One of the most empowering movements you can perform in your training.
A movement that mimics many movements in everyday life.
And a movement that builds total body strength and complete badassery.
A movement that can often look quite intimidating if you don’t know where to start.
An often misunderstood movement, let’s break this down and gain some understanding around this killer lift.
Our bodies produce force to move our limbs and create a movement.
Gravity is the main external force acting, it is a linear force
Our glutes need to overcome the force of gravity in order to extend
A moment arm is simply the length between a joint axis and the line of force acting on that joint. Every joint that is involved in an exercise has a moment arm. The longer the moment arm is the more load will be applied to the joint axis through leverage.
The moment arm in this case is the distance from the hips to the bar. Therefore the longer the moment arm (length of femurs) the more force that needs to be generated in order to extend your hips and lock out.
If we can therefore reduce the moment arm, we can look to reduce the force needed at this moment arm. This is where various stances come into play and we can look at a sumo deadlift.
Prime driver and synergist
Prime driver: gluteus maximus. Primarily responsible for the extension of this movement (hips thrusting towards the bar on lockout).
With a conventional deadlift your feet are roughly about hip width apart, your toes are pointed forward and your shins can start close to the bar. The conventional deadlift is a complete compound exercise that has a focus on your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and back). There is far less hip mobility demands than a sumo deadlift that will be discussed below. The conventional deadlift places a higher demand on the entirety of your posterior chain whereby the sumo deadlift requires a large demand through the entirety of your legs as as whole. With a higher demand on your overall back, muscular development to support this movement must be a focus for optimal and safe execution.
With a sumo deadlift we are effectively reducing the moment arm by pulling the hips closer to the bar. If the goal is to reduce this distance, when pulling sumo we must make sure that our hips don’t shoot back and effectively lose this mechanical advantage.
We are also able to reduce the range of motion needed to lock out. You are closer to the ground when locked out as your legs are spread wider allowing the bar to have to travel less distance.
A shorter range of motion coupled with a shorter moment arm; then shouldn’t everyone do sumo?
If the goal is to move as much weight as possible then theoretically yes. However many simply cannot get into the bottom position required. It is a technically heavy movement and requires a mobile hip musculature to entertain the idea.
One must remember that a deadlift is a true hip dominant movement and is different to a squat. Initiate from a hip hinge.
How straight your back is when you deadlift is a common talking point.
We must first consider forces acting upon our back and how this is impacting when completing a deadlift.
There are three directions in which forces are applied to human tissue:
Compression: force pushing down (force of gravity acts on our body daily)
Tension: force pulling muscles
Shear: force that moves in opposite directions (can displace a part of an object like bone and joint displacement)
To consider what happens to our back we must look at compression and shear forces.
A flat back is not the same as an upright back. In order to reduce the effect of shear forces acting on the lumbar spine in a detrimental way, we need to ensure that a neutral spine is achieved. This may result in a spine that is not completely vertical.
Our spine does a great job at withstanding compression forces, however shear forces come into play, with the introduction of a load, and this can be a problem.
A fully flexed spine (bent forward) switches off the back extensor muscles, loads the posterior tissue and results in tight shearing forces which can be potentially dangerous for all lifters.
A neutral to slightly extended lumbar spine posture will reduce the shear force acting on the lumbar spine. Ensuring that an optimal lumbar position is maintained for each lifter is a crucial first step to consider.
We must also consider thoracic (upper back) rounding. Many high level lifters utilise a degree of rounding for a mechanical advantage. Maintaining a slightly rounded upper back that is kept tight can allow an advantage whereby less distance is required for the overall load. It allows the forces acting upon the body to be reduced. This is an advanced technique and should not be promoted amongst beginner lifters.
So which one is right for me?
Whichever one feels comfortable to you and respects the below points.
Points to consider prior to lifting:
1. Start with mastering your conventional deadlift first. The sumo deadlift can look quite interesting and exciting therefore many jump into this movement far too early. If you would like to try sumo in the future, you will still perform conventional deadlifts in training therefore spend time learning this movement first.
2. Respect your structure and current state: do you have the hip mobility to support a sumo deadlift? Check with an experienced Coach to assess this first.
3. Stabilise to mobilise: what muscle groups do you need to stabilise and strengthen major muscle groups involved.
4. Am I actually ready to start with a barbell? Do I have the ability to brace? Am I able to feel my glutes activating? Do I know how to utilise my lats? Building base level movement patterns (like a hip hinge) is hugely important in this movement. Can I do that safely and optimally with a KB?
Prematurely increasing the weight on a barbell is a common fail point that we can see with ladies before they come to us at BBB. Master the fundamental movement pattern first and then start loading.
Deadlifts do equal complete badasssery, so long as you earn it!
We hope this gave you some tips for mastering your lift.
Shoot us a message for analysis of your deadlift.