The Key to Properly Sumo Deadlift

In my opinion, the sumo deadlift may be the most technical lift of any of the powerlifts. I think this can be shown with just how many deviations from the “norm” we see in regards to technique from lifter to lifter, as well as how many unexpected things we can see go wrong come meet day with the sumo deadlift. For that reason, I typically actually prefer most of my lifters to pull conventional if they are of similar strength levels with both. There is just a lot less that can go wrong with the conventional deadlift than with sumo. But for those who do sumo deadlift, I find one vital aspect to be where most people go wrong. This same thing applies to conventional as well, but the fact is lifters can get away with not doing this on conventional, but on sumo it really makes all the difference.

You have probably seen graphics showing similar arrows pointing to those that are above. The shoulders drive up and back and the feet drive directly down into the floor. But notice I am missing the arrows into the floor though, and that is because I want to focus on the shoulders driving up and back. Where most people go wrong is that the shoulders do not start going up until they pull, rather than what they should be doing is driving up before they pull. As you can see (Click Here For Video) with both Lorenzo and Tony, they do a great job of leveraging the bar. As soon as they bring the hips down and drive the feet into the floor, the bar actually starts moving before they even truly initiate the pull. That would never happen though if the shoulders pulling up and back did not precede the driving down into the floor. If you scroll to the second video, the slo-mo video of Lorenzo does a great job of showing this. Notice how as he raises the hips, the arms lengthen (cue “long arms”) and the shoulders are reaching up and back. As he then pulls in, the upper back does not drop at all, but rather continues to rise, almost as if he is already trying to deadlift that weight with his upper back. If you watch someone who is less proficient, what you will probably notice is that as they drop their hips to pull in, their shoulders/upper back drop as well and possibly their arms are bent. The 3rd video is of Abbee, and shows the great improvement she’s had when it comes to this. Notice on the left how as she pulls in her shoulders/upper back drop and then rapidly get pulled down as soon as she starts the pull. Versus on the right she starts with pre-tensioning her shoulders up and back and maintains that as she drives her feet into the floor. When this tension is created with the shoulders pulling up and back, the shoulders act as a lever arm that the rest of the body then hinges around. With a braced neutral spine and hinged hips, the feet are pulled down into the floor as the shoulders/upper back continue to provide tension rising up and back. To make sure those shoulders are not just pulling up, but rather up and back, as the hips pull down and feet drive into the floor, I like to think about pulling the chest through the arms. Things brings everything full circle to create not only the proper tension up and back, but also the proper torso angle to create the proper positions that are most efficient.

If you’ve ever seen a great sumo puller warm up, you will probably notice that many of the lighter warmups almost look odd. They can’t keep the bar on the ground as the pull into the floor, almost as if they are doing a pause deadlift inadvertently, due to the leveraging affect that the pre-tensioning of the shoulders up and back is creating.

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