Everyone seems to have variations in their positioning for sumo deadlifting – some have a wider stance and some have a narrower stance. But which stance is right for you? And what factors make the difference?
How Wide Should You Sumo Deadlift? The width of your sumo deadlift is the width at which the lifter achieves vertical shins, shoulders stacked in front of the bar, and hips high/close to the bar. How wide lifters should stand in the sumo deadlift is determined by an individual’s limb lengths, hip mobility, and positional strength.
We can all find a width that maximizes our strength in the sumo deadlift and allows us to lift the most weight possible. In this article, we’ll discuss how to determine which stance width is optimal for us, and the pros and cons to different stance widths.
Factors Affecting How Wide You Should Sumo Deadlift
There are 3 factors that determine how wide you should stand in the sumo deadlift:
- Limb Lengths
- Hip Mobility
- Positional Strength
The length of the shins, femurs, torso, and arms will determine the optimal position for each lifter in the sumo deadlift. There are three key components that we are trying to achieve when working with each lifter’s specific limb lengths:
1. Vertical Shins
The optimal position for legs to push the ground away in the sumo deadlift is achieved when shins are vertical in the start position. When the shins are vertical we are in an optimal position to exert force into the ground with the quads, helping us to break the bar from the floor. It also puts us in a position to utilize the muscles of the posterior chain, to lock out the lift.
2. Hips High And Close To The Barbell
Lifter’s should strive to have their hips higher in their starting position and to keep their hips close to the barbell to “wedge” themselves into the bar – this is accomplished by actively driving their hips to hip the bar, while pushing the floor away with the legs and tensioning the bar with the upper body.
This allows us to lockout our hips faster once the bar passes the knee because we are decreasing the distance between the hips and the barbell at the top of the movement.
3. Shoulders Stacked In Front Of The Barbell
It is important to set up with the shoulders stacked in front of the barbell for a better line of pull from the ground. Having the shoulders in this position maintains a more efficient deadlift bar path by limiting horizontal displacement, which would expend unnecessary energy and make the lift more difficult.
Interested in learning more about how your build will affect your deadlift position? Check out our guide for the Best Deadlift Back Angle For Your Size & Build
The sumo deadlift requires more hip mobility than a conventional deadlift because of the stance width and the external rotation of the hip, necessary to achieve the ideal sumo deadlift position.
The amount of hip mobility a lifter has will determine their stance width, because it will affect their ability to get into position and initiate the drive through the legs to break the floor if hip mobility is insufficient.
Hip mobility and the associated stance width will also determine the foot position for the lift.
Typically the wider our stance, the more outwardly rotated our feet should be. The reason for this is because the wider our stance, the more the knees would track over the bar. By externally rotating the femurs, we can position the legs to avoid the knees disrupting the bar path and still exert force into the ground.
External rotation at the hip results in an equal outward rotation of the feet, because the knees must be in line with the toes for a more optimal exertion of force into the ground.
Wondering how you should be warming up for your deadlifts? Check out these 4 Steps For Bigger & Safer Pulls
Ultimately, how wide we should sumo deadlift depends on the stance width that allows us to lift the most weight.
While we can develop strength at each width (narrow or wide) with practice, there will always be a width at which we are naturally more competent and able to lift more weight, which will be determined by many different factors (ex: muscular strengths and weaknesses, movement capacities, body proportions).
This is one reason why a lot of sumo pullers like the Semi-Sumo Deadlift because they ‘feel stronger’ off the floor. Click to read my full guide.
What Are The Benefits To A Wider Stance Sumo Deadlift?
Less Range Of Motion
A major benefit of having a wider stance in the sumo deadlift is that it decreases the range of motion of the lift.
The wider stance results in a decreased range of motion because the bar has less distance to travel from the floor to a locked out position, than it would if we did a conventional deadlift or had a more narrow sumo stance.
This is a benefit because when we are trying to lift as much weight as possible, as we would in powerlifting, it is ideal to have less distance to travel.
To learn more about the differences between the sumo and conventional deadlifts, check out the article Conventional VS. Sumo
Stronger Lock Out
Another benefit of a wider stance sumo deadlift is that it enhances the lifter’s ability to lock-out the hips at the top of the lift.
The lockout is stronger because the hips are able to remain closer to the bar once the bar passes the knee.
This results in a shorter moment arm, and therefore a stronger position to drive the hips to the bar and lockout the lift.
Depending on your stance width, the sumo deadlift may be easier on the low back. Check out my other article that explains this concept more.
Issues To Standing Wider In A Sumo Deadlift?
Hip Mobility Requirements
In order to achieve a wider stance sumo deadlift and maximize the benefits of the decreased range of motion, we must have sufficient hip mobility to attain these positions.
If we do not have the movement capacity at the hips to accommodate the wider stance, it can lead to increased risk of injury or muscle strain.
While we can always do our best to improve hip mobility through stretching and soft tissue mobilization, sometimes it is the hip structure itself that is the issue – in which case, a more narrow stance would be a better option.
Harder To Break The Bar Off The Floor
A wider stance in the sumo deadlift will be slower off the floor than a conventional deadlift and a more narrow stance sumo deadlift because the knees are in a more flexed position in order to achieve the proper start position.
With increased knee flexion, the quads have to work harder to initiate the lift by aggressively pushing into the ground and spreading the floor, in order to elevate the barbell and extend the knees.
Typically what we see when the quads are not strong enough is that the posterior chain will try to take over, and the hips will rise before the shoulders out of the start position. When this happens we are at a disadvantage because the knees will be more extended, while the torso remains forward. This shifts the loads completely to the posterior chain in order to lockout the lift.
If this is a problem for you, check out my article on How To Fix Hips Shooting Up In The Deadlift.
What Are The Benefits To A Narrower Stance Sumo Deadlift?
Stronger Pull From The Floor
One of the benefits of having a more narrow stance sumo deadlift (also referred to as the semi-sumo deadlift) is that it is easier to break the bar off the ground more easily than a wider stance sumo.
The reason for this is that the quads are in a better position (less knee flexion) to drive through the ground to break the bar from the floor to initiate the lift, and the posterior chain can assist more readily.
Want to improve your sumo deadlift technique? Check out my article on the best Sumo Deadlift Cues.
Less Mobility Requirements
Another benefit to a narrower stance sumo deadlift is that it does not require the same level of hip mobility as the wider stance.
For this reason, the narrower stance is more readily used by bigger lifters, as it is an easier starting position for them to achieve if they lack mobility and/or more mass in their midsection to work around.
The narrow stance sumo deadlift is a better option for lifters who want to limit the range of motion of the deadlift, despite having tighter hips and/or a larger frame.
To Learn more about the narrower sumo stance, check out our article on the Semi Sumo Deadlift
Issues To Standing Narrower In A Sumo Deadlift?
Harder To Lockout
A common issue for the narrower stance sumo deadlift is that it is more challenging to lockout at the top of the movement, despite being stronger off the ground.
The reason for this is that the hips will be further behind the bar once the bar passes the knee, resulting in a longer moment arm. Therefore, once the bar passes the knee it is harder to drive the hips to the bar in order to lockout and finish the lift.
More Range Of Motion
One drawback to the narrower stance is that we are not getting the same decrease in the range of motion as we would with a wider stance, which is a slight disadvantage to the narrower stance.
However compared to the conventional deadlift, we are still decreasing range of motion when lifting with the narrower stance sumo deadlift.
With these things in mind, we need to determine if it’s worth trying to go wider to decrease the range of motion, or if we’re better suited to a narrower stance that needs less hip mobility but has slightly more distance to travel.
Grip Limited By Thigh Contact
One issue with a more narrow stance is that the hands will need to travel up the thighs after the bar passes the knee, which can cause friction and make the lift more difficult.
The hand contact with the thighs could cause us to lose grip on the barbell, or add enough friction to prevent further elevation of the bar up the legs.
With a narrower stance the barbell may also need to be locked out with our hands still on the thighs, unless we change for a wider or narrower grip – both of which have their pros and cons that you can learn about here.
So, How Wide Should You Stand In The Sumo Deadlift?
The best sumo deadlift position for each lifter is the stance at which:
- Shins are vertical
- Hips are high and close to the barbell
- Shoulders are stacked in front of the bar
- Hip mobility is sufficient
- We are not limited by body size
- We are the strongest
In order to achieve the strongest sumo deadlift we need to be in the best position anatomically, that allows us to exert force into the ground and elevate the barbell, without increasing our risk of injury due to mobility deficits.
By following these guidelines we are maximizing our biomechanics to lift the most weight we can in the sumo deadlift. It is important to remember that just because our sumo deadlift doesn’t look exactly like our favorite lifter’s sumo deadlift, does not mean that we are not in the optimal position.
It should be noted that although these are the general recommendations for the best technique, there are exceptions to these rules because some lifters are naturally stronger with what we may consider “unconventional” technique.
However, it is also important to note that these lifters are few and far between; therefore, it is important to follow these key principles for the sumo deadlift, and then adjust over time (if necessary) once the basics have been mastered.
If you pull in a conventional stance, check out my other article that discusses the best deadlift stance.
Sumo Deadlifting Resources
- How To Fix Hip Pain When Sumo Deadlifting (7 Tips)
- Sumo Deadlift vs Back Squat: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Does Doing Conventional Deadlift Help Sumo Deadlift?
- Best Deadlift Shoes For Sumo: Buying Guide & Reviews (2021)
- Are Sumo Deadlifts Cheating? (No, Here’s Why)
- Sumo Deadlift Mobility: 10 Exercises With Full Routine
Figuring out how wide we should sumo deadlift and what foot position works best for us can be frustrating if we simply mimic the position of another lifter, because it works for them. Our own unique proportions, strengths, weaknesses, and movement capacities will determine which stance width is going to help us lift the most weight possible.