Breaking Down the Deadlift: Conventional and Sumo

 

By Sascha Teems, @creepshowphysiques

The deadlift is one of the big bar movements that all athletes should be doing. If you can walk, you can deadlift. Everyone gets fired up about them, but I see a lot of form issues with most lifters. It has to become very technical to work the intended area: the low and mid back. I'm speaking of the conventional deadlift. This is the version that you'll see most powerlifters doing. You'll also see them do a sumo stance in competitions. Most affiliations will let you do either. I'll explain why you should be doing both.

Conventional Deadlift

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I want you to think of the conventional deadlift as a mid and low back exercise. It's not a leg exercise. Do it on back day. Your focal point should be the low and mid back. Put your mind there. The chest is up and you are looking straight. Your back needs to have a natural curve. This really makes the spinal erectors work. The whole trick of deadlifting is to keep this position during the whole up and down motion.  Don't let that back round, which starts happening when you are pulling to much weight or start getting fatigued. If the back rounds, the lats do the pull and the lower back is taken out of the equation. Remember, the deadlift is a low back exercise. So, if you continuously keep rounding, the lower back never gets conditioned because it is taken out of play. Even advanced powerlifters doing a one rep max break this rule. Stay true to good posture, and it's only a legal lift if you get a clean lockout. Saying you pulled "X" amount of weight has no merit if the Kinesiolchain has a kink in it. I see horrible deadlift videos all day. The lifter will even admit the form wasn't there. In my own gym I've had many discussions about correct form. The lift is over if form is lost. It's not worth risking the injury. Leave the ego out in the parking lot.

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Sumo Deadlift

So what about this Sumo stance deadlift? Your powerlifting purists will do more conventional pulling in competition, but Sumo is normally allowed across all affiliations. The conventional pull is more quad dominate. The Sumo stance opens up your foundation and points toes outward for posterior chain boom. If you've hung out with me longer than 5 minutes, you will know I salivate over hamstring training. The Sumo stance gives you that hambone love you have been longing for. There is no greater love. Do this version on a leg day. Your goal is to get those legs down to parallel like a squat. At the beginning of the pull the hams will activate and then the low back takes over. It's a great hamstring beating if done correctly. The same form rules apply just as in the conventional. You can experiment with a wider base to get more glute activation.  Do these slow and controlled.

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Some key points to remember when doing both versions of these deadlifts:

1. Wear a flat shoe. Cons or Chucks are great. The lower you keep the heels, the more backside activation you get. Don't deadlift in tennis shoes or lifting shoes with heels raised. They transfer the load to the quads.

Your hamstrings and glutes need the extra activation. I also recommend squatting in flat shoes. The heels raised shoes mask ankle mobility....the lack of. I've seen guys squat beautifully in a pair of platform shoes, but they have a flabby ass and fall apart in flats. Heels low activates those glutes and hamstrings.

2. Lift RAW! No straps, belts, suits, fancy gripping gloves, or regular gloves. Knee sleeves and chalk are fine.

3. Run bar up against shins and quads. It makes sure your form stays locked in on the way up and down. Never bounce on quads to get a lockout. Lighten up. An actual deadlift bar will bend slightly before the plates come off the ground. Most gyms don't have them. Practice with one if you can.

4. Stop doing one rep maxes every lift. Four to six weeks is a good measuring tool. Pull what's safe for you. If back rounds, the set is over.

5. Hands need to be over/under right out side legs for conventional and 10-12 inches apart for Sumo. If you are wanting a career in Olympic lifting, use an overhand grip. You won't be as strong, but it will condition your forearm strength for hang cleans, power clean, and clean and jerk, etc.  

6. Enjoy high rep counts. Warm up with sets do 15 to 20. Do some light hamstring work before deadlifting and make sure the back has done some other form of rowing beforehand. Sets of 4 to 6 reps will get you strong. There is also nothing wrong with having one long deadlift session. Do both versions in a lift. If you feel really frisky, add stiff legged deads, Jefferson deads, and Romanian deads. It's fun to do them all in one session.

7. Make side, front, and rear videos of your deads. Dat camera does not lie. Send me your vids, I'd be happy to break them down. Steems2000@yahoo.com

Heck, come see me, 42701.

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8. Yes, you are using the whole body for a deadlift, but you should be feeling it mostly in your low and mid back. If you lose that feeling, your technique is off. You're specifically training spinal erectors. That's what a deadlift is supposed to hit with controlled weight. The movement has become one of the most macho movements on the planet. I've had grown big men walk out on me when I broke down their form and kept them at 95lbs. If you don't master the deadlift, your squat form and even your upper body movements will be in jeopardy. The Popsicle stick breaks in the middle. If you don't get that low back stronger, you will be calling into work with a thrown back.

9. Have fun. Make it competitive but safe. Watch everyone's deadlift. I do. I have a mental note on everyone in my gym. I'm not a stalker though. I do make it a point to catch the teenagers if they are headed for destruction. I'll throw them off by talking about pizza and their sock game, and the next thing you know their back is good and sore for a week because they finally trained it properly.

Get out there and deadlift now. Don't be intimidated. You must master the big bar. It takes time, but progress will come. Keep pumping that good iron!

~Creepshow

 

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