A classic strength move (called the deadlift) involves bending over a heavy bar, holding it in one's hands, and then pulling it off the floor and standing up straight.

Recently a variant called ''sumo deadlift'' has become popular, where you place your legs much wider apart than normal and start with the back almost perpendicular to the floor, like a sumo wrestler.

This variant is controversial with some people because it is said to be easier (basically the bar does not travel as far during the lift, so the work done is reduced).

I don't think this is conclusive though, because it seems to me that in the starting position of sumo with the legs placed further apart it would be harder to generate the power needed to get the bar moving off the ground. Would it be possible to analyse the mechanics involved more carefully to show that the sumo is genuinely easier in general? (Obviously I leave aside the differing mechanics and leverages of different people and assume a person with generic body measurements)

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(Obviously I leave aside the differing mechanics and leverages of different people and assume a person with generic body measurements)

In this sentence, you ask us to ignore the actual answer to the question. There is no such thing as "a person with generic body measurements". This question comes down to "how is your skeleton put together?". Some people are optimally put together for sumo deadlift - and these are the people that most often attract stupid comments about how sumo is cheating. Some people are better at conventional, and some people are about the same with both lifts.

If sumo is easier, we would see everyone doing, and we just don't, even among the lighter weight classes. Almost all of your super heavyweight powerlifters are pulling conventional because of the mobility demands of sumo and the mobility restrictions of being huge, but even among lighter weight classes, you still see a good mix of both stances. John Haack, the strongest pound-for-pound male powerlifter of all time, pulls conventional and competes in the 90 kg class.

Greg Nuckols explores this in depth in his article Should You Deadlift Conventional Or Sumo?, and he summarizes his key points:

  1. Your hip structure will impact your strength and comfort in the conventional and sumo deadlift much more than factors like height and limb lengths.
  2. There are no factors that make either the conventional or the sumo deadlift inherently easier or harder. It’s more a matter of individual strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Hip extension demands are nearly identical between the conventional and sumo deadlifts. Conventional pulls are a little easier on your quads, and sumo pulls are a little easier on your back.
  4. To determine which deadlift style will be best for you, just train both of them for a few months, and stick with the one that’s the strongest and most comfortable with submaximal loads. If that style is weaker with maximal loads, then it’s easy to identify the specific weakness that’s holding you back.

Jeff Nippard provides a similar take in his video Is The Sumo Deadlift Cheating?.

  • 1
    Jeff Nippard's breakdown of the differences is pretty good too for people looking for visual cues.
    – DeeV
    Dec 12, 2022 at 16:05
  • @DeeV Yep, ill go ahead and include that one too.
    – Thomas Markov
    Dec 12, 2022 at 16:09
  • At 5:59, Jeff literally explains why it's cheating "Shorter range of motion doesn't necessarily mean easier because lifters can offset any small reduction in ROM with an increase in weight", IE people can lift more weight because of their decreased ROM. And as to your point, "If it was easier everyone would do it", A lot of people, myself included, would rather lift less weight and not "cheat" than to lift more. Back when excessive arching was legal, very few people were training or aspiring to be a contortionist to completely reduce ROM to absolute zero.
    – DannyG
    Dec 13, 2022 at 5:06
  • @DannyG I can promise you that serious competitive powerlifters are not choosing to bench mostly flat due to some altruistic concern of "cheating". The same goes for choosing conventional over sumo. Most competitive powerlifters try to bend the rules to as much to their advantage as possible to win. Regardless, when talking about 1 RM, the thing that determines whether you make the lift or not is whether or not you get passed the sticking point. A two inch difference isn't going to matter. (Personal note: my max conventional is 70kg higher than my sumo).
    – DeeV
    Dec 13, 2022 at 15:24
  • Also to note so this doesn't build, I didn't share the video to argue whether or not sumo is cheating. I just thought it had a good breakdown of the mechanical differences between the two lifts.
    – DeeV
    Dec 13, 2022 at 15:25

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