Deadlift Mastery: Conventional Before Sumo

When it comes to the deadlift, everyone seems to be an expert.  There are a million articles, blogs, videos, tutorials, and e-books dedicated to this lift. Knowing it’s an important exercise, everyone and their mother has an opinion….

We all know the deadlift is a builds mass, makes you sweat, increases bone density, boosts strength, etc; the deadlift is seriously awesome and does a lot depending on how it’s trained.  The hard part nowadays is how do you write a blog that actually makes people want to read another deadlift article. There is so much conflicting information out there that seems persuasive and seems to make sense in theory – but how do you know if any of it is good advice for yourself and/or your patient/client?

This blog is meant to provide content on the deadlift using my unique skillset and personal/professional experiences as a physical therapist and coach/trainer.  I try to remain as open-minded as possible when engaging in any topic related to fitness, weightlifting, rehabilitation, and performance.  When it comes to the deadlift, both the conventional and sumo lifts are great to master. However, only one of them is going to be your bread and butter when it comes to achieving PRs or stepping on the platform. That technique is the athlete’s decision.  With that said, this blog is not about telling you sumo is better than conventional or vise versa.

But I do have one piece of advice...

**For those who are advanced weightlifters and already in a set routine, have no hip pain, and are making progress then take what I am about to say with a grain of salt**


For more advanced lifters who deadlift sumo and have plateaued, have pain in the knees/hips, or have never integrated conventional training: this advice is for you.  Also, for novice lifters who have just started on their weightlifting journey and don’t really know which form to start with, then learning conventional is also a way to go. Let me explain why…

For the sumo deadlift to be successful, one needs to be able to sit back enough into their hips while maintaining a pretty upright torso (this will vary depending on hip structure).  If this individual is unable to sit into their hips because of stance width, hip bone structure, and/or soft tissue restrictions, then issues such as back pain, hip pain in the front, or knee pain (if the stance is too wide) tend to arise. Above all else, performance suffers because the lifter is in pain and not in an optimal position.

Let’s start with analyzing an advanced weightlifter/powerlifter who competes strictly sumo and has never pulled conventional. They have had some hip issues and haven’t PR’d for a year and a half.  This lifter does not necessarily have to cease their sumo lift; in fact as a coach, I may not change much at all for this lifter.  After evaluating their hip movement, checking the soft tissue peri-hip, analyzing the sumo lift itself, and checking out other baseline movements, I may provide some feedback such as narrowing the stance and/or using some soft tissue techniques to “open” up the back of the hip.  Now, this may help the hips stay fresh in the short-term, but adding a conventional deadlift pattern/hip hinge to the training regimen is a vital piece when maintaining long term health.  What the conventional deadlift/hip hinge (and it’s variations: RDL, rack pull, etc.) will do is allow the hip tissue (glutes and deep rotators) to expand under load moreso than sumo will.  This ability to expand/elongate under load and then shorten when extending the hips allows the hips to move through a greater range of motion. This adds an element of strength and general tissue health (tendons and ligaments/passive restraints), especially when the hips get “cranky.”  For lifters who cannot achieve a good starting position in the conventional deadlift, utilizing basic hip hinge patterns through RDLs and rack pulls is crucial (there are a million different hip hinge variations, however for the sake of this blog I am only touching on the ones that resemble the conventional style deadlift).  

Now, let’s analyze a novice lifter who just began strength training. This kid is about 17 years old, follows Eddie Hall on Instagram, and his friends all read Westside Training articles.  So there is an influx of information for this kid, but how does he know what is right for his body and what is not? Sometimes he doesn’t need to know what’s right! This athlete will learn through trial and error and could be a great lifter…. or he could end up with hip impingement and labral tears….but how do we skip that experimental phase and figure out what he excels at?.....

START HIM WITH THE CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFT!  Again, teaching someone to bend in their hips correctly with proper knee-to-ankle motion will carry this individual a lot farther than throwing them right into a sumo style.  They may tolerate sumo very well, but I would prefer someone learn how to actually bend correctly IN ADDITION TO pulling sumo.  It’s all about teaching proper motion:


1) so the brain remembers what normal, full motion is




2) so the actual soft tissue remains at a healthy length/state while coordinating proper joint centration… A lot of fancy words that basically mean that learning to conventional is healthier for the body as a whole when learning the deadlift.  


At the end of the day, you, the athlete, will be the one to decide which style you choose to lift with.  I am merely suggesting to utilize some conventional patterning in your program in order to supplement any sumo style you are doing.  This is especially true for those more advanced lifters.  I would also recommend learning a conventional/hinge pattern first to anyone new to lifting for the sake of attaining a general, healthy pattern in the hips, ankles, knees, low back, shoulders, neck, etc.


Take Home Points:

  • Consider utilizing a conventional style deadlift in addition to sumo to maintain joint health and move the hips through a greater range of motion.
  • For novice lifters, learn how to properly perform a conventional deadlift first (start in a rack at a higher level if the ground prohibits a good starting position).
  • RDLs, Rack Pulls, Hip Hinge variations all count as supplemental to sumo style.
  • Sumo is a great movement, you just need to ensure you have the proper hip joint mobility and are not restricted by bone or soft tissue.


Keep in mind there are many more details that goes into deadlifting than just the conventional vs sumo stance, but when trying to troubleshoot pain/flaws in a sumo position or when learning proper form for a novice lifter, consider using a conventional position to assist.

I hope you found this blog helpful!  Please leave any questions or comments for further clarification.  If you are interested in further discussion about all things lifting and rehabilitation, please visit The Athletic Weightlifter Facebook Group.   

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

You may also like

View all
Example blog post
Example blog post
Example blog post