10 Tips for Sumo Deadlifting
By Brian Schwab
The first time I qualified for the WPO and won best lifter was at the APF Florida State Meet on June 2, 2001, held at Kieran Kidder's old Huge Iron Gym in Daytona Beach, Florida. I remember an amazing feeling of pride as I left the gym and headed for my truck in the parking lot. Just then a woman said; 'Good job, but you don't have far to pull the bar.' She was referring to my deadlift and the limited range of motion I had. I thought about saying; 'Shut up! If the other lifters learned to pull like me they'd be better off!' But of course I didn't, I just told her thanks. Powerlifting is not only a sport of strength; it's a sport of training, the mastering of supportive gear, as well as finding optimal technique. Optimal technique includes finding a way to limit the distance of the lift.
When I originally switched from conventional deadlifting to sumo I vividly remember feeling a sharp pain in my groin that lasted far longer than I would have liked. Rather than giving up, I began finding ways to specifically isolate and strengthen the weak areas that were hindering me. Although I have been pulling sumo for many years, the most I can recall pulling conventionally was 525. By switching to sumo and reducing the stroke, I was able to almost immediately increase my pull by almost 50 lbs. I have now increased my pull to 628 as a lightweight.
Below are 10 of the top ways to help a lifter switch from pulling conventional to successfully mastering the sumo technique:
1. Strengthen your hips.
The most common remark I get from lifters attempting sumo for the first time is how much it hurts their hips and groin. Yes, it does. This is when you need to swallow your pride and start doing some of the girlie exercises. If you're training at a commercial gym then chances are pretty good that there's some form of inner and outer thigh machine available.
Here is a short list of some of the other movements you can do for this region: 1. Band abduction and adduction ' Try not to make this more complicated than it is. There are several ways you can rig the bands up with a power rack, bench or jump strength platform to do this. Just pick one for each muscle group and do a couple sets for each. 2. Light Sumo Pulls standing on blocks ' This is done exactly as it sounds. Keep the weight light and work on keeping a tight arch and working the range of motion. 3. Pull Throughs with a wide stance ' This is great for the hip drive needed to finish the sumo deadlift. 4. Duck under ' This is a great flexibility/ mobility movement. Set a power bar up in the power rack so it is chest level. Stand off to the side and squat down, side step and duck under the bar while keeping the chest up. This is great for hip mobility. As you get better lower the bar.
By performing these movements you will isolate and strengthen some of the key muscles required for the wide sumo stance. Without them you're just setting yourself up for injury. If these machines aren't available to you then you can use the bands attached to a power rack and your ankle to perform the same motion.
2. Only pull every other week.
I'm always amazed at how many lifters try to increase their deadlift by pulling every week. Although this may be effective method for the squat and bench, it does not hold true for the deadlift. If you are training like this you will eventually overtrain and injure yourself. At most you should train the deadlift every other week and most often out of the rack instead of off the floor. On max effort squat day I pull out of the rack every other week working my way from the 3rd hole down and off the floor only once every 8 weeks. I have found this to be the most effective way to enhance my pull while making sure I get enough recovery.
3. Strengthen your lower back via good mornings or Reverse Hyperextensions.
One of the benefits of performing deadlifts with a sumo stance is that there is less flexion and strain on the low er back. This doesn't mean you should neglect this region. On the weeks that you take off from deadlifting, I would recommend incorporating either good mornings or Reverse Hyperextensions into either your ME or DE squat work out.
4. Strengthen your hamstrings with glute ham raises.
My posterior chain has always been relatively strong, or so I thought. This was before I had a glute ham raise (GHR). When I began using the GHR I could only perform about 5 reps with only my bodyweight, now I am able to do 8 reps with either the blue band or a 45 lb. plate. Hamstrings can be used either for knee or hip flexion. The glute ham raise is the ideal exercise for strengthening the hamstrings for hip flexion and improved deadlift strength.
5. If it hurts don't do it.
It's never smart to try to train through an injury. There's a difference between discomfort and stupidity. This is one of the most important aspects of training that I see overlooked every day. I see it in the gym with my regular clients and I see it in the WPO. If you are hurt, fix it. At EliteFTS.com there are numerous experts on the Q and A for this very reason. If you need help ask Tom, Alwyn, Martin or Michael. With these guys on board there is no reason to stay beat up all the time. Listening Dave?
6. Use correct biomechanics.
Don't stand wider than you can get your knees. If your feet are out too wide you lose some of your biomechanical advantage and leverage. You would think this is simple to figure out but why is it we see it at every meet we go to? The only thing I can think of is that these lifters have never seen themselves pull. Get your hands on a video camera and film your lifts. This is one of the best investments any lifter can make. In today\'s lifting age there is absolutely no reason for poor form and technique.
7. Pull for reps out of the rack.
Although it doesn't fall into everyone's training philosophy, I'm a firm believer in performing both squats and deadlifts for reps. If you're able to keep your technique throughout a set of 4 to 6 reps, then you should be able to keep it for one good one. When the muscle begins to wear down your weakness will begin to show. This is when you learn how to adjust to the weight and make the needed corrections. Let's say you have a hard time keeping your shoulders back on the dead lift and this happens at the ' mark. Will this happen with the first rep if the weight is under 90%? Usually not. The problem is you can't always train above 90%. Maybe you could in your early power lifting years but after dozens of meets and a few hundred pounds on each lift it becomes harder to recover from the heavy weights. There are several reasons for this including better motor unit recruitment and the learned ability to explode into weights. When you train in a lower percent range you do not place the same stresses on the muscular and central nervous system and can actually get more changes to engage your training weakness in the gym. Yes you want to make the area stronger but it is vital to know what you can do to keep it from happening. It could be a small technical issue that can be corrected with practice.
8. Use weights to strengthen your abs.
Abdominals are essential for keeping your upper body upright when deadlifting. Your abdominal muscles are compose d of the same fibers as the rest of your skeletal muscle. Doing 20 to 30 reps of abs is like benching 225 for 20 reps, it's not going to make you stronger. Find a form of resistance; most likely with a machine or cable, where you can do no more than 12 reps. Here are a few examples:
1. Sit Ups with plate behind head
2. Spread eagle sit ups
3. Mad ball throws
4. Incline sits ups
5. Hanging leg raises
6. Pull down abs
7. Sit ups on GHR
9. Box Squat for speed every week.
Box squatting with a wide stance will strengthen the primary muscles that are essential for pulling sumo. By only using 50 to 60% of your squat max for speed work onto a low box you will train your nervous system to be explosive off of the floor. Louie has always said and I agree, Box squatting builds your deadlift!
10. Find a suit that keeps you tight but doesn't restrict your ROM.
For a long time, I opted to deadlift in the same canvas suit that I squatted in. It seemed to work well at keeping me tight and upright, but also restricted my ability to keep my hips lower and closer to the bar. After being stuck around 600 for a few years I was able to increase my deadlift by almost 30 lbs. by switching to the Metal Viking which allowed me to improve on my technique. This also allowed me to bring my glutes back into the movement. The canvas was actually doing the work of my glutes and the start of the pull and by the time I needed to finish the weight my glutes were playing catch up. Now my body is working as a unit to pull.
'Good Job, but you don't have far to go.\" This still pisses me off to think about. Training and the development of strength is not a short process. It takes time, effort and sacrifices beyond what most people will ever know. What takes seconds on the platform takes years or training. One successful PR takes many hours in the gym. For every inch the bar moves in a meet hours of training have to take place. Most people will never understand the desire and commitment it takes to do what we do. Then again when they ask for the TV remote to be handed for them I already know what I will say 'You don't have far to go!'
Brian has been ranked #1 in the 148 lb. weight class on Powerlifting USA\'s Top 100 list for his total for 3 consecutive years. He lifts in both the 148 and 165 lb. classes and primarily competes in the APF and WPO. His best lifts are a 672 squat, 512 bench, 628 deadlift and a 1769 Total. He currently holds the WPO bench World Record for the 148 lb. class with 503. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise and Sport Sciences from the University of Florida and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He recently achieved the dream of owning his own gym named Orlando Barbell, (www.orlandobarbell.com), which he co-owns with top ranked 165 lb. lifter Brian Tincher. After conducting business for less than 6 months Orlando Barbell has formed a team of over 15 lifters of varied ages and weight classes who, while incorporating many of Brian\'s training philosophies, have increased their lifts dramatically.
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