The deadlift is the classic strength training exercise for the posterior chain muscles, which are those along the backside of your lower body.
While traditional barbell deadlifts are a powerlifting staple, the sumo deadlift exercise is a viable alternative to traditional deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts.
But, what muscles do sumo deadlifts work? Are the sumo deadlift muscles worked the same as those worked by traditional deadlifts and RDL muscles?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss how to perform sumo deadlifts, the benefits of sumo deadlifts, the differences between sumo deadlifts vs Romanian deadlifts and traditional deadlifts, and the sumo deadlift muscles worked.
We will look at:
- How To Do Sumo Deadlifts
- Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked
- What Are the Benefits of Sumo Deadlifts?
Let’s jump in!
How To Do Sumo Deadlifts
Before we look at the sumo deadlifts muscles worked list, let’s cover how to do sumo deadlifts since this deadlift variation is not as common as traditional barbell deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts (RDLs).
Here are the steps for how to perform sumo deadlifts with a barbell:
- Place the loaded barbell on the floor and stand facing the bar so that it’s hovering over the middle of your foot.
- Take a nice wide stance with your toes pointing outwards and your shins vertical.
- Brace your core as you sit your hips back to squat down and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing down). Make sure to keep your chest up, shoulders down, and back straight (do not round your back). Your knees will bend more than with a regular deadlift.
- Contract your glutes and hamstrings as you press through your heels to extend your hips and knees to stand upright, keeping your back straight.
- Allow the barbell to track up along the shins, and once the barbell passes your knees, drive your hips forward, sliding the bar against your quads as you stand all the way up.
- Once you are standing fully upright, squeeze your glutes to achieve the full lockout position in hip extension.
- Slowly reverse the motion, bringing the bar back down towards your ankles as it tracks just in front of your quads and shins by sitting your hips back and allowing a gentle bend in your knees. Remember to keep your chest up, your core tight, and your back straight.
Note that bracing your core and locking your shoulders down will help stabilize your spine.
You can also perform sumo deadlifts using the Smith machine. Even though the Smith machine sumo deadlift is considered to be a less functional exercise, there are also benefits of Smith machine deadlifts.
The Smith machine barbell follows a guided path along a track in the machine, which means that it is safer to attempt heavy deadlifts on your own without the need for a spotter.If you are struggling to complete a rep, all you have to do is rotate the bar back into the built-in guides.
Therefore, the Smith machine is a great way to strengthen the muscles worked by sumo deadlifts, particularly if you don’t have a spotter for heavy barbell sumo deadlifts.
The other benefit of Smith machine sumo deadlifts vs barbell sumo deadlifts is that because the barbell is moving in a fixed path of motion on the Smith machine, you can generally use more weight than when you are deadlifting in an open power cage.
The Smith machine helps stabilize the barbell so that you do not have to worry about balancing the weight or activating as many stabilizer muscles worked by sumo deadlifts.
This generally means that you can lift heavier weights while still maintaining control of the barbell. This can help you maximize your strength gains from deadlifting because you are able to put your muscles under heavier loads.
Additionally, Smith machine sumo deadlifts are particularly great for beginners because you do not have to worry as much about the nuances of your technique since the barbell is guided along the machine.
Even if you often do barbell sumo deadlifts, adding Smith machine sumo deadlifts is a good way to push yourself when you want to try to deadlift more weight.
Here are the steps for performing the sumo deadlift with the Smith machine:
- Set the bar so that it is just above your ankles, with your feet super wide and your toes pointing out.
- Keeping your back straight, hinge at your hips while bending dramatically at your knees, sort of like a squat, and grip the bar with your palms facing down.
- Unlatch the barbell as you brace your core. Keeping your chest up and shoulders down, press through your heels, using your glutes and hamstrings to pull your body upright into a standing position.
- Keeping your core tight and back straight, hinge at the hips and bend your knees again to lower the bar back down along the track.
Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked
One of the common questions regarding muscles worked in sumo deadlift variations is: “What are the differences in muscles worked by sumo deadlifts vs conventional deadlifts?”
Any variation of the deadlift exercise is going to primarily target the posterior chain muscles, so the muscles worked in sumo deadlifts are not drastically different from traditional deadlift muscles or muscles worked in RDLs.
Like other deadlifts, the primary muscles worked by sumo deadlifts are the posterior chain muscles.
The reason that these muscles are referred to as the “posterior chain muscles“ is that they are found on the backside of your body, which, in anatomical terms, is referred to as the “posterior” side of the body.
Furthermore, the “chain” component of the posterior chain muscles terminology is derived from the fact that these muscles function as a sequential but cohesive unit in a chain-like linkage.
Thus, the main muscles worked by deadlift exercises include the following:
- Erector Spinae Muscles (low back extensors)
Additionally, synergistic muscles worked by deadlifts to provide core and trunk stability or assist the main deadlift muscles worked include the quads, adductors, abdominals and other core muscles, lats, rhomboids, and smaller and deeper hip muscles.
That said, there are some differences in the sumo deadlift muscles worked vs Romanian deadlift muscles or conventional deadlift muscles worked.
The differences in the muscles worked by sumo deadlifts vs RDLs or traditional barbell deadlifts stem from changing the foot positioning and much wider stance for the sumo deadlift vs regular deadlift stance.
The sumo deadlift stance better targets the quads, glutes (especially the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus relative to the traditional deadlift), and adductors relative to Romanian deadlifts.
What Are the Benefits of Sumo Deadlifts?
Here are some of the benefits of deadlifts based on the muscles worked by sumo deadlifts:
#1: Stronger Glutes
The glutes tend to be relatively weak in the posterior chain, requiring greater reliance on the lower back muscles and hamstrings even though the glutes are larger and more powerful muscles.
For this reason, performing glute-focused exercises or those that really target the glutes—like the sumo deadlift vs Romanian deadlift—can help improve your ability to properly activate your muscles while also increasing the strength and size of your glutes.
#2: Stronger Quads
Studies have found the sumo deadlift helps strengthen the quads more than conventional deadlifts.
This isn’t inherently better, but having different deadlift variations in your leg workouts will help you develop more well-rounded strength.
#3: Less Lumbar Strain
Most strength coaches say that the sumo deadlift variation puts less stress and strain on the spine and intervertebral discs because you are squatting down from your legs more rather than hip-hinging and reaching with your arms.
The sumo deadlift is thought to be particularly helpful for those with a long torso.
#4: Stronger Calves
Having strong, defined calf muscles not only looks great when you are sporting your favorite pair of shorts or skirt but also helps you jump higher, run faster, hike more easily, climb or ascend stairs, and perform better in your workouts and everyday life.
Overall, the differing foot placement used for sumo vs conventional deadlifts does change the muscles targeted in sumo deadlifts to some extent, as well as the mechanics of the exercise.
While many of the same muscles are worked in sumo and conventional deadlifts, there are some small differences, namely that the muscles worked by sumo deadlifts are more heavily weighted towards the quads, smaller glute muscles, and adductors.
To supplement your quad-dominant sumo deadlifts vs traditional deadlifts, check out our guide to the best posterior chain workout here.