By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Why the Deadlift Is Unique
The standard deadlift is of course the meat-and-potatoes of all deadlift versions. So called a “dead” lift because you begin each rep from a dead stop on the floor. That makes the deadlift super rare because you don’t start each rep with the benefit of any built-up negative energy like most exercises, but rather all you have is positive (concentric) power. That’s one of the many reasons why the deadlift is such a tough and rare lift. Despite the fact that you’re simply picking something up off the ground, the form required for each and every rep is as detailed and critical as anything you’ll attempt in the gym.
The deadlift is actually as much of a press as it is a pull, because you’re pressing through the floor with your feet, keeping your arms straight at all times while the bar drags up your legs. In fact, you actually should begin each rep with the bar touching the bottom of your shins, because you literally want the bar in contact with your body at all times. Keeping the bar so close to you puts you in a mechanical advantage: You’ll weaken the lift if you let the bar drift away from your body, not to mention increase your risk of lower-back injury. When you reach the standing position, leaning back slightly at the waist will allow you to squeeze your legs, glutes and back for a peak contraction.
MAKE THIS CHANGE: WIDEN YOUR STANCE AND SHIFT YOUR HANDS IN FRONT
To perform the sumo deadlift, stand over a loaded bar that’s resting on the floor, positioning your feet much wider than shoulder width and your feet turned out 30–40 degrees. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width, alternating grip (one hand pronated, the other supinated). Perform the lift as you would a standard deadlift, keeping your arms straight throughout until your legs are fully extended. Return the weight to the floor and repeat. The major change in terms of muscular recruitment is that the very wide stance of the sumo causes the legs to bend farther, which requires more quad usage to straighten them. Besides the greater quad activity, the inner hamstrings and upper traps muscles are worked more than the during the standard deadlift. The sumo variation is great for those with knee, back or hip injuries because the wider stance places less pressure on those joints.
GET THE BENEFITS FROM BOTH
Because the degree to which the target muscles are activated is different between these two deadlift variations, it’s never a bad idea to use both styles in your back and legs routine. Again, both focus on your back (spinal erectors), but the sumo style can help you build bigger quads and inner hams, and the standard deadlift will help to build outer hams and glutes. You can either incorporate both styles in the same workout, or alternate them from one workout to the next.
*Excerpted from the October 2012 issue of MuscleMag now on sale!