Pulling heavy weight off the floor is an awesome feeling. Having pain in your hip while doing so isn’t.
When it comes to the sumo deadlift, it holds numerous advantages over conventional deadlifts for many lifters. But if you’re experiencing hip pain during this lift, you need to do all that you can to eliminate it so that you can continue to pull the weight effectively while ensuring the longevity of your hip and body.
So how do you fix hip pain when sumo deadlift? Fixing hip pain when sumo deadlifting begins by determining which structures and positions are causing you pain, then eliminating immobility to the hip joint and low back. You can also modify your sumo stance, technique, and lifting range of motion until the issue is corrected.
The fact of the matter is that your hips are the almighty force-generating powerhouse responsible for the vast percentage of weight you’re pulling off the floor. As a lifter, you can’t afford to have pain here when pulling weight, as pain will absolutely rob you of strength and power (pain shuts down muscle function), regardless of how much you try to push your way through it.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
- Understand the basics of hip anatomy
- Learn what different types of pain in your hip can signify
- Check the ranges of motion for your hip
- Mobilize your hip capsule
- Change the position of your feet and toes during the lift
- Perform the lift from blocks or the rack
- Build your strength using tempo training until the pain is gone
Let’s get started!
Check out my complete guide discussing the difference between the conventional vs sumo deadlift, and which one is going to be ideal based on your individual mechanics.
1. Understand the Basics of Hip Anatomy
As a lifter, it is imperative that you have a basic understanding of the hip joint and its respective anatomy. This will not only help you to optimize your training and subsequent recovery, but it will also help you to understand just how imperative it can be to individualize your hip recovery protocol(s) since there can be extensive differences in hip joint composition and structure from one individual to the next.
The hip joint is known as a “ball and socket joint”, which comprises the head of the femur (thigh bone) articulating within the acetabulum (socket) of the hip bone. This type of joint structure allows for movement to be performed in any direction we choose.
For most people, the hip is naturally an incredibly strong and stable structure. Muscles that cross this joint are the muscles that are responsible for us standing up straight from a crouched position, extending our thighs behind us, and flexing our hips forwards.
The ball and socket joint itself are covered up by a leather-like tissue known as the joint capsule (this will be important to remember for later in the article), and the rim of the socket has a rubber-like washer around its edge (a type of cartilage known a the labrum) that helps to deepen the articulation of the hip joint, adding to increased joint stability.
Keep these structures in mind because they can all be a common source of hip pain that will be covered in the sections below.
2. Learn What Different Types of Pain in Your Hip Can Signify
Different types of pain in your hip region can signify different issues that may be causing it. While it’s not the greatest idea in the world to diagnose your hip pain solely off of the nature of the pain itself, you can in fact learn a lot about what’s likely going on based on how that pain is presenting itself. This can greatly aid in helping you have confidence that you’re taking the right approach and performing the right activities when it comes to your rehabilitation.
The following types of pain are the most common when dealing with dysfunction coming from the muscles, tendons, joints or other structures in or around the hip:
Pain that is often felt or perceived as “sharp” within the hip certainly isn’t an uncommon issue. It tends to only present itself when moving the hip into a certain position, as opposed to the pain coming out of nowhere or being present with rest. Most often, this sharp pain is felt deep within the hip, often on the front portion of the joint.
This type of pain tends to indicate a pathology (an issue) with either the cartilage, which lines each end of the joint or with the labrum, which is the ring wrapping around the hip socket.
If you’re a competitive powerlifter, I wrote an entire guide that discusses how to avoid a powerlifting injury.
Burning pain on the outside of the hip
When it comes to the hip, sensations of burning-like pain are most often experienced on the outside portion of the hip, right on top of (or very near) to the bony/bumpy part of the thigh bone, known as the greater trochanter.
Just on top of this bony structure is a water balloon-Like structure known as the trochanteric bursa, whose purpose is to reduce friction of tissues that move over this area. It’s common for individuals to have an inflamed (irritated) bursa, a condition known as trochanteric bursitis. An inflamed bursa usually produces a burning sensation around this area and often feels worse when performing physical activity.
This can be a stubborn issue to treat, but when dealing with it on your own, your initial starting point should consist of working on your tissue mobility for your IT band and the outer portion of your leg in general. Less tension in these tissues will decrease the amount of compression occurring over the bursa, helping to relieve irritation.
To do this, pick your favorite way to release/massage this area of your leg (foam rolling, personal massage, etc.) and turn it into a consistent habit for the next couple of months, and always perform an extra session of it as part of your warm-up before your lifts.
You’ll need to modify your training in ways that don’t flare up the pain during your workouts, in order to give the bursa time to settle down. Adjust things as needed and remember that this is only temporary.
Aching or tender pain
Pain that is perceived as aching or tender, especially over areas that have more muscle tissue tend to be the result of unhealthy tendons or overly tight muscles.
When it comes to this type of discomfort within the hip, it is usually felt on the outer back portion of the hip, typically where the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus reside. These muscles (particularly their insertional tendons) are notorious for being in an unhealthy state, often known as tendinosis or tendinopathy.
This type of pain behaves in ways in which it rears its ugly, aching-like head sporadically, typically after a workout or after a period of immobility (sitting on the couch for a few hours). Oftentimes, it’s actually not all that bad during an actual workout.
You might feel like your glutes have a lot of tension or are chronically tight, in which case you can opt for trying to get them to settle down with some soft tissue release. But if this doesn’t seem to be helping, it would be worth getting some dedicated glute medius strengthening exercises going in order to increase the health of the tendons.
Pick some exercises that you feel challenge the strength of these muscles and perform them a few times a week as part of a dedicated hip rehabilitation program. You’ll need to do this for a few months in order to get the tendons healthy, but it beats the alternative of being in chronic pain and cutting your lifting career short.
Read my other article on whether sumo deadlift helps with your conventional deadlift.
3. Check the Ranges of Motion for Your Hip
Now that we’ve quickly mentioned common types of pain that lifters often feel within their hip, it’s worth quickly checking your range of motion to get more insight as to which positions or movements produce (or perhaps eliminate) your pain.
When dealing with hip pain, the first step to take is to quickly screen the movements of your hip.
When doing this on your own, this won’t be nearly as detailed as having a clinician doing it for you, but simply running through key motions and movements that your hip produce will reveal a great deal as to what may be causing your pain along with taking the proper steps in regards to properly treating it.
As you go through the following movements, make sure that you compare each range of motion from your affected hip to the non-affected hip on the other side; this will help determine if there actually is a discrepancy and if so, the extent of it as well.
Also, take note of which motions produce any pain or discomfort, especially in regards to if it produces “your” pain, that is, the same pain that rears its ugly head when trying to sumo deadlift. If a movement or joint position replicates “your” pain, it can reveal a great extent as to what’s likely causing it.
For all of the following movements, you can quickly run through them when laying on your back:
Hip flexion will reveal a lot about the overall health of your hip joint.
Normal range of motion for hip flexion is around 120 degrees (Porter & Kaplan, 2013). If you find that when trying to pull your knee straight towards your chest that you get a sharp, pinching sensation in the front of your hip, it likely signifies that there’s an issue taking place with the actual joint itself. If you’re having a hard time pulling your knee past 90 degrees due to stiffness or pain, there’s a good indication that there may be some arthritic or bony changes occurring in your hip.
If there’s no issue with this, move onto the next movement below. If you had pain or discomfort, try the following modified movement to dig a bit deeper as to how your hip is behaving:
Repeat the same flexion movement you use performed, but this time do so with your thigh dropped slightly outwards. Take note as to if it’s any difference with pain or range of motion this time with your leg dropped slightly outwards (see the photos below). If you can get more flexion or less pain (or both) with this altered position, it’s likely that there’s some aspect of a joint issue either causing or contributing to your pain.
If your range of motion increased and/or your pain decreased with this second movement, it could signify there being possible conditions in your hip involving an irritated labrum or impingement (pinching) of the hip joint itself (a condition known as femoral acetabular impingement).
If your pain disappears with the altered position (or is drastically reduced), it’s also a good indicator that you’ll potentially fare better with some modifications to your leg positioning during your deadlifts (discussed later in this article).
Keep in mind that a dedicated joint issue isn’t any sort of death sentence when it comes to your lifting, but may be harder to clean up or fully treat on your own, at which point it may be worthwhile to get insight from a healthcare practitioner whom you trust (but start with trying the joint capsule mobilizations mentioned below as they can oftentimes be therapeutic).
Hip internal rotation
To check your internal rotation, flex your hip to 90 degrees and keep your knee bent to 90 degrees. While holding this position, try rotating your foot away from the midline of your body and take note of how it feels. To challenge the joint even more, you can pull on your calf or use a strap (see the photos below).
These two latter methods will challenge the joint itself more so than trying to rotate it using only your hip muscles. If there’s no pain when using your muscles to rotate your hip, but pain with using your hand or a strap, this signifies that the issue is likely more so coming from the joint and not the muscles.
Compare the range of motion and sensation to your other hip. A normal passive (i.e. when the muscles are relaxing) range of motion for the average hip is about 45 degrees (Porter & Kaplan, 2013), but this can vary a bit based on an individual’s anatomical composition.
The main thing to observe here is if there is a distinct difference in available range, discomfort, or both when compared side to side. A loss of internal rotation is one of the first changes seen when it comes to the joint becoming arthritic or the capsule being tight or restricted.
Don’t freak out, it may also be that you have one tightness in your hip rotator muscles, which is also common. If the pain/discomfort isn’t deep within your hip, sharp or stabbing in nature, it’s probably more of a soft tissue restriction.
If internal rotation produces your familiar pain and if it feels deep and sharp, trying the exercises for mobilizing your hip capsule and giving a bit of decompression to the joint may be pain relieving and therapeutic, so be sure to read over that section within this article.
Hip abduction refers to moving your leg sideways, away from the midline of your body. The sumo stance requires much more hip abduction than the conventional deadlift. The wider your stance, the more you abduct your hip.
Checking your abduction range and how it feels is worth doing since a lack of adequate abduction range can signify tightness in your ADDuctor muscles (the groin muscles), which have to stretch out more and more the wider you stand.
If your groin muscles are tight, they’ll experience a high amount of tension during your sumo pull, which you may likely feel very high up on the inside of your groin. These muscles attach to the bottom portion of the hip bone, and too much tension can cause pain or discomfort near or around the hip.
Normal range of motion for passive hip abduction is 45 degrees (Porter & Kaplan, 2013). If you’re well short of this, you’ve got some work to do and some modifications to make to your sumo stance if the width of your stance is what’s causing your pain.
4. Mobilize Your Hip Capsule
The hip capsule is problematic enough on lifters that it warrants a brief discussion on what you can do to keep it healthy and mobile, whether or not it’s causing or contributing to your hip pain. Most lifters aren’t entirely sure what this structure is or how it can impact performance by decreasing range of motion, causing pain (or even both).
Since it’s often neglected by lifters, they don’t effectively target it, which is a shame. Keeping your hip capsule mobile, even if it’s not causing any of your hip pain, is a wise move to make if you want to get the most out of your lifting – and it’s an even wiser idea if it is causing your pain or decreasing your available range of motion.
Since the capsule is a thick, leather-like tissue that wraps around the joint, traditional stretches designed for muscles simply aren’t going to target it effectively. The capsule itself can in fact become stiff, fibrotic and painful when not adequately mobilized on a regular basis. This is a sure-fire way to run into mobility issues and pain, which you want to avoid at all costs.
Your best bet for mobilizing the capsule all by yourself is to grab a thick band and try the following capsule mobility exercises:
Anterior capsule stretch using a heavy resistance band
Lateral capsule stretch using a heavy resistance band
5. Change the Position of Your Feet and Toes During the Lift
When it comes to your deadlifts, the first thing to try as a means to either reduce or eliminate your hip pain is to play around with various aspects of your sumo stance.
What this means for YOU is that you need to give yourself permission to break away from the exact positions that top lifters may advocate, or positions that are revered as “supreme” for force generation.
Much of these positions are based on standard/ideal hip anatomy, which you may or may not have. If you don’t have the “ideal” or “normal” hip anatomy (which is genetically inherited), these standard positions may not benefit you or even make your hip pain/issue a bit worse.
Think of it like putting the wrong type of tires onto a car – there’s nothing wrong with the tires, nor there may not be anything wrong with the car itself, but the two of them simply don’t go together since the car has been designed/put together a bit differently from what the tire was designed for. The best types of tires will be ones that are uniquely designed for the car itself.
Your hips are the same way when it comes to your ideal sumo stance.
Changes to try or consider
When it comes to changing your sumo deadlift stance, there are two main changes to consider playing around with.
You will need to take time to experiment/play around with each of these changes and any sort of combination of them in order to find what works/feels best for you.
- The first change you can make involves changing the amount of external rotation you set your stance to.
In this case, external rotation simply refers to how much you point your toes outwards. The more you point your toes outwards, the greater amount of external rotation you’re putting your hips into.
As a general anatomical rule, the wider your stance goes, the more you will need to externally rotate your hips/point your toes outwards. A wide stance with toes pointing straightforward is likely to create discomfort in the front of the hip joint due to physical pinching or jamming of tissues themselves at the front of the joint.
- The second change you can play around with/consider making is to alter your stance width.
Again, these two changes are somewhat interlinked in that changes in one will likely lead to changes in the other – the main point to remember is that you need to find the ideal interplay between the two that works best for YOU.
While most of the top lifters in the world pull from the sumo stance, close analysis of their technique will reveal slight stance variations from one lifter to the next, with each difference being slightly different based on what each lifter knows is optimal for them.
Read my article on the semi sumo deadlift, which is a modified narrow stance sumo deadlift.
6. Perform the Lift from Blocks or the Rack
Regardless of the exact pathology (cause) that’s driving your hip pain, an initial strategy that can be highly advantageous to adopt (either short term or long term) is to reduce the range of motion that you pull through during the deadlift. This is especially true if you find that your hip pain either comes on or increases as you move closer towards the floor.
Oftentimes hips and their structures are healthy enough to be challenged throughout smaller ranges of motion, while avoiding bigger ranges of motion near the end of the joint’s limit.
The amount of range that you use will need to be based on your own needs/tissue health, so this will take some tinkering around with in order to get just right. You’ll also need to play around with the load that you use as well.
As a general rule, the lighter the load you use, the more range of motion you can likely go through; the heavier you go, the less range that your hip(s) will likely tolerate, so have some patience as you work to optimize what feels best for you.
To alter your range of motion for the sumo deadlift, there are two primary methods you can try:
- The first method (likely the most ideal) is to pull the load that you’re using off of blocks, which will be resting underneath it.
The more blocks you stack underneath the barbell/load, the shorter the range of motion that your hips will have to work through. If you don’t have any blocks at your disposal, you can opt for the second method.
Read my article on the block deadlift, which covers the technique, benefits, and mistakes to avoid.
- The second method involves pulling the barbell off of the safety pins or rack within a squat cage.
Simply set the pins up to a height that shortens your pulling range of motion to an ideal extent for you. This method works well for those who don’t have access to blocks, as squat cages/racks are much more common in most gyms.
The only potential drawback is that you may find your stance to be limited in width if standing inside the rack. If this occurs, you can try to modify your stance to what works for in the cage, so long as it doesn’t increase your hip pain.
7. Build Your Strength Using Tempo Training until the Pain Is Gone
If altering your range of motion isn’t ideal for you at all, whether due to a lack of available equipment or for other reasons, there is another great option that you can try, one that will allow you to hopefully work through the full range of motion without flaring up your joint.
If you’re still looking to deliver an effective stimulus to your body with the sumo deadlift but are currently limited with the amount of weight you can pull before your pain flares up, you may want to consider trying tempo-oriented training.
Oftentimes lifters don’t experience their hip pain until they begin to pull moderate-to-moderately-heavy loads (north of 70% of their one rep maximum). Even if your pain only comes on at north of 50%, you can still make great improvements to your pulling strength by using a lighter load but increasing the time it takes to perform each repetition.
This is known as increasing the time under tension for which muscles have to work. It’s often an effective strategy for those who need to keep their sumo mechanics sharp and crisp despite dealing with hip pain.
Here are some tips to tempo training:
- Keep the load you’re pulling within a pain-free range throughout the movement and try playing around with the speed at which you pull the weight up (the concentric phase of the lift) as well as lowering it back to the ground (the eccentric phase).
- Pick an upwards time and a downwards time between 3 – 5 seconds for each rep. The beauty of this is that it will make the lift very tiring while delivering an effective stimulus to the muscles and body while only needing to use a load of around 50% or less (depending on how many repetitions and sets you’re aiming to perform).
The sumo deadlift is an incredibly beneficial exercise to perform and great movement to get good at. If you’re having hip pain, take some time to explore how the pain is behaving and run through the steps within this article – it is likely that you’ll be able to remedy the issue with some time and modifications to how you’re lifting.
Doing this will help ensure that you not only get the most out of your training, but that you keep your hips healthy for years to come, allowing you many great sessions ahead for pulling heavy weight off the floor.
Other sumo deadlift resources to check out: