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Comparing Sumo And Conventional Deadlifts

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The following is a comparison between sumo deadlifts and conventional deadlifts. Also included at the end of this guide is a chart that will help you determine which deadlifting style is right for you.

Deadlift – Muscle Emphasis

  • Conventional deadlift. Conventional deadlifts place more emphasis on the back and spinal erectors (posterior chain). If you have a very strong lower back there is a good chance that you will be able to deadlift more using a conventional stance. (Body structure will also come into play)
  • Sumo deadlift. Sumo deadlifts shift some of the emphasis to glutes, hamstrings, quads, hips and upper traps. If you are experiencing lower back issues, or have a history of lower back problems, sumo deadlifts may be a better option.

Deadlift – Bone Structure

  • Conventional deadlift. Lifters with a short torso and long arms will generally perform better using conventional deadlifts.
  • Sumo deadlift. Lifters with a long torso and short arms will generally perform better using sumo deadlifts.

For more information see the chart at the end of this guide.

Deadlift – Bar Travel

  • Conventional deadlift. The bar must travel a longer distance.
  • Sumo deadlift. Bar travel is shorter. Theoretically, a very wide stance makes for a better one rep max. But very wide stance sumo deadlifts can be hard on the hips and might take some time to get used to.

Deadlift – Foot Position

  • Conventional deadlift. Feet are generally straight forward or angled slightly outward.
  • Sumo deadlift. Feet should be angled along the line that runs from the middle of your upper thigh to the middle of your ankle. Unusual foot angles not along this plane can stress the knee and reduce leverage.

Deadlift Notes

Making the switch. Switching from one deadlift style to the other won’t always translate into improvements, even if the new style is better suited for your body type. Because both styles rely on different muscle groups (to varying degrees), you may need to bring up some weaknesses before seeing any improvements in strength.

Experienced deadlifters. Some experienced deadlifters who have spent years with one style may see a large drop in their one rep max when making the switch. Years have been dedicated to building up muscle strength for that particular style, and they may have some weaknesses to overcome.

Training both. If you decide to try and make a switch, continue to practice your existing style of deadlifting until you feel very comfortable with the new style. Train both equally in one way, shape or form.

Beginners. If you are a beginner, don’t assume – based on the information presented in this guide – that you will be better at one form of deadlifting over the other. Try both. One style may feel more natural, or better suited for your current strengths and weaknesses.

Romanian deadlift. It is quite common for beginning lifters to have  sub-par conventional deadlift form. Sub-par form will often turn a deadlift into a Romanian deadlift. If you are having this issue, and have tried everything possible to correct your form but failed, it might be worth your time to practice sumo deadlifts for a while.

Assistance work. If you are training for powerlifting and performing assistance work, it is beneficial to use synergistic stance widths. For example, if you use sumo deadlifts, assistance exercises could include wide stance variations of good mornings, box squats and Romanian deadlifts.

More On Bone Structure

greater-trochanterRecently Dr. Michael Hales defined the differences between a short and long torso, and short and  long arms. By using a tape measure and the assistance of a lifting buddy, you can measure which deadlift style might be best for you.

  • Step 1 – Measure the length of your torso starting at the greater trochanter to the top of your head. The greater trochanter is the bony protrusion at the top of your thigh. This measurement should be taken vertically, and not at an angle.
  • Step 2 – Measure your arm length starting at the bony part located at the top of the shoulder, to the end of the tip of your middle finger. Make sure your arm is straight when taking this measurement.
  • Step 3 – Measure your height. (Don’t guess)

Torso length. Divide your torso length (in inches) by your height in inches.

  • Short torso – If this calculated ratio is less than 47%, you have a short torso.
  • Long torso – If this calculated ratio is greater than 47%, you have a long torso.

Arm length. Divide your arm length (in inches) by your height in inches.

  • Short arms – If this calculated ratio is less than 38%, you have short arms.
  • Long arms – If this calculated ratio is greater than 38%, you have  long arms.

Comparing Torso And Arm Size To Determine Which Deadlift Style Is Best For You

Now that you have calculated your torso and arm size, use the following chart to determine if you are better suited for conventional or sumo deadlifts:

  • Short Arms and Short Torso – Either Conventional or Sumo
  • Short Arms and Average Torso – Sumo Deadlift
  • Short Arms and Long Torso – Sumo Deadlift
  • Average Arms and Short Torso – Conventional Deadlift
  • Average Arms and Average Torso – Either Conventional or Sumo
  • Average Arms and Long Torso – Sumo Deadlift
  • Long Arms and Short Torso – Conventional Deadlift
  • Long Arms and Average Torso – Conventional Deadlift
  • Long Arms and Long Torso – Either Conventional or Sumo
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