The deadlift is one of my favorite exercises in the gym, and it should be yours, too. That’s not broscience. The amount of reach a deadlift has compared to many other lifts is incomparable. It’s one of the most primitive movement patterns ever, but it’s responsible for training so many muscles at the same time. By practicing and strengthening the deadlift pattern, a lifter can prevent hip and knee issues, lower back pain, core weakness, poor posture, and develop an awesome looking pair of legs and butt in the process.
But it’s not that simple for all of us.
Especially if we’ve got a history of old injuries, are predisposed to new injuries, or aren’t built in a way that suits a good, strong deadlift setup. But there are ways around it. I personally learned this through experience, since I currently deal with all three of the above situations. At 6’4” with longer legs and a shorter torso, attempting to get into position for a conventional deadlift is more awkward than seeing an ex girlfriend at your wife’s family reunion. The typical result is one that includes a high hip position to accommodate, while the knees are crossing forward over the bar. The accompanied back stress this can create may not be your cup of tea, if you’re susceptible to injury.
Most would suggest a sumo deadlift as a fix. Getting the feet out wide makes it much easier to create a more vertical torso, get your knees wide, shins vertical, and even reduce the bar’s travel distance. I used this variation with many clients early on, but the common thought was that it’s just plain not comfortable when compared to a conventional deadlift. It made sense. Getting out of your comfort zone is something we all need to do as lifters, but if something is going against our typical skeletal frame, you’ll be able to feel it.
In the case of sumo deadlifts, this may be true. Recent research suggests that deep squatting with a standard foot width may not be a good fit for everyone, since the stance has to reflect the position of your hip sockets on your pelvis (if you have a narrower spacing, a narrow stance may work better for you than a wider one, and vice versa). For some reason, this isn’t touched on with the deadlift, although the same problem would prevent itself. A sumo deadlift may not be biomechanically advantageous for a lifter with narrow hip socket spacing, and may cause undue joint stress.
Related: Master the Sumo Deadlift
That’s why it’s helpful to play with the foot position of deadlift variations, too, when doing styles other than the conventional stance. I’ve found that the medium sumo deadlift works best for me. I’ve also heard this exercise referred to as a “semi sumo deadlift.” In simplest terms, the forearms are still in contact with the knees and shins in the setup, except the legs are on the outside versus the inside. Your stance will be about 6 to 8 inches wider than a typical conventional deadlift pattern, and this will give deadlifters a few crucial degrees of geometrical change. Even five degrees at the hip and knee joint can mean a world of difference for the back stress endured.
For once, I’m glad I get to use myself as an example. Tall lifters don’t have it easy in this exercise, and my history of SI injuries has kept me playing it safe when it comes to my deadlift workouts. I consider my form technically sound, so I’ll show you this first video so you can examine my lift geometry for a conventional deadlift first:
The medium sumo style allows my inner thighs to become more active, pulls my shoulders back, and (for me) stimulates more glutes — probably due to the slight external thigh rotation. Note the difference in posture and angles.
Although the weight being lifted is much lighter in the second video (I was still in “rehab” mode), I was definitely feeling stronger and more confident regarding the lift itself and my back health being protected while making this change.
Here’s how to set up for the medium sumo:
- Make sure to step right under the bar and don’t drastically change the width of your hand position in your setup.
- Keep the feet a bit wider than normal and set the knees so that they’re outside the arms instead of inside.
- The forearms and legs should still be in contact with each other, much like they are during a conventional deadlift.
- The shin should be as vertical as possible before you pull, and it should also be perpendicular to the ground. If your shin is on a slant, your stance may be too wide.
- Remember to “squeeze” your chest out and attempt to bend the bar before you pull it. This will ensure you remain tight through the duration of the lift.
- Keep the bar close the entire time, and drive through with the hips and glutes.
Sometimes it doesn’t take the most drastic of changes to have a positive effect on your body’s ability to handle movements, set new PR’s, and stay injury free. Try the medium sumo deadlift if you���ve been struggling with your conventional pulls.