The following is a comparison between sumo deadlifts and conventional deadlifts.
Deadlift – Muscle Emphasis
• Conventional deadlift. Conventional deadlifts place more emphasis on the back and spinal erectors (posterior chain). If you have a very strong lower back there is a good chance that you will be able to deadlift more using a conventional stance. (Body structure will also come into play)
• Sumo deadlift. Sumo deadlifts shift some of the emphasis to glutes, hamstrings, quads, hips and upper traps. If you are experiencing lower back issues, or have a history of lower back problems, sumo deadlifts may be a better option.
Deadlift – Bone Structure
• Conventional deadlift. Lifters with a short torso and long arms will generally perform better using conventional deadlifts.
• Sumo deadlift. Lifters with a long torso and short arms will generally perform better using sumo deadlifts.
Deadlift – Bar Travel
• Conventional deadlift. The bar must travel a longer distance.
• Sumo deadlift. Bar travel is shorter. Theoretically, a very wide stance makes for a better one rep max. But very wide stance sumo deadlifts can be hard on the hips and might take some time to get used to.
Deadlift – Foot Position
• Conventional deadlift. Feet are generally straight forward or angled slightly outward.
• Sumo deadlift. Feet should be angled along the line that runs from the middle of your upper thigh to the middle of your ankle. Unusual foot angles not along this plane can stress the knee and reduce leverage.
Making the switch. Switching from one deadlift style to the other won’t always translate into improvements, even if the new style is better suited for your body type. Because both styles rely on different muscle groups (to varying degrees), you may need to bring up some weaknesses before seeing any improvements in strength.
Experienced deadlifters. Some experienced deadlifters who have spent years with one style may see a large drop in their one rep max when making the switch. Years have been dedicated to building up muscle strength for that particular style, and they may have some weaknesses to overcome.
Training both. If you decide to try and make a switch, continue to practice your existing style of deadlifting until you feel very comfortable with the new style. Train both equally in one way, shape or form.
Beginners. If you are a beginner, don’t assume – based on the information presented in this guide – that you will be better at one form of deadlifting over the other. Try both. One style may feel more natural, or better suited for your current strengths and weaknesses.
Romanian deadlift. It is quite common for beginning lifters to have sub-par conventional deadlift form. Sub-par form will often turn a deadlift into a Romanian deadlift. If you are having this issue, and have tried everything possible to correct your form but failed, it might be worth your time to practice sumo deadlifts for a while.
Assistance work. If you are training for powerlifting and performing assistance work, it is beneficial to use synergistic stance widths. For example, if you use sumo deadlifts, assistance exercises could include wide stance variations of good mornings, box squats and Romanian deadlifts.