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The Art of the Sumo Deadlift – Part 2: Mobility

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As a follow up to my well received article “The Art of The Sumo Deadlift- Part 1”. I am proud to call upon my good friend and training partner for assistance, who happens to have his Doctorate in Chiropractic. Through some collaboration we were able to put together some common trouble areas for lifters learning to sumo deadlift. Here you will find some suggestions to approach correcting them. Remember these are purely suggestions, and any improper motor patterns, or positions causing pain or impingement should not be loaded before seeking appropriate professional help.

The raw sumo deadlift has become a go to alternative for many high-level powerlifting athletes, such as Dan Green and Connor Lutz (“although at a significantly lesser level than Dan Green” -Clutz).  The short lever movement allows for those with a long torso and short limbs to maximize the pull.  The key to this technical lift is the set up, and proper prioritization of movements to allow for a proper line from the floor to the lockout position.  If you are not mobile enough to get in the proper position, this lift will ultimately be unforgiving, as it’s easy to overuse the back musculature and result in injury.  I will now detail common faults and restrictions in this technique, and give you some mobility examples to help mobilize the areas of restriction.

Common Sumo Deadlift Faults

1.      Toes pointing forward

This is a common fault seen by lifters who are transitioning to a sumo deadlift technique from a conventional technique.  They often set up with a wide stance, but fail to set their toes out at 45 degrees.  This is sometimes a cueing mistake, and not a mobility error.  However, if you have trouble getting your toes to point out it may be wise to look upstream at your hips and adductor muscles.  If they are short or tight you will often notice that your ankles are caving in, your knees are crashing in, and you have trouble keeping your hips open.

Quick fix: Roll out your adductors and medial calf. Practice short foot techniques (http://www.somastruct.com/exercises/short-foot-exercise/)

art of sumo deadlift part 2

art of sumo deadlift part 2

Left Image: Flat Foot, Right Image: Short Foot

2.      Knees over the bar and closed hips

In the sumo deadlift, your knees should be forced outwards over your second toe, and behind the bar while keeping proper hip height and a neutral spine.  For those who cannot achieve this position, it’s often the hips and adductor group causing you to fall forward and closing off your hips.  In addition, weak gluteus medius, and maximus will reduce your external rotation strength, allowing your adductors to over power you.

Quick fix: Banded adductors stretch and strengthen your gluteus medius and maximus to allow proper external rotation of your hips.  examples = Monster Walks and Banded Squats

art of sumo deadlift part 2

 

3.      Shoulders too far over the bar

If you have trouble keeping your shoulders back and directly over the bar, a simple cue is to pull the bar back and into you.  This will allow you to properly load your scapulae (shoulder blades) into the down and in position, which will activate your lower trapezius, and lattisiumus dorsi muscles. This will create proper neutral spine, and external rotation at the shoulder, which will bring your shoulders directly over the bar, and keep your chest up.  From a mobility point of view, you will want to address the anterior chain structures. The pectoralis major, and minor will be forcing your shoulders to internally rotate and cause you to fall forward.

Quick fix: Scapular retractions with bands (Straight arm lat pulldowns), as well as pectoralis major and minor smash.

art of sumo deadlift part 2

4.      Loss of a neutral spine

From a chiropractic perspective, neutral spine is the most important part of this technique, as it allows for all other sequences to be achieved for an optimal lift. If you don’t have proper neutral spine with an upright torso, you are going to turn this lift into a sumo stance stiff legged deadlift. The neutral spine is not a mobility issue, but an issue of prioritization and stability.  The hips are meant to be an area of mobility, and the low back an area of stability.  Therefore fixing the hips will allow for proper overall positioning in the sumo deadlift.

Quick fix: Mobilize the hips and practice proper neutral spine. 

art of sumo deadlift part 2

Left Image: Poor Form, Right Image: Neutral Spine 

5. Lockout trouble

Lockout can be difficult for some lifters, not due to strength, but due to mobility. The muscles that connect your tuberosity of the ischium (pelvis) to your femur (thigh bone) are often the culprits.  These muscles are the hamstring and adductor magnus (adductor) muscles. Having overly tight hamstrings can inhibit your body’s ability to lock out your knees.  In addition the hip flexors, iliopsoas, are often a trouble area in this movement.  It attaches to the vertebrae in your lower back, and the head of your femur. This muscle often causes an increase in your lumbar lordosis, which can lead to back pain and difficulty getting your hips through.

Quick fix: Squat Opener to Sumo Toe Touch (located in bonus video) and rolling out tight adductors. 

Psoas (couch stretch)

Psoas (couch stretch)

Recap

If you want to become an expert lifter, it is important to use proper technique in all lifts.  That being said, the sumo deadlift is one of the most complex, rewarding lifts if performed to perfection.  You will realize immediately that it takes time to master such a technical movement, but once you do, you will see a dramatic increase in your posterior chain muscle strength.  In the long run, this lift will improve your performance in all areas of strength training.

Sumo Warmup, and Bonus Video!

 

  • Foam Roll / Lax Ball
  • ITs
  • Adductors
  • Gluteus Med, Gluteus Maximus, Piriformis
  • Hamstring/Glute Tie-In
  • Rocking Frog to Sumo Seal Stretch
  • Squat Hip Opener to Sumo Toe Touch (working from narrow to wide)
  • Backwards Roll to V-Sit
  • Side Lunge / Adductor Stretch
  • T-Rex Walks
  • Monster Walks
  • Banded Squats
  • Deadlifts!

Comments
  1. Hi Connor,

    Not sure if you’re still getting notifications from this article, but I thought I’d give it a shot! I just started incorporating sumo deadlifts into my routine, as I’ve only done conventional for the past 1.5 years.

    The lift feels great as I am executing, but as soon as I walk away from the weight, I have a pretty annoying IT band/knee pain that lasts a couple days. I really feel it when I point my toes out and rotate my hips away from that foot.

    I have incorporated some foam rolling and unassisted mobility work before and after my routine, but I haven’t seen any alleviation of the pain. Any insight would be helpful!

    Thanks!!

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