Squats Vs Sumo Squats: Pros, Cons, and Differences

squats vs sumo squats

Squat variations are plentiful, and it’s helpful to know which ones are truly useful, how they are beneficial, and whether or not you should give them any attention. One variation commonly seen in the gym is the sumo squat. But how similar/different is it when compared to the traditional squat?

Sumo squats differ from squats in that they require a much wider stance, typically wider than shoulder width. Like a sumo deadlift, the hips are open in a sumo squat, pulling the knees apart, and the toes are turned more outward. This stance puts greater emphasis on the glutes and less emphasis on the lower back. 

But beyond that simple explanation, there are several factors to understand and consider when comparing traditional squats and sumo squats, so let’s break each of them down below. 

Differences Between Squats and Sumo Squats

Between the two squats, there are four main differences to note: 

  • Stance
  • Muscles Emphasized
  • Range of Motion
  • Upper Body Angle

1. Stance

The biggest difference between the two squats is your stance and foot placement. The sumo squat is performed with your feet set wide, hips open, and toes pointed out, usually at about 45 degrees, but this will all vary depending on the lifter. 

This wider stance is the reason or catalyst for the other 3 differences between the sumo squat and a standard squat. 

2. Muscles Emphasized

By taking a wider stance with the sumo squat, you change the muscles the squat will emphasize. The most obvious change is that your glutes will be more heavily recruited than your quads. This isn’t just a perceived difference, it’s been researched and tested to be true. 


This isn’t to say your quads are not part of the lift anymore, but they aren’t needing to do as much because of the changed amount of your knee flexion (or how much your knee bends). 

A good rule of thumb for just about every squat variation is that a wider stance means more glutes and a narrow stance means more quads. 

Additionally, by opening your hips up, you are able to lower the bar without bending forward as much. This is because the center of gravity changes, and you’re able to descend while keeping the bar centered on your body. In a traditional squat, bending forward is necessary to keep the weight balanced and centered as you descend. 

Because we aren’t bending forward to keep the weight centered, the lower back muscles, or erectors spinae, are deemphasized significantly. 

3. Range of Motion

The internet will never let sumo deadlifters forget the fact that the wide stance means a shorter range of motion to pull the bar completely off the ground when compared to the same lifter’s ROM while pulling conventionally with their feet together. The same is true with the squat versus the sumo squat. 

When you take a wider stance, you don’t need to descend as far to sink your hips past the tops of your knees to “break parallel” as the powerlifting world calls it. 

While the internet may not like it, there’s nothing wrong with taking every possible advantage to successfully complete a big squat, so look at this as a big plus!

4. Upper Body Angle

I touched on this above, but we aren’t using our erector spinae muscles as much in the sumo squat because our upper body angle or position is different. Instead of having to lean slightly forward to keep the barbell directly over our midfoot and stay balanced, the torso stays more upright in a sumo squat.

This can be a big advantage to lifters who struggle to maintain upper body position due to lower back strength. 

If you have trouble staying upright when squatting, try these 5 solutions to fixing a forward lean in the squat.

Want to improve your squat technique?

Squats: How To, Muscles Used, Tips, Common Mistakes, Pros, and Cons

Squats: How To Do It

To perform a standard squat, take the following steps:

Step 1: Grip the barbell in your hands

Place your hands about shoulder-width apart as you face the barbell.

Step 2: Place the barbell on your back

With your hands on the bar, dip below the bar and place it comfortably on your back. Stand up under the bar so it comes off the rack and rests on your back.

Step 3: Walk it out

Take three small steps backward into your squat position. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart when you finish your walkout

Step 4: Brace your core

Take as big of a breath as you can into your stomach to brace your core and create intra-abdominal pressure.

Step 5: Descend into your squat

Bend your knees and descend downward until the crease of your hip descends below the top of your kneecap.  

Step 6: Return to starting position

After passing “parallel” with your hips passing the top of your knee, stand back up to your starting position. 

Step 7: Repeat for reps

Perform as many reps as your program calls for. 

Squat: Muscles Used

Squat

When performing standard squats, the following muscles are primarily used:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Erector Spinae
  • Rhomboids

Quads

The quads are the muscles on the front of your thighs used in the flexion of your knee as you descend and ascend during the squat. The squat is commonly thought of as a quad exercise because of the quads’ heavy use in the movement. 

Glutes

As you come back to a standing position, your glutes and adductors (inner thighs) work together to extend your hips. 

Adductors

As mentioned above, the adductors are the inner thigh muscles that work in conjunction with your glutes to extend your hips. 

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae are the lower back muscles that stabilize you while standing erect (thus the name) and also help you bend forward and stand back upright when bending at the hip. 

Rhomboids

The rhomboids are a group of large muscles in the upper back. Upper back muscles aren’t usually something you think about with squats, but they work to keep your shoulders pulled back as you hold the bar in a steady position on your back throughout the lift. 

Learn more about all of the muscles used in the squat in our ultimate guide: Muscles Used in the Squat (Complete Guide).

Squats: Pro Tips

Squats pro tips

Here are 3 tips to think about for a good squat:

Always Hit Depth

There’s no reason other than ego to avoid squatting the full range of motion and getting your hips below parallel. Sure, maybe you lack the mobility or awareness at first to get it right, but most people can hit depth by warming up and using the right weight on the bar. 

Don’t lie to yourself and say you’re getting the same or better results by squatting shallow, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be able to suddenly hit depth when it matters in a competition or when testing your maxes on your own. 

Do your squats right every time and you’ll be better off for it. 

If you have trouble hitting depth due to poor mobility, check out these 13 ankle mobility drills and 13 hip mobility drills.

Record Your Sets

Squats are complicated! You’re using muscles all the way from your toes and feet to your wrists and ankles and everything in between to get them right. And you’re trusting yourself to do it all correctly every time you do it. 

Taking videos of your sets is the best way to see how your form is improving, worsening, or staying the same. You are the only one who knows how the lift feels while you do it, so use that information to compare with how the lift looks on video and learn from it. 

This applies to beginner lifters and advanced lifters alike. 

Train Your Bracing

A key element of a successful squat is your ability to brace, or to create tension in your core to help keep your body stable. While this involves most muscles in your body, you can mostly focus on your abdomen bracing as you perform the lift. 

This is not a natural skill to have, so it will take focus and practice to get it right and then keep it consistent. 

Learn to take a breath into your diaphragm before you squat. Push your abdomen outward (push against your belt, if you’re wearing one) as hard as you can just before you begin to squat. Keep that pressure going all the way until you finish your rep, then take another breath and repeat. 

Practicing this portion of the lift often will help it feel natural and automatic. 

Wondering if you need to wear a belt when squatting? Get our expert opinion in Should You Wear A Belt For Squats And Deadlifts?

Squats: Common Mistakes

squats common mistakes

Below are three of the most common mistakes I see during the squat:

Inconsistent Foot Placement

We’ve compared the sumo squat to the standard squat and discussed foot placement already, but it’s important to be intentional about it. Just because there’s value in a wide stance sumo squat doesn’t mean you should ignore narrow stance squats or constantly shuffle your feet for a different feel with each set. 

Find your comfortable, neutral squat stance and commit it to memory. Put tape or chalk marks on the floor to make it the same every time. It may take some time to explore and get it right, which is fine, but once you find one that works, be consistent with it. 

Then you can do squats with different stances as intentional departures from your standard stance. 

To figure out which foot placement is best for you, check out How Far Apart Should Feet Be For Squats? (Stance Breakdown).

Inappropriate Load

We often underestimate what we are capable of and leave gains and progress on the table. We can also get overconfident and overreach with weights we can’t actually handle. 

Whatever end of the spectrum you find yourself on, learn to check your ego at the door and use the right load. Push yourself to do more when you can. Progress the weights/reps/sets weekly and monthly to keep your squats challenging. 

When you can’t keep up with the weight you’ve selected, have the humility to reduce the weight so you can perform the squats with good form for all the reps you need to hit. 

Don’t make the mistake of using the wrong load to either stay comfortable or do something you’re not capable of doing yet. 

Bad Form

A good squat is half about your personal strength and half about having good form – maybe even 60% form over strength. 

This is why I emphasize recording your sets and keeping a constant watch on your form just like you would your speedometer or fuel gauge on your car dashboard. It will require constant monitoring. Just because you got it right once doesn’t mean it will stay that way as you add more weight to your squats. 

Be vigilant about practicing and maintaining good form and you’ll avoid injury, have an honest view of your current abilities, and see better progress than others. 

Squats: Benefits

squats benefits

Compared to sumo squats, there are two benefits to standard squats:

  • Better for maximal effort
  • Less hip mobility required
  • Better for quad development
  • Better for beginners

Better for Maximal Effort

This isn’t the case 100% of the time, as you’ll see some excellent powerlifters using the sumo squat in competition, but generally speaking, the standard squat is a better approach to testing your best and heaviest squat. 

Because the neutral stance balances all of the muscles used in the squat, we have a more balanced ability to recruit each of them as needed in a max effort situation. 

While it’s a common practice among some powerlifters to measure a max effort squat variation, like a max sumo squat, a max safety bar squat, or a max front squat, your best measure of true squat strength will almost always come through the standard squat. 

Curious about how your squat strength compares to that of other lifters? Check out How Much Should You Be Able To Squat (By Age & Weight).

Less Hip Mobility Required

Because we take a neutral stance in the standard squat, we don’t have to worry about the more demanding hip mobility requirements that come with the sumo squat! 

With our feet about shoulder-width apart, our hips are in a comfortable position to hinge and bend at the joints, versus the sumo squat, which opens our hips and stretches them wide from the start. 

Granted, any squat exercise will require some level of hip mobility, but the standard squat is generally easier to perform than the sumo squat when it comes to hip mobility. You can use the standard squat to better develop the needed hip mobility to try the sumo squat. 

If you haven’t developed that hip mobility, the standard squat will be a much more comfortable option until you do. 

Better for Quad Development

With the narrower stance, the standard squat puts greater emphasis on your quads. With greater emphasis on those quads, the standard squat is a superior option for building quad strength. 

When a lifter shows an area of weakness in the squat, a good trainer will give the lifter more work to do on that area of weakness. Where weak quads are the problem, a standard squat is a great option to help a lifter build that needed quad strength. 

If you have trouble feeling your quads when squatting, check out Can’t Feel Your Quads When Squatting? Try These 8 Tips.

Better for Beginners

I imagine there are a few exceptions out there of brand new lifters who are really comfortable with a sumo squat right out of the gates, but generally speaking the standard squat is a better movement for beginners to use to learn the mechanics of squatting. 

With a neutral foot stance, beginners have fewer squat cues to think about and worry about as they start to get familiar with the squat. The motion is more natural, similar to sitting down into a chair and other familiar movement patterns, making it a better option to get beginners comfortable with the squat exercise. 

Squats: Drawbacks

squats drawbacks

I can think of only two drawbacks when it comes to squats:

Lacks Variety

Look, I honestly view squats as the king of compound lifts. More than the deadlift, I think the squat is the best bang for your buck when it comes to using as many muscles as possible and getting a lot out of it in a single lift. 

That said, a lifter who only squats in one way will not be as rounded or developed as a lifter who incorporates a few variations in their program. 

This is a very, very small drawback, because someone who legitimately squats often and squats well will be in great shape. But if that same person were to also perform a few sets each week of other squat variations, they’d see better results all around in most cases.

Wondering how often you should be squatting? We discuss this in more detail in How Many Times Per Week Should You Squat?

Greater Lower Back Demands

As we discussed, the standard squat puts more motion on your lower back as you slightly bend forward to keep the bar centered on your body in the descent and then bend your upper body back to an upright position to stay centered as you ascend. 

Depending on your situation, this added emphasis on your lower back may be a benefit or a drawback. If you just need to sterngthen your lower back, then being able to use the squat as a tool to get stronger is an advantage.

If your lower back is an issue for you, the standard squat may exaggerate that issue and be a huge drawback. You’ll need to speak with a medical professional about exactly how to handle your own lower back problems, but the standard squat may aggravate it or will at least put more emphasis on it. 

There are several other squat variations you can do if you’re suffering from lower back pain. I provide some of my favorites in Which Squat Is Best For Lower Back Pain? (5 Examples).

Sumo Squats: How To, Muscles Used, Tips, Common Mistakes, Pros, and Cons

Sumo Squats: How To Do It

To perform a sumo squat, take the following steps:

Step 1: Grip the barbell in your hands

Place your hands about shoulder-width apart as you face the barbell.

Step 2: Place the barbell on your back

With your hands on the bar, dip below the bar and place it comfortably on your back. Stand up under the bar so it comes off the rack and rests on your back.

Step 3: Walk it out

Take three small steps backward into your squat position. Your feet should be well outside of shoulder-width apart when you finish your walkout and slightly turned out with your hips open wide.

Step 4: Brace your core

Take as big of a breath as you can into your stomach to brace your core and create intra-abdominal pressure.

Step 5: Descend into your squat

Bend your knees and descend downward until the crease of your hip descends below the top of your kneecap. Instead of bending slightly forward as you do with a standard squat, you should be able to keep your upper body relatively upright throughout the lift.  

Step 6: Return to starting position

After passing “parallel” with your hips passing the top of your knee, stand back up to your starting position. 

Step 7: Repeat for reps

Perform as many reps as your program calls for. 

Sumo Squats: Muscles Used

sumo squats muscles used

When performing sumo squats, the following muscles are primarily used:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Erector Spinae
  • Rhomboids

Quads

The muscles on the front of your thighs are used in the flexion of your knee as you descend and ascend during the squat. However, in the wider sumo stance, your knees don’t bend as much. The quads still work hard, but with less flexion of the knee, they don’t move as much. 

Glutes

As you come back to a standing position, your glutes and adductors work together to extend your hips. In the wider sumo stance, more of your range of motion comes from dropping your hips down, making the glutes work more than in other narrower stances. 

Adductors

The adductors are the inner thigh muscles that work in conjunction with your glutes to extend your hips. 

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae are the lower back muscles that stabilize you while standing erect and also help you bend forward and stand back upright when bending at the hip.

Because the sumo stance keeps your upper body more upright than other stances, these muscles are mostly acting as stabilizers here. However, some forward/backward travel in your upper body is expected, and the erector spinae muscles take care of that. 

Rhomboids

The rhomboids (a large muscle group in the upper back) work to keep your shoulders pulled back as you hold the bar in a steady position on your back throughout the lift. 

This portion of the body is unaffected by the change in stance between sumo and standard. 

Sumo Squats: Pro Tips

If you want to do sumo squats well, take note of a few tips: 

  • Learn to sink into your hips
  • Develop mobility
  • Record your sets

Learn to Sink Into Your Hips

There are not many differences from the traditional squat if you just do a wide stance squat. While a wider stance is an element of the sumo squat, it’s just the beginning. Just like some people try a sumo deadlift by taking a wider stance and then pulling the same way they do with a conventional pull – it’s not any better. 

To really get the advantage out of this variation, learn to let your hips do most of the traveling instead of your knees. Learn to keep your upper body upright instead of bending forward to move the bar down. Practice it and work at it. 

As you take the time to feel and learn the advantages of this wider, open hip stance, you’ll be able to get the most out of it. 

Develop Mobility

It won’t always be easy to get into the right position at first. If you haven’t developed hip mobility to take a wide stance like this, you’ll need to work at it. 

Take the time to do stretches for several weeks. Warm-up each workout before attempting sumo squats. Take the time to get your body ready for this specific variation so you can get the most of it. 

There’s nothing wrong with starting right where you are. But hold yourself accountable to getting better than whatever your starting point is. 

If you need help preparing for your sumo squat workouts, check out How To Warm Up For Squats (Mobility, Dynamic Stretching, & Activation).

Record Your Sets

As with standard squats, take the time to set up a camera and record your sumo squat sets. Record sets from different angles so you can see what’s going on in a 360 view. 

Combining video information with the information you get performing the sumo squat will help you identify areas you need to improve and see your progress even when the weight on the bar isn’t changing as much as you’d expected. 

Sumo Squats: Common Mistakes

It’s easy to make mistakes with a new exercise variation, but I can help you avoid a few major ones: 

  • Inconsistent stance
  • Inappropriate load
  • Missing depth

Inconsistent Stance

Just like your standard squat, take the time to find your comfortable sumo stance and do it the same every time. 

Take the time to put tape or chalk marks on the floor where your feet need to go. This may slightly change week over week as you start doing them consistently and develop more mobility, but it shouldn’t be a drastic change each week or each workout. 

Setting your stance and staying consistent will enable you to target the right muscles each time you do this exercise. 

Inappropriate Load

As with any exercise, you’ve got to use the right load. Sumo squats won’t do you any good if you’re babying them with light weight that won’t make you change and adapt, or if you’re throwing so much on there you can’t do them right and you hurt yourself. 

Treat these just like your regular squats. Find the right starting load and progress it week over week from there by adding more reps per set, more sets per workout, or more weight overall. 

Missing Depth

These squats will feel different at parallel/depth than a narrower stance variation. Record your sets, have a friend watch from the side, and develop the muscle memory to know what true depth feels like with sumo squats versus other squat variations you perform. 

Just like any other squat, these are best when you do them all the way to depth, so don’t make the mistake of shorting it. 

Sumo Squats: Benefits

sumo squats benefits

The sumo squat has a few advantages over other variations: 

  • Shorter range of motion
  • Less upper body movement
  • Adds variety

Shorter Range of Motion

The internet doesn’t like when lifters use a shorter range of motion, but who cares? Shorten up the total distance you have to move the weight by taking a wider stance, just the same way you can with sumo deadlifts or wide grip bench press!

Sure, you may only be shortening the ROM by a half-inch or an inch in some cases, but powerlifting is as much a game of inches as any, so every little bit counts. 

If you find you’re able to perform sumo squats with max effort and max weight, this can be a great advantage to you against other lifters. 

Less Upper Body Movement

Less forward/backward motion in your upper body during the lift is one of the big benefits of the sumo deadlift that I love, and it also applies to the sumo squat.

As we open our hips up, we are able to descend to the bottom of the squat with way less forward bend in our upper body. This means we don’t need as much lower back recruitment to get back to our upright starting position. Most lifters find their lower back is the weakest link in squats, so this is a big plus for such lifters. 

Additionally, with less upper body movement, there’s less to think about and focus on during the lift, letting you zero in on getting the lift done successfully. 

Adds Variety

Finally, this variation adds, well, variety to your squat regimen! 

I harped on it earlier, but the best squatters will put a lot of time and energy into training squat variations in addition to their standard squat form. 

The sumo squat can be an excellent way to add more glute work or reduce lower back work to your squat regimen. Or maybe it’s just a nice change of scenery for a while, which is also important. 

Sumo Squats: Drawbacks

sumo squats drawbacks

Two drawbacks of sumo squats are that it:

  • May not work with certain leverages
  • Lacks quad and erector emphasis

May Not Work With Certain Leverages

As cool as this lift might be for some lifters, it may not be the case for you. 

I’ve seen some equipped powerlifters in lifting suits (suits that offer a lot of support and allow you to lift heavier) do some amazing 1,000lb+ squats in the widest sumo squat stance I’ve ever seen. 

I’ve also seen raw, natural powerlifters (lifters who only use a few pieces of equipment in competition, such as knee sleeves, belts, and wrist wraps) set world records with a very narrow stance as they squat. 

If you are a lifter with a very long torso relative to your legs, you may find you have to bend forward more to keep the bar centered, putting more strain on your lower back. The sumo squat may be a great option to avoid that.

Similarly, for lifters with very flexible hips, the sumo squat may be more comfortable. There are dozens of factors that impact our leverages and advantages, and you’ll need to understand your own by trial and error as you safely attempt these variations.


We are all built differently, and unfortunately the sumo squat isn’t going to be a catch-all solution for lifters. If you aren’t one who is comfortable or capable of squatting max weight in the sumo stance, this won’t be a lift you’ll want to try to develop competitively or work on often if you’re a recreational lifter. 

If you have long legs, you’ll always be at a disadvantage when it comes to squats. Learn how you can overcome these challenges in How To Squat If You Have Long Legs (10 Tips).

Lacks Quad and Erector Emphasis

For the same reason some people might love the sumo squat, others will hate it. 

Because we reduce the quad and erector emphasis, this means we can’t use it for developing those same muscles like we can with a standard squat. 

If all you do are sumo squats, you’ll be missing out on quad and erector development, unless you do other exercises dedicated to those muscles. 

Sure, it’s a great option if those are weaknesses of yours because you can still squat while you work on building up your quad and erector strength. But you shouldn’t avoid addressing those weaknesses, and sumo squats alone won’t make those areas any stronger. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Squats vs Sumo Squats: Which One Should You Do?

Most lifters should do a combination of both squats and sumo squats, with squats as their main squatting movement and sumo squats as a variation they perform to round out and add variety to their lower body training. 

Squats vs Sumo Squats: Which Is Best For Powerlifting?

Powerlifters have competed successfully with both lifts, but the majority of competition squats are done with the standard squat. If a lifter finds he or she is more comfortable with a sumo squat and can perform it with max load and max effort, they should do the sumo squat, and vice versa. 

Squats vs Sumo Squats: Which Is Best For Muscle Mass?

Both squat variations will build muscle when performed with intensity for 8-16 rep sets while eating in a caloric surplus. Squats put more emphasis on the quads and lower back muscles while sumo squats put more emphasis on the glutes. Both should be included in a well-rounded program for maximal muscle growth. 

Squats vs Sumo Squats: Which Is Best For Beginners?

The standard squat is a better choice for beginners so that they can learn a balanced squat approach. With a little time, if the new lifter finds they are more comfortable with a wider stance or full sumo squat stance, there should be no hesitation using that stance as the primary squat stance. 

Squats vs Sumo Squats: Which Is Best For Max Strength?

Generally speaking, the squat is better for building max strength. That said, in some scenarios, like a lifter’s personal leverages or when wearing a powerlifting suit that adds more support and allows athletes to lift more weight, the sumo stance can be advantageous. But this is far more the exception than the rule. 

Other Squat Comparisons


About The Author

Adam Gardner

Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.