Sumo deadlifts are still considered as “cheating” by many, however, it is practiced by advanced and elite lifters around the world.
So, are sumo deadlifts cheating? No, sumo deadlifts are not cheating. They are approved as a lift in all powerlifting federations, including the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). It simply differs from the conventional deadlift and requires increased mobility, time under tension and technique proficiency.
The sumo deadlift, while unique in its own right, does have its benefits and specific ways in which it is easier than a conventional deadlift. However, the conventional deadlift has elements that make it easier to maneuver than a sumo for some as well.
Here’s what I’ll discuss today:
- Is Sumo Deadlift Allowed In Powerlifting Competition? And, Are There Special Rules For Sumo Pullers?
This article is not going to compare the conventional and sumo deadlift in detail. If youre looking for a comprehensive comparison, check out my other article: Conventional vs Sumo Deadlift: Which One Should You Do?.
Table of Contents
Why Do People Think Sumo Deadlift Is Cheating?
The sumo deadlift is often called out for being cheating because it appears, to the untrained eye, to be an easier lift mostly due to a reduction in range of motion.
While the claim does stand, sumo deadlifts do move a distance of approximately 20-25% shorter than that of conventional deadlifts. However, there are other aspects to the lift that add a different element of difficulty that you wouldn’t encounter with the conventional variation (I’ll explain further below).
In addition to the reduction in range of motion, sumo deadlifts do not place as much stress on the lower and mid back. This can therefore appear to be a “crutch” deadlift variation for those who are weaker in these muscle areas.
Related Article: Is Sumo Deadlift Easier On Your Low Back? (Science-Backed)
However, this claim ignores that there is a greater recruitment of the quads in sumo with similar recruitment of the hips. Therefore, if these are muscle groups where you are stronger it may indeed provide you with a benefit or come more naturally to you, however this can also be said for those squatting with a wide stance, wearing heeled lifting shoes, or benching with a higher arch.
It’s also important to note that it’s not typically the competitive powerlifting community that will call sumo cheating, but rather those outside of the sport who know some basics of strength training. It sometimes stems from a need for everything to be as difficult as possible in order for it to be considered “legitimate” and worthy of praise.
Sumo Deadlifting Cheating: What People Are Saying
Don’t take my word for it, let’s take a look at what some experts in the world of powerlifting have to say about the sumo deadlift:
Stefi Cohen (@steficohen)
Stefi Cohen, best known for being one of the best female sumo deadlifting champs in recent years acknowledges the reduction of range of motion but argues it is not an easier lift.
“Sumo deadlift has approximately 25% less range of motion than a conventional deadlift. This difference however matters very little when it comes to a one rep max. Your muscles have enough energy stored to produce 8-10sec of max effort contractions, which is approximately how many seconds a deadlift grind last for. Range of motion would matter a lot more if we are talking about deadlifting for maximal REPS, which is why by CrossFit standards, it would make sense for them to only allow only one method.
Other factors like the shape of your pelvis, orientation of your hip socket and femur will determine your range of motion AND the amount of muscular tension you can develop by placing your legs in different positions.
Knee moment is 3x higher in sumo than conventional, this just means that sumos hit your quads harder. EMG studies found that there is 10% more activity in your spinal erectors in conventional…”Stefi Cohen
Eugen Loki (@Pheasyque)
“…most Sumo haters are the ones who can't sumo at all.
Even though there's a reduction in ROM, both lifts tend to have an average of 5-8 seconds to complete maximal load reps (1RMs).
Sumo deadlifts are typically (NOT ALWAYS!) more difficult off the ground but easier at lock out, while Conventional DLs are the opposite.”Eugen Loki
Bryce Krawczyk (Calgary Barbell)
Bryce Krawczyk, head coach at Calgary Barbell and elite powerlifter who has broken records with both sumo and conventional deadlifts weighs in on the topic in the following video.
He measures the range of motion between the two lifts on both a stiff bar and a deadlift bar which is much longer and allows for a much wider stance.
The results? Range of motion was shorter with sumo and even shorter on a deadlift bar. However, that is just one factor among a multitude that make a lift challenging for an athlete.
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
Why The Sumo Deadlift Is Actually Harder Than Conventional Deadlifting
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the sumo deadlift, despite it’s reduced range of motion, can actually be harder than the conventional deadlift.
Sumo Deadlifting Requires Additional Mobility
You’d be surprised how many adults do not have the mobility to set up for a sumo deadlift. In order to create a stable and strong stance you need to have very good external rotation of the hip. This is a mobility skill that tends to be much easier among women which may account for its popularity in women’s powerlifting.
In addition, if you have a history of groin pain or injury, the sumo stance will put you in a vulnerable position and may not be the best option for you. In this way, the sumo deadlift can be the harder variation for some athletes because of the extra hip mobility required to execute it efficiently.
If you’re struggling with hip mobility, check out my article on Hip Mobility For Squats: 13 Drills To Follow. While this is an article on squatting, many of the same concepts and exercises apply to sumo deadlift.
Sumo Deadlifting Requires Greater Technique off the Floor (Angle of Shin, Hips, and Shoulders)
Most lifters and coaches will agree that (for most people) the sumo deadlift challenges the athlete in the first couple inches off the floor, while the conventional challenges the athlete around the mid-way point and until lock out.
When comparing conventional and sumo it is far easier to break ground with the weight whereas some heavy sumo deadlift may take several seconds before breaking ground and require a ton of patience.
In order to get the weight moving the angle of your shin and hips need to be in the perfect position to be able to load your glutes, hamstrings and quads. In addition, when looking at a side angle of a good sumo deadlift you will notice the shoulder is directly in line with the hips.
Small variations do exist between lifters but if you’re hoping to get that weight to get moving you have to find the perfect spot to place your feet, hands, kness, hips and head. Whereas with conventional getting it off the floor can be done with some of the worst technique out there.
Looking for resources on the correct angles for deadlift, check out:
- What Is The Best Deadlift Bar Path?
- Choosing The Best Deadlift Stance For Your Size
- Best Deadlift Back Angle For Your Size And Build
- Best Deadlift Hip Position For Your Size And Build
- Best Deadlift Shin Angle For Your Size And Build
Sumo Deadlifting Has Less Room for Error When Technique Breaks Down
Deadlifts in general are the most “forgiving” lift, in that even when things go imperfectly you can still manage to push yourself through to lock out. A skill less easy with squats and bench press.
However, when comparing conventional and sumo, sumo is much less forgiving when you start to move in an inefficient manner. The best sumo deadlifters are the one’s where every single rep looks almost mechanical and robotic because they have nailed down every part of the lift.
Because of this reason sumo deadlifts can be much more difficult for some because it requires great technical proficiency and you can’t get away with sloppy movements.
You Can't Lockout the Knees Too Early When Sumo Deadlifting
While there is an element of hip hinging in both sumo and conventional deadlifts, the sumo requires the quads to be involved in locking it out. This difference means that if your knees lock out too early, you lose the involvement of your legs and are left with just the hips to help you pull through.
While you can get away with an early knee lockout on a conventional deadlift, it may just end up resembling a stiff leg deadlift or Romanian deadlift, sumo is less forgiving. Due to the wide leg positioning in sumo, it is much more difficult to switch to having just your glutes and back move the weight up with stability and you may end up falling forward in the lockout.
Therefore, not only is sumo particular at the start of the lift, but even small mistakes like early knee lockout may cause you to fail the lift.
The Sumo Deadlift Is Generally a Slower Lift
Due to the difficulty of moving the sumo deadlift off the ground, the lift itself is on average several seconds longer which translates to greater time under tension. Time under tension is one of several important variables when determining whether a lift is going to be difficult.
So while the sumo is less stressful on the lower back it still challenges other muscle groups and requires you to maintain your strength and power output for a longer amount of time than a conventional deadlift.
Struggling to get the deadlift off the floor? Check out my article: Is Your Deadlift Weak Off The Floor?
Sumo Deadlifting Is Not Ideal for Certain Body Types
The sumo is usually performed by those who tried out a sumo stance and felt it to be more comfortable and intuitive than a conventional deadlift. This, however, is not the case with all lifters which is why we continue to see diversity among deadlift styles.
Body types that tend to favour sumo deadlifting are those who also point their toes out during squats because of their natural anatomy of the femur and hips. This may also help account for the more common adoption of sumo among women.
Need to Master Other Deadneed to Master Other Deadlifting Variations First
In order to do a sumo deadlift it is important that you have mastered the conventional deadlift and all its variations. This is because the sumo is more technical and requires great body and muscular awareness.
Sumo will feel very strange to untrained individuals and is much more easily adopted after someone has gone through the work of learning how to deadlift well using a more conventional stance.
Is Sumo Deadlifting Allowed In Powerlifting Competitions? Or Is It Cheating?
Yes, sumo deadlifting is allowed in all powerlifting competitions, regardless of federation or class. In fact, it’s a more common style of deadlift among lighter weight class categories.
Cheating implies that you are breaking the rules, but sumo does not break the rules in any way and every lifter is welcome to choose their preferred stance when performing a deadlift at a competition.
It is not allowed in certain styles of sporting events like CrossFit and World’s Strongest Man competitions, however, when it comes to powerlifting, sumo deadlift is completely allowed and is chosen by many lifters around the world.
Interesting to note: it is the preferred stance among lighter lifters regardless of gender, but even more strongly preferred over conventional among the lightest male weight classes. The underlying reason for this may have more to do with body proportions and muscular strengths among lighter lifters vs heavier ones and less so with the mass of one’s body.
Will You Be Able to Pull More Weight Sumo Deadlifting?
You will not be able to pull more weight sumo deadlifting simply because you widen your stance. If you are going to gain strength in the sumo deadlift, and pull more weight than other deadlifting styles, it’s going to require greater technical practice.
Arguably the most compelling argument for why sumo isn’t cheating is that simply not every lifter chooses to pull sumo. Assuming an athlete enters a powerlifting competition to move the most amount of weight possible, choosing to pull conventional over an allegedly “easier” stance would never occur.
And yet, a fair share of world records belong to those who choose to pull conventional in competition.
For those who prefer the sumo deadlift, they can also still struggle with it in the beginning once they first switch from conventional. As with any skill, it takes some practice and eventually it will become stronger, but that is true of anything that you practice and train regularly.
Therefore, don’t make an assumption that changing your stance is going to give you any type of superpower. It will still require lots of patience and training to get it to a place where you can express your true strength on the platform.
If the definition of cheating is going against the rules of competition then the sumo deadlift is definitely not cheating. If the definition of cheating is that you’ve chosen a legal variation to a movement that better suits your strengths and skills, then that means all rules of all competitive sports must come into question.
If the sumo deadlift is truly the easiest way of deadlifting we would not have elite level lifters breaking records and still competing purely in a conventional stance. It comes down to personal preference and every lifter should aim to be strong in both and compete in the one that they are stronger in.
Other Sumo Deadlifting Resources
- How Wide Should You Sumo Deadlift?
- How To Fix Hip Pain When Sumo Deadlifting
- Back Squat vs Sumo Deadlift
- Semo-Sumo Deadlift: Should You Do It?
- Best Shoes For Sumo Deadlifts: Buying Guide & Reviews
- Sumo Deadlift Mobility: 10 Exercises With Full Routine
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.