When deciding to do the sumo deadlift, you have a range of choices when it comes to how to set up your foot position. Where you place your feet will determine whether you deadlift using a full sumo or semi sumo stance.
What is the semi sumo deadlift? The semi sumo deadlift is where you place your feet slightly outside of shoulder-width distance, but not outside the hash-marks on the barbell. The starting hip position is usually slightly lower on the semi sumo deadlift when compared with the full sumo, and the hands are placed inside the shins.
Knowing whether or not you’ll benefit from a semi sumo deadlift vs full sumo deadlift will depend on how your built and level of hip mobility. In this article, I’ll discuss:
- What is the semi sumo deadlift?
- Why would someone do the semi sumo deadlift?
- The differences between the semi sumo deadlift and sumo deadlift
- Pros & cons of the semi sumo deadlift
- How to set up the semi sumo deadlift? (including common mistakes)
Let’s get started!
What Is The Semi Sumo Deadlift?
The semi sumo deadlift has also been called the narrow sumo deadlift or hybrid sumo deadlift. It’s closer to a conventional deadlift, but it’s still considered a ‘sumo position’ because the hands are placed inside the shins.
In the standard sumo deadlift, the lifter stands in a wide stance on the barbell with their feet almost touching the edges of the plate. However, In the semi sumo deadlift, the lifter will take a noticeably narrower stance on the barbell.
There’s no hard and fast rule with how narrow your stance should be to be considered a semi sumo deadlift. However, most people would agree that a semi sumo deadlift is when a lifter’s feet are either directly underneath the hashmarks on the barbell or narrower.
Why Would Someone Do The Semi Sumo Deadlift?
There are several top powerlifters who choose to deadlift in a semi sumo stance.
For example, Angelo Fortino is a nationally-ranked USAPL powerlifter who has pulled 722lbs at 182lb body-weight.
When I asked him why he deadlifts using a semi-sumo stance, he said:
“I felt like I was using too much of my back doing conventional deadlifts and that lead to some injuries. I knew sumo would help me use more of my legs but my leverages wouldn’t allow me to get super wide. Through numerous trial and error attempts, I noticed that I had way better leverages with a narrow sumo stance and it didn’t hurt my hips as much as a wide sumo stance”Angelo Fortino
At the end of the day, the main reason why people deadlift in this stance is simply that they feel stronger.
Knowing that someone is stronger in a certain position is one thing, but figuring out whether YOU WILL be stronger is another.
So here are four ways to check whether a semi sumo stance will work for you.
If you want to increase your deadlift strength, take a look at my article on the TOP 10 DEADLIFT CUES
1. Check your limb proportions
How your built will largely determine how you should position your body on the barbell.
What I’m referring to is the length of your legs, torso, and arms in relation to one another. A person with a specific set of proportions will feel more or less comfortable when deadlifting in a semi-sumo stance.
He determined that someone with the following proportions could deadlift either conventional or sumo:
- Short torso / average arms
- Long torso / average arms
Because these sorts of lifters can be built to do both conventional or sumo, they may actually feel more comfortable taking a hybrid approach, such as the semi sumo deadlift.
To understand what ‘short’, ‘average’, and ‘long’ means, complete the following steps:
Measure your overall height
Measure your torso (hip bone to top of head) and arms (middle finger to top of shoulder)
Figure out what percentage of your torso and arms are in relation to your overall height.
To get the percentage, take your limb length, divide it by your overall height, and then multiply it by 100.
Use the following table to determine whether your torso and arms fit within the “short torso / average arms” or “long torso / average arms” category.
|Torso||32%||Greater than 32%||Less than 32%|
|Arms||38%||Greater than 38%||Less than 38%|
If you don’t fall within the limb proportions for semi-sumo, check out my article comparing the CONVENTIONAL VS. SUMO DEADLIFT. You might be more suited to one of those styles.
Takeaway: Use these ranges to determine whether a semi-sumo stance is something you should try out.
With that said, your limb proportions aren’t the end all be all for determining your deadlift stance. So let’s move onto the next thing you should check.
2. Check your hip anatomy
Some lifter’s hip anatomy simply won’t let them take an ultra-wide sumo stance where their feet are placed near the ends of the plates.
This is because a person’s pelvis, hip socket, and femur (upper leg bone) will determine the range of motion their hips can go through comfortably.
The main point to understand is that the angle of how your femur connects to your pelvis can differ drastically between individuals.
The angle on the left will be built for the conventional deadlift, while the angle on the right will be built for the sumo deadlift. However, the angle in the middle will be built for the semi-sumo deadlift.
Without getting an x-ray, you can determine your hip angles by completing a “Hip Socket Self-Assessment”.
Here’s Exercise Physiologist Dean Somerset to explain:
Takeaway: If you find that your hip doesn’t want to naturally rotate up and out without bone-to-bone restriction, then you’re likely not suited for an ultra-wide sumo deadlift. This is where you might want to consider the semi sumo stance, which will allow your hip joint to be in its strongest position.
3. Analyze your muscular strengths and weaknesses
As you change your stance on the deadlift you’re going to be leveraging the movement with slightly different muscle groups.
- In a standard sumo deadlift, you’re going to have less hip extension and greater knee extension. This means that your quads will be working a lot harder.
- In a semi sumo deadlift, it’s the opposite. You’re going to have more hip extension and less knee extension. This means your glutes will be working a lot harder.
The reason for these differences is because the further the hips are from the barbell in the start position (like the semi-sumo), the greater the distance they need to travel to finish the lift. If the hips need to extend more, then the muscles responsible for hip extension, like the glutes, will be more active.
Takeaway: Depending on whether you have stronger quads or glutes, you’ll want to pick a style that plays to your strengths. Of course, you don’t want to ignore your weaknesses. But optimizing for your current strengths will give you some quick wins with how much weight you can lift.
4. Analyze your range of motion (bottom & top position)
The last consideration you should make is how your stance relates to the forces acting on the barbell versus the gravitational forces you’re trying to overcome.
Let me break it down:
- The goal of the deadlift is to lift the bar straight up
- If your feet are directly underneath you, then you’re applying the most efficient vertical force
- The wider your feet become the more you start applying force sideways vs. straight-up
- This will theoretically make it harder to fight the gravitational forces you’re trying to overcome
So why would people deadlift in a wide stance to begin with?
The answer is simple: a wide stance is less range of motion. Less range of motion equals less mechanical work.
So when picking a stance, it’s always a balance between applying maximum vertical force and performing less mechanical work.
Here’s how this concept applies:
- The standard deadlift will be harder to break from the floor, but easier to lock-out
- The semi-sumo deadlift will be easier to break from the floor, but harder to lock-out
I’ve seen lifters use this information to either avoid the semi-sumo stance or to embrace it depending on whether they struggle with the bottom or top-end position of the deadlift.
Takeaway: In deciding whether to do semi-sumo deadlift, you need to ensure you have a strong lock-out position. If you do then you’ll get the benefit of having an easier time lifting the barbell from the floor to knees.
Semi Sumo Deadlift vs. Sumo Deadlift
Here are the differences between the semi-sumo deadlift vs. sumo deadlift:
|Semi-Sumo Deadlift||Sumo Deadlift|
|Foot Position||Varies, but usually, slightly outside of shoulder-width||Varies, but usually outside the hashmarks on the barbell|
|Hip Position||Slightly lower than standard sumo||Slightly higher than semi-sumo|
|Range of motion||Longer||Shorter|
|Mobility||Less hip mobility required||More hip mobility required|
|Muscles used||More emphasis on glutes||Less emphasis on glutes|
|Start position||Easier to break from the floor||Harder to break from the floor|
|Lock-out position||Harder to lock-out||Easier to lock-out|
|Most suited for||Average length arms with either short or long torso||Either short or long arms, with long torso|
Pros & Cons of The Semi Sumo Deadlift?
The pros and cons of the semi sumo deadlift will largely depend on how you’re built, where you struggle within the range of motion, and your personal preference. What might be considered a ‘pro’ for one person is a ‘con’ for another.
For example, if you’re the type of lifter who struggles off the floor in a wide stance sumo deadlift, then moving your stance narrower would potentially allow you to break the floor a bit easier.
Similarly, someone who has a hip structure that allows for greater mobility in the start position will feel very comfortable in a wide stance sumo stance versus someone who doesn’t have the same anatomy.
When assessing the pros and cons, you need to identify your strengths and limitations as a lifter and then experiment with both deadlift styles to determine which one will be better suited in the long run.
How To Set Up The Semi Sumo Deadlift?
Here’s a great video explaining the technical elements of the semi-sumo deadlift and common mistakes:
- Establish a stance where the feet are slightly wider than the shoulders
- Take a grip where the arms are vertical
- Establish a neutral spine (not rounded)
- The shin bones should be as close to vertical as possible
- The shoulders should be directly in line with the barbell (not in front)
- The shoulders should be higher than the hips, and the hips higher than the knees
- The bar should be pulled directly against the legs
- Just before lifting, brace the core strong to stabilize the spine
- Keep the arms straight while you pull (don’t bend them)
- There should be a controlled pause at the top and bottom of the lift
- The spine stays neutral throughout the entire movement
- The shoulders and hips rise together as one unit (not one before the other)
- The back rounds more as the weight gets heavier
- The shoulders are too far in front of the barbell in the start position
- The shoulders are too far behind the barbell in the start position
- The grip is either too narrow or too wide
- The bar comes off of the shins or thighs during the execution
- The hips rise faster than the shoulders, i.e. the hips shoot up rapidly
The semi-sumo deadlift can be a great deadlifting option for people with the right leverages, hip anatomy, strengths, and limitations. To be honest, it’s not the most common deadlift style. People generally start doing it because they fail to increase their strength in either the conventional or standard sumo deadlift, and are seeking alternatives to keep progressing. I would experiment with the semi-sumo deadlift over the course of a few weeks and see if it works for you.