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The Art of the Sumo Deadlift – Part 2: Mobility

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!

Building a Better Rack Position

Coaches and athletes a like love power cleans and front squats for the great strength and power benefits they provide but, there are many that say the lifts are too dangerous, or put too much stress on the wrist. If you have chronic wrist pain, or rack troubles in general with the clean/front squat; the problem might be as simple as fixing your rack position.

Rack position

A proper rack position for the front squat starts with the bar racked across your collar bones (clavicle) and shoulders (just on top of the landmark known as the acromium process). When teaching the front squat for the first time, put your hands out in front of you and rack the bar here. This is where we can address a problem that a lot of people have; rounding forward of the upper back. Keep your shoulders back and engage your lats (latissimus dorsi). This creates the shelf and tightens your core. Now we are ready to put our hands on the bar.

Drive your elbows up and out as you wrap around the bar, keep your chest up, and maintain a tight upper back. Not all your fingers need to be on the bar; you can take it down to just one if that is comfortable for you. As you descend and as you come up from the squat position you need to keep driving up with the elbows as this lets your back do the work more than your wrists.

Still having wrist pain? Time for some quick trouble shooting.

Using a large resistance band tightly wrap your wrist starting at the wrist and working up the forearm to where you cover about ¼ of the forearm. Blood flow will stop to your hand and it will go numb. From here make a fist with your thumb inside and start stretching it at all angles. Make sure you audibly breath out through your mouth to get your body to relax. After hitting all the angles, holding the stretch, and until you feel a release, unwrap the wrist and let blood flow return. This quick tip can drastically increase your range of motion and reduce wrist pain.

I can’t get my elbows high enough!

Here is where you might need to mash/stretch your triceps. If you have a massage therapist, AWESOME but, not everyone has this luxury so, lay on a softball or lax ball and start digging into your triceps. Don’t just roll it around, find a spot where its tight and keep it on there breathing out through your mouth long and slow until it lets go.

You can also use this same strategy to open up your lats and your serratus muscles that wrap around the back of the arm pit and your ribs respectively.

To stretch the rack position use a resistance band attached to a squat rack or pillar, put your hand through the band, twist to wrap once and then face away from the rack with your elbow high above your head, leaning forward and breathing out. Hold until it opens up. 

massage tricep

I can’t seem to keep my upper back flat, what’s wrong?

You might be very tight in your thoracic spine or mid back. So, to correct this we lay our back down on a foam roller or 4” diameter ABS pipe. Make sure the roller is just below your shoulder blades. Let your hands go above your head and back as you relax and open up on the roller, make sure to not let the bottom of your ribs pop up, keep them down and engage your abs so your upper back is actually opening up. Make sure again to breathe out long and slow through your mouth.

Hopefully these tips can help improve your rack and make it a more comfortable experience Cleans and front squats really are great exercises and a lot of fun to perform. The last tip I can give you is to practice this at least 3 days a week, and remember that the closer you get to doing it everyday, the easier and faster the change can happen. Keep squatting!

thoracic foam roller

Mobility Cubed: How to Program Your Mobility

We as strength athletes always seem to think about new programs, assistance work, and other means of ways to adding weight to our lifts. One thing we seem to let fall by the waist side is our mobility and ability to get into the proper positions that our sport entails. I’m by no means a corrective or mobility Nazi, but I will tell you that getting injured or beat up from simply ignoring some simple three minute drill is just ignorant. I love to lift heavy just as each and every one of you, so don’t think I’m trying to blow smoke up your ass, just trust me on this, I have your career in mind.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent Cube Method, and if not you need to get out from under a rock. While this program has many great benefits to it, I decided to use its ideology and put a spin on it to increase mobility and improve recovery.

The Basics

This is probably the easiest way I’ve found to “fix” any issues one might have, in as quickly as possible. I know that no one wants to spend months fixing an issue that could have been avoided in the first place, so this is a quick way to get you back to feeling better, or fixing a movement pattern you have needed to address.

What you’ll do is spend three weeks on one of the following programs below, and hit each one three times a day. That’s it! When you do them is completely up to you. What would work best is upon waking, pre workout ,or middle of day (if it’s on off day), and before bed.

Now for the programs I’ve came up with a few different ones that you can use. Here are the programs:

  1. One major area that desperately need attention
  2. Three areas that need attention

They seem similar, but let me outline the difference between the two…
For Program One that emphasized “desperately”, we’re talking about an area that easily gets inflamed, consistently bothers you, or is your ONE limiting factor to getting into position. For example, let’s take your hamstrings. Assuming you tested your (active straight leg raise) ASLR, and you get a score of one, this is exactly what I’m talking about. If your back consistently nags you and you sit for most of the day, and your butt tucks under at the bottom of your squat (assuming you know how to brace your trunk correctly), you’re asking for trouble. This needs fixing ASAP. Jump on this program.

For the second program that emphasizes three areas that just need attention, we’re talking about areas that don’t give you a great deal of trouble, but could have given you trouble in the past, tend to get tight, or just have a hard time getting warmed up before training. Things that I tend to notice that fall in this category for powerlifters are hamstrings, hip flexors, and pecs.
So now what?

Program One

For Program One, we’re focusing on one area. You have three modalities that must be followed, and in this order:

  1. SMR – foam rolling, lax ball, The Stick, any other implement you have
  2. Static Stretch
  3. Mobilize

So let’s go back to our hamstring example from above. In the morning, afternoon, and evening you’re going to perform the following for three weeks straight:

    • Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) – Foam Roll Hamstrings, 1 min each leg
    • Static Stretch – Foot elevated on bed/couch, or bench, 30 seconds each
    • Mobilize – Leg Lowering 1, 8 reps each leg

That’s it!! Add that up, and that’s roughly five minutes each session, so 15 minutes total! Do this for three weeks and see how much better your hamstrings are mobility wise, and how much better your squats are feeling. This was merely an example, and could be done with ANY area you need (hip flexors, pecs, lats, calves, forearms, etc.).

brandon2

Program Two

Now for Program Two, you’re going to pick three areas that need some work, but aren’t as bad as the example above. Again, you’re going to perform these three times a day, whenever suits you best. Pick ONE of the modalities below:

  1. SMR – foam rolling, lax ball, The Stick, any other implement you have
  2. Static Stretch
  3. Mobilize

The modality that you picked from above is what you will stick with for all three weeks. Do not bounce around between modalities! You will not see as much improvement, be patient and give it the three weeks, trust me. So using the example from the top of this article (the hamstrings, hip flexors, and pecs) here is what a sample program would look like if we chose the “mobilize” modality:

    • Mobilize Hamstrings – Leg Lowering 1, 8 reps per leg
    • Mobilize Hip Flexors – Hip Flexor Couch Stretch, 10 glute squeezes per leg
    • Mobilize Pecs – Half Kneeling Pec Stick Mob, 10 per arm

Again, that’s all there is to it. This one probably takes even less time, roughly 10 minutes a day at most. You can feel free to swap out any mobility drills or modality that you choose, as long as it works for you. There are plenty of things you can pick up from Mike Roberston to implement.

Closing Up

I want to mention that you still should be doing your typical warm up and foam rolling post workout. This is simply an addition, not a replacement! While you can add one of your three sessions to your warm up, be sure to complete your warm up in full as normal.

Hopefully I’ve given you some good outlines to easily fix some issues you might be having, or if you just want to improve your positioning on any of the major lifts. These programs have a ton of flexibility, and are only limited to your imagination. Give it a try, you’ll only be spending three weeks, and then can simply throw what worked for you in your warm up to maintain the progress you’ve made over the three week period.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Disclaimer: The medical information provided is, at best, of a general nature and cannot substitute for the advice of a medical professional (for instance, a qualified doctor/physician, nurse, pharmacist/chemist, and so on). The author is not a doctor.

None of the individual contributors, nor anyone else can take any responsibility for the results or consequences of any attempt to use or adopt any of the information presented.

Improve Ankle Mobility for Better Squats

I’m sure many athletes have asked themselves why they can’t squat as deeply as they’d like to, or with less pain. What can probably be said about the powerlifting community is that until recently, mobility hasn’t been taken that seriously, and that even today, a confluence of cross disciplinary approaches is only just beginning to allow competitive powerlifters to achieve better depth and control in the full range of the squat. Specifically in the narrow, shoulder width stance, ankle mobility becomes a limiting factor, and it will the the topic of this short article.

How do I know if I’m lacking flexibility in my ankles, what is the goal?

Before we address ankles, let’s first address what the goal is. Ideally, we’d like to be able to achieve a deep bodyweight squat with arms overhead, and feet shoulder width apart, while the knees track outwards appropriately. The paradigm bodyweight squat would keep the back upright with enough mobility through the hips and ankles to keep one’s heels firmly on the ground. Hell, even wide stance squatters can benefit from such a degree of mobility. We can test for ankle mobility in one of a few easy ways. Can you bodyweight squat with your feet forward and heels on the ground? Do you have to compensate by leaning tremendously forward? Bad sign! Do you generate more torque by putting squat shoes on? (which essentially skirt around the problem of limited ankle mobility by allowing the ankle to pass through less range of motion. In essence, squat shoes are small, safer high heels.) While this is nowhere near an exhaustive list, ankle mobility should be on your radar as an athlete, and its a good thing to test for every now and again. I’ve noticed a good majority of the athletes I work with (including myself) suffer from limited ankle ROM. Years of cushioned shoes, sitting, and compensatory motor patterns in the gym perpetuate the problem. You will feel MUCH better and notice immediate changes via the test-retest model that will allow you to squat heavier, safer, and with greater range of motion.

How should I squat in the meantime?

While working on fixing the underlying problem (stiffness of the ankles), here are some changes I have made to account for the tightness and maintain good form.

  • Ducked feet out to 15-25 degrees places less rotational demand on the ankle, but at the risk of collapsed ankles and dumping off torque in the squat.
  • Squat shoes allow one to circumvent full ankle range of motion, but also change the muscle recruitment of the squat.

How to increase ankle mobility

  • Use an average or heavy band, choke it around an upright and step through the loose open end as the video illustrates.
  • Drop into a deep squat position with your heels on the floor, while the band is actively trying to pull you toward the upright. Lean over from side to side to put extra pressure and weight on each ankle. You can also put a leg straight forward to put even more weight onto the ankle. As a powerlifter, this sometimes isn’t enough to cause tissue change. If you can squat 500lbs, chances are bodyweight alone isnt going to get those tissues to loosen up. Add a 25, 35, or 45lb plate on top of the knee of the ankle you want to change. You can also wrap the calf with black or red voodoo floss or bike tire. 

If you can’t get into this position without forced help, you are going to want to spend plenty of time here. It takes about two minutes to create change (flexibility) in the tissues, so take your time.

  • Next, I use a Voodoo Floss to put compression and work the ankle through its range of motion.

A few more ideas not shown:

  • Squat down into the hole with a light weight on your back and spend time down there for a minute or so. This might create some awesome change in your ankle flexibility.
  • Park your heel close to a wall with your toes against the wall and lean forward, stretching out the achilles and calf in the process.

Remember: Powerlifters dealing with heavy weight need lots of force to cause change. This is something that Kelly Starrett (from whom many of these mobility exercises came from) didn’t pay mind to. Of course, powerlifters aren’t his first intended audience, so these stretches will benefit a good many people. BUT… if you’re looking to increase ROM and are already strong, be prepared to add weight, or search out weighted varieties for the above mobility exercises in order to accommodate the type of change you’re after. Be creative, keep researching, keep asking questions. If you have questions, I suggest first watching as many San Francisco Crossfit videos as possible, then trying to answer the question yourself. Do your homework. If you still have a question, I can be reached via facebook or email. Bryce Lewis, Elite Powerlifter/Men’s Club Director, Elite Volleyball Club bryce.s.lewis@gmail.com


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