Leg day contains a variety of exercise variations and potential possibilities when it comes to building thicker thighs and your posterior chain. The deadlift however is unrivaled. One of the best and most popular exercises to increase total body strength and build muscle mass, the deadlift is a compound functional movement, which works multiple joints, muscle groups, and secondary muscle groups such as your core and hip flexors in one fluid motion. But which deadlift variation is best to build more muscle mass and strength? We’re going to take a closer look at the differences, benefits, and pros and cons between sumo vs conventional deadlifts to find out which variation will help you reach your health and fitness goals.
What Are Conventional Deadlifts
The Deadlift. The “dead” from deadlift, comes from lifting “deadweight” off the floor. As intimidating as it may sound and look, the conventional deadlift is one of the best compound functional, and effective exercise movements that can bring more benefits in one fluid motion, than nearly every other lift in the gym. Part of what’s called the “big-3” (deadlift, squat, bench-press) the deadlift activates multiple muscle groups at the same time.
Conventional deadlifts have many known full body benefits and are extremely crucial in the development of total-body strength, proper hip function, core strength, and spine stabilization (which can reduce the risk of lower back injuries). Since deadlifts recruit multiple muscle groups, joints, and stabilizing muscles, they also burn more calories and more body fat as compared to other exercise movements. With the proper form, the deadlift can add a ton of performance and health benefits, to your training program.
What makes deadlifts so effective, is the motion. Considered a true testament to strength, conventional deadlifts are a combination of both a push and pull exercise with your legs pushing and your upper body pulling. With each mechanism of your body at work, conventional deadlifts are amongst the most effective movements when executed correctly.
What Are Sumo Deadlifts
The sumo deadlift is common amongst powerlifters. Sumos are performed with a wider stance than the conventional deadlift, which translates into a shorter traveled distance from the dead weight from the floor to a fully extended standing position [R] Like other deadlift variations, biomechanic variations exist between the conventional deadlift vs sumo deadlift, as well as lifting technique differences, and muscle activation.
Conventional and Sumo Deadlift Benefits
1. Deadlifts Improve Posture
The majority of us have postural imbalances, and many are quad dominant, meaning that most of the muscle mass in our legs is attributed to the quadriceps. Thus, we develop a structure that lacks balance, since the hamstrings are an often neglected and forgotten muscle group, leading to an innumerable number of issues such as hunched shoulders, a weakened core, and underdeveloped glutes, which makes us prone to lower back issues.
Posterior training will with deadlifts help reduce these risks and give you a stronger posture for proper spinal support and a stronger back. Not to mention, help you carry yourself with more confidence [R]. Improper posture can lead to muscular imbalances, disrupting your body's homeostasis, creating overcompensation, muscle tightness, and making your more prone for injury. Deadlifts can help you build bigger hamstrings and glutes, and develop a stronger back, lats, and core.
2. Deadlifts Burn More Body Fat
The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Strength training and exercise movements such as the deadlift will help build more muscle mass, therefore burning more calories at rest, boosting your metabolic rate. Resting muscle tissue burns 6kcal/lb per day at rest, thus the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. You also burn more calories post workout, through a process called called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or more commonly known as (EPOC). EPOC aka the after-burn effect, refers to the oxygen and energy (in calories) it takes for your body to repair your muscle tissue during recovery. EPOC can be a major contributor to your total daily caloric expenditure by increasing your body’s thermic effect [R]. Prolonged workouts with more intense resistance training at heavier weights have been associated with a more substantial EPOC [R].
3. Deadlifts Improve Total Body Strength
One of the best benefits of deadlifts, is the total body strength they can produce. Deadlifts are a compound movement, meaning they use multiple muscle groups, joints and stabilizing muscles, in unison, giving you more bang for your buck when it comes to building more strength.
According to a study published in the Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Farley, K. (1995). Analysis Of The Conventional Deadlift. Strength & Conditioning Journal, deadlifts activate many of the large muscle groups in the lower as well as the upper body, including the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals, and latissimus dorsi (lats).
If the goal is strength and body aesthetics, deadlifts are going to hit all the sweet spots, and help you build bigger quads, active your glutes to build a bigger butt, stronger abs, better hip mobility, and a more defined back.
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4. Deadlifts Build More Muscle Mass
Deadlifts are generally your heaviest lift and a compound movement that uses many different muscle groups. Therefore, by incorporating deadlifts into your training program, you'll gain more lean muscle mass when performed correctly.
Deadlifts build core stability, gripping strength and many different muscle groups in your posterior chain such as your back, legs, shoulders, and arms. Not only that but deadlifts build your glute muscles. With stronger glutes, hamstrings, and better core strength, you'll have more explosive power and endurance, improving overall athletic performance.
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Conventional Deadlift Vs Sumo Deadlift
A three-dimensional analysis published in the journal of Medical Science and Sports Exercise at Duke University compared the biomechanics of the conventional deadlift vs sumo deadlift. Two video sessions of 12 sumo and 12 conventional style lifters at a national powerlifting championship compared the two lifts and were quantified at barbell liftoff (LO), at the instant the barbell passed the knees (KP), and at lift completion.
At lift-off and KP, thigh position was 11-16 degrees more horizontal for the sumo group, whereas the knees and hips extended approximately 12 degrees more for the conventional group. The sumo group had 5-10 degrees greater vertical trunk and thigh positions, employed a wider stance, turned their feet out more and gripped the bar with their hands closer together. Vertical bar distance, mechanical work, and predicted energy expenditure were approximately 25-40% greater in the conventional deadlift group [R].
Conventional Deadlift Vs Sumo Deadlift: Differences
The study results revealed a few obvious differences between the sumo vs conventional deadlift.
Positioning: The biggest difference between the sumo vs conventional deadlift is the position of your feet and your grip. In a sumo, your feet are positioned wider than shoulder width, with you feet pointed outward, accompanied by a narrow grip. Both movements contract the same muscles - hamstrings, glutes, quads, core, hip flexors, upper back, and shoulders. Form and technique differences are quite blatant and obvious, since it's dependent upon position. It's really a matter of personal goals and preference when choosing between the two.
Calories Burned: Total work load and capacity is greater with the conventional deadlift, vs the sumo deadlift. The reason, is due to the vertical distance traveled. Energy expenditure is 25-40% greater with the conventional deadlift, thus translating to more burned calories.
Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift: Takeaway
Strength, mobility, and hypertrophy is achieved through greater range of motion, while simultaneously intervening more secondary muscle groups. Functional strength is also based upon optimizing human movement, through mimicking and replicating those movements through strength conditioned exercise. My advice, if you’re not planning on competing in Olympic weightlifting, sumo deadlift has little to no benefit for the average gym goer. The conventional deadlift will attribute greater benefits to full and total body strength, functional movement, and mobility than the sumo deadlift.
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