A common reason athletes avoid the sumo deadlift is because they lack the necessary mobility to execute it in an efficient and effective way.
Even if you don’t use the sumo stance regularly for deadlifting, it is an excellent exercise for strength and muscle building and worthwhile to get comfortable with.
So, what exercises can help with improving mobility?
Here are my top 10 exercises for increasing your sumo deadlift mobility:
- Foam Rolling
- Banded Lateral Walks
- Tactical Frog Stretch
- Pigeon Stretch
- Banded Hip Internal Rotation
- Half Kneeling Rock Back
- Banded Hip Abduction
- Goblet Sumo Squats
In this article I will go over why mobility is important for sumo, how to test your mobility, the various exercises you can do to improve it as well as a sample routine to add into your lifting sessions.
Not sure which deadlift is your preferred yet? Check out: Conventional VS. Sumo Deadlift: Which One Should You Do?
Why Is Mobility Important for Sumo Deadlifts?
Mobility is especially important for the sumo deadlift because the hips are placed in a more challenging position that requires good external rotation and abduction, which is difficult for many people to achieve.
The key to a good sumo stance is having adequate hip external rotation and hip abduction. This means bringing the legs wider from the centre of your body, and having the ability to ‘push your knees out’ at the same time.
If you are not able to meet these criteria, you will likely suffer from discomfort in the stance, pains and aches in your hips or inner thighs over time, as well as just an inefficient sumo deadlift.
If you’re currently suffering from hip pain, you’ll want to read more at How To Fix Hip Pain When Sumo Deadlifting (7 Tips).
The sumo deadlift position, much like with any other compound lift, requires that you set up in the proper way to fully recruit the appropriate muscles.
If your stance is too narrow or not externally rotated enough then it’s likely you are not engaging your glutes or quads adequately and will over-rely on your back or your hamstrings, as if it were a conventional deadlift and not a sumo.
Need better cues to get your sumo deadlift to feel stronger than ever? Check out: 11 Sumo Deadlift Cues To Improve Strength & Technique
How To Test Your Mobility for Sumo Deadlifts
The best way to see if you are mobile enough to do a sumo deadlift is to record yourself setting up with the proper form as well as checking your hip external rotation and abduction abilities.
Try Setting Up With Good Form
To set up for a sumo deadlift you will want to place your feet wider that hip width apart and toes pointed slightly outwards. I use the set-up cue of “have your toes pointing at the weight plates” and find it puts me in a good position.
How wide or how pointed out you place your feet will vary depending on your size but the goal is to have your shins vertical and perfectly perpendicular to the ground. Your legs should also be wide enough so that you have space to keep your arms straight and holding the barbell inside your legs.
Struggling to figure out your foot position? Read more at How Wide Should You Sumo Deadlift? (Complete Guide)
Check Your Hip Mobility
Hip abduction is your ability to move your leg away from your torso, or the midline of your body. Therefore in order to assume a wide sumo stance you must be comfortable and strong in an abducted position.
To test for hip abduction, it would be best if you had someone with you to perform the necessary test with resistance. The glutes, especially the medial glute muscle, are responsible for hip abduction and can be tested by lying on your side, raising your leg as high as you can and being able to withstand resistance.
To see this demonstrated, watch the video below:
Hip external rotation is your ability to open up the hips and having strength in an externally rotated position will be the key to executing a sumo deadlift correctly without having your knees cave inward.
To test for external rotation you can sit at the edge of a high chair or surface with your legs hanging past the knee. Then you will want to move one foot towards the other leg and rotate the thigh outwards.
For a more in-depth demonstration, watch the following video:
Note: For some, their hip anatomy or proportions make it so the ideal sumo form doesn’t suit them very well. In those cases, there is something called the “Semi Sumo Deadlift” which you can learn more about in this article: Semi Sumo Deadlift: Should You Do It? (Complete Guide)
10 Exercises for Sumo Deadlift Mobility
While the following exercises are not an exhaustive list, they will provide you with the right challenge to get your hips moving in a way that will elevate your sumo stance to the next level.
1. Foam Rolling
Foam rollers are a great tool to use to temporarily mobilize joints by releasing tension in the surrounding muscles.
Therefore, if you’re looking to improve your hip mobility and sit more comfortably in a sumo deadlift stance then you should consider foam rolling the following muscle groups:
Quads (Hip Flexors)
You can choose to focus on the areas that need the most attention for you and where you feel the most tension when setting up in a sumo stance.
I cover more about foam rolling in my How To Warm Up For Deadlifts guide.
2. Banded Lateral Walks
An exercise you can add into your routine to help improve strength and awareness of your glutes, which in turn will help mobilize your hips are banded lateral walks.
Place a mini-band or hip circle around your thighs, just above the knees and stand with it stretched out. You will then step to the side with one leg and follow with the other while maintaining tension in the band the entire time.
You should be actively resisting any caving of the knees or letting the band go loose.
For a demonstration, check out the video here:
Tip: Since you are doing these with the goal of getting a better sumo stance, feel free to sink a bit lower in your hips and take wider steps, as if setting up for a sumo stance with each one.
If your hips are shifting in the deadlift as well, then check out my article How To Fix Hip Shift In The Deadlift (10 Tips).
3. Tactical Frog Stretch
The tactical frog stretch is a pretty intense stretch that challenges your internal hip rotation, but in turn, will help release and allow you to externally rotate with ease.
In the stretch, you are on your elbows and knees with your legs placed as wide as you comfortably can with your core engaged and neutral. From here you should contract the hips as if you’re squeezing your legs together and then relaxing after a few seconds of holding the contraction.
To get an in-depth demo of the stretch and some more ways to challenge yourself, watch the following video:
Clamshells are an exercise used both in the fitness and physical therapy world as a way to not only assess but also strengthen the glutes and external rotation of the hip.
To perform the clamshell you will need to lay on your side with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and legs stacked on top of each other. Using only the strength in your glutes you will raise the top knee up and toward the ceiling without compromising the rest of your positioning.
If you are having trouble harnessing activation in your glutes, try using a resistance band around your knees or have a partner apply some manual pressure on the top leg.
Watch the video below for a demonstration of the clamshell:
5. Pigeon Stretch
The pigeon stretch originates from yoga practice, but is an excellent stretch for the hip flexors and is something you can do on your off days from the gym. Since it is a pretty static stretch it would not be advised as a warm-up movement.
Check out my article on Should Powerlifters Do Yoga?
To do the pigeon stretch, start in a high plank position on your hands, bend one knee and bring the entire leg to the front of your body, placing the knee and foot down on the ground. Your shin should ideally be perpendicular to your torso. Keep the back leg straight and sink down to sit on the ground.
Assuming your external rotation isn’t great you may not be able to get into the ideal position and can regress by placing a support under your front knee.
To see the pigeon stretch and its regressions and progressions demonstrated check out this video:
The 90/90 is very similar to the pigeon stretch where you are seated on the ground with an upright torso and squared hips with the front leg in a 90-degree position. The main difference is that the back leg is also in a bent 90-degree position allowing you to get some internal and external rotation.
In this 90/90 position you can also hinge forward slightly if it isn’t too uncomfortable and sink into the stretch a little bit deeper.
For a demonstration, see the video below:
7. Banded Hip External Rotation
Banded hip external rotation is an exercise that can be used as a mobilizing exercise as well as a hip rotation strengthener.
To perform this exercise you will do the external rotation test mentioned at the start of the article where you are sitting at the edge of a chair or, if you’re in the gym, a plyo box. Then attach a resistance band to a sturdy surface and loop it around the foot closest to the band.
Once set up you will push your foot towards your midline, stretching the band and then slowing bringing it back. Since the resistance is relatively light you should be able to perform a high number of reps and really warm up the joint.
You can also add a quick pause for a greater challenge!
Check out the video below for a demo:
8. Half Kneeling Rock Back
The half-kneeling rock back is a dynamic stretch exercise that will help you feel less tension in the inner thighs and help make opening up the hip easier.
Start in a kneeling position on one leg and then the other leg is outstretched to the side and straight. From here you rock back into your hips while keeping your torso neutral and aligned.
For a demonstration, check out the video:
9. Banded Hip Abduction
Hip abduction is an important factor in a strong sumo; therefore, banded hip abductions are definitely a great exercise to include into your weekly warm-ups or mobility routines.
The banded abduction can be done seated with a circle resistance band or can be done one leg at a time and standing with a resistance band looped around a sturdy post. What’s important is that your glute is working to move your leg away from the centre of your body.
To below for a video of each variation of a banded hip abduction:
10. Goblet Sumo Squats
A great dynamic exercise you can add into your routine as either an accessory or as a warm-up is a goblet squat in a sumo stance.
It will provide you with the ability to practice the movement pattern and place your joints in the desired position without overwhelming them with lots of weight. You can hold a relatively light or moderate weight dumbbell at your chest and sink into position until your limit.
If you are very limited just go until it is comfortable and continue doing so for several reps. Over time you should notice your ability to go lower into the sumo squat should improve.
Check out a demonstration here:
Sample Sumo Deadlift Mobility Routine
While everyone should create a routine that is most effective for their needs, I’ve created a sample routine to give you a sense of how to select and incorporate different exercises that will prepare you for your set.
Tip: You can use this routine or this format for not only sumo deadlifts, but even other lower body exercises like the back squat which also require hip mobility.
- Glute and hip flexor foam rolling – 2x 20 seconds/muscle group
- 90/90 – 1x per side (lean forward into the front leg ~5x/side)
- Banded hip external rotation – 2x 20 seconds/leg
- Banded lateral walks – 2×10 steps/leg
- Goblet sumo squats 3×10
Many lifters love the sumo deadlift because it’s easier on the lower back; however, it does pose its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to mobility. However, there are several exercises mentioned in this article that you can incorporate into your warm-ups or your weekly training plan to help improve hip external rotation and abduction.
Ready to start doing sumo but don’t know what shoes you’ll need? Look no further: Best Deadlift Shoes For Sumo: Buying Guide & Reviews (2021)
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.