deadlift, there is a high likelihood of this occurring, so this is when a sumo deadlifter needs a strong lower back.
Build your low back through conventional deadlifts
Increasing lower back strength will either be able to allow the lifter to better maintain that neutral position off the floor or at worse have a better chance of locking out their deadlift when high demands of lumbar extension are in place.
This is where the conventional deadlift comes in. Due to the higher demands of hip extension and stress placed on the lower back, the conventional deadlift does a much better job of strengthening the lower back and arguably the abdominals as well. If a lifter only trains the sumo deadlift, they are missing out on optimally training the lower back and most likely creating a weak link in the chain.
Here is Derek Ng, 59kg world record holder in the deadlift. He competes using sumo, but implements conventional deadlifts from time-to-time to build erector strength:
2. Conventional Deadlifts Teach and Ingrain The Hip Hinge Pattern
As mentioned, the sumo deadlift is kind of a mix between a squat and conventional deadlift, and we see people go both ways with this.
There are two common errors in the sumo deadlift where using the conventional deadlift to ‘teach the hip hinge pattern’ may help:
- When lifters squat down to the bar and sink their hips too low
When the hips sink too low, lifters tend to shoot their hips up and perform more of a wide stance conventional deadlift than a proper sumo deadlift.
- When lifters tuck their pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt)
When the pelvis is tucked under, the lower back demands greatly increase due to the shortening of the hamstring and glutes.
How to Fix These Issues
These issues are typically due to inefficient hip hinge patterns.
Both of these issues tend to result in similar outcomes, and that is an over-reliance on the posterior chain muscles.
To fix these issues, programming more hip-hinge dominant movements such as conventional or Romanian deadlifts can be a big help in teaching and ingraining this proper hip hinge pattern. The more we spend time in these proper positions, the more habitual they become and transfer to other movements as well.
3. Conventional Deadlifts Can Allow For Higher Training Volumes At Times
Since the sumo deadlift has a closer relation to the squat, I find often that a lifter’s fatigue from one or the other tends to carry over. This is a point that is definitely individual to a lifter, as I have some athletes I coach that can handle high levels of squatting and sumo deadlift volume without issue. But, I have also seen many cases where squat directly fatigues sumo in a way that does not occur with conventional deadlifting.
What I typically find is the more quad dominant someone’s sumo deadlift is, the more it is going to be directly affected by the squat. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as these lifters tend to get a direct transfer of strength from the improvements in their squat to their sumo deadlift.
In this scenario though, if we want a way to be able to handle more deadlift volume without continuing to fatigue the same dominant muscle groups, conventional deadlift is a great way to do so. We can look at the programming of this as the squat and conventional deadlift being the combined accessories to build the sumo deadlift. The squat builds the quadriceps and the conventional deadlift builds the hip extensors. The implementation of this can allow for the ability of higher total deadlift training volumes which would hopefully lead to better strength gains.
One of the biggest mistakes I made early in my coaching career was being too competition-specific with my athletes who sumo deadlift. I noticed time after time my lifters were struggling at max attempts with their back strength, and it wasn’t until I started consistently programming conventional deadlifts as well that I saw major improvements in their ability to maintain lumbar position off the floor and be efficient at lockout. The lesson learned was to bullet-proof the body as a whole and not allow weakness to overshadow a lifter’s potential. Conventional deadlifters are the king of lower back building exercises, and if your sumo deadlift is stalled, they just might be the trick.
About The Author
Steve Denovi has 10+ years of experience working with clientele from all walks of life and currently specializes in working with powerlifters and their pursuit of strength. He has his MBA in Marketing but found himself after college following his passion within the fitness industry. Steve now coaches athletes all across the USA and takes a special interest in helping to mentor new coaches and providing content to help educate the strength community.