You've probably seen sumo and conventional deadlifts performed on Instagram, or at your local gym, and wondered a few things. Things like, what are the differences between each deadlift?, or which is a better option for glute growth and development and why do people prefer one over the other?
MECHANICAL DIFFERENCES IN SUMO DEADLIFTS
The most detectable difference between both deadlifts is the stance at which you stand and the way your hands grip the bar. For sumo deadlifts, the stance is at a wider than shoulder/hip width with toes usually pointing outward, while your hands grip the bar within your leg span.
Most people prefer this stance as it allows for their lifts to be more explosive. The physical mechanics of the movement allows the bar to travel a much shorter distance away from the floor and away from gravity. The less distance the bar has to travel, the faster or more "explosive" the movement will be, while also putting less strain on your grip and back.
All of these factors tend to allow those who prefer sumo deadlifts to be able to lift much heavier loads than they normally would be able to with conventional deadlifts.
Another difference between the sumo deadlift and the conventional deadlift, is torso and hip hinge placement. A sumo deadlift allows for your upper legs to initiate the movement at a stance closer to parallel from the ground, while maintaining a more upright torso. This can serve as an advantage for those who are taller or have longer legs, since the form of the movement allows you to travel at a shorter distance.
HYPERTROPHY DIFFERENCES IN SUMO DEADLIFTS
For a sumo deadlift, the primary muscles incorporated into the movement are quads, abductors, adductors, glutes, hamstrings, erectors and lower back. It is a complete compound movement as it recruits many large muscle groups to perform. Previously, it was believed that sumo deadlifts were "superior" to conventional deadlifts for glute hypertrophy (growth) but new research suggests that conventional deadlifts are more favorable for this hypertrophy goal.
This belief was likely due to a deeper sensation felt in the glutes region while deadlifting sumo. This sensation however is mostly due to the involvement of the abductors and piriformis muscles being activated. These muscles sit right below the glute maximus and medius, thus resulting in the many people confusing piriformis engagement with glutei engagement.
The takeaway from all of this is that, simply, the sumo deadlift is primarily a great power exercise or quad and leg hypertrophy movement, but overall it is not the most optimal for glute growth.
MECHANICAL DIFFERENCES IN CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFTS
While sumo deadlifts focus on a wide foot placement, conventional deadlifts do the complete opposite. Conventional deadlifts mechanics vary in that the starting foot placement is at a hip or shoulder width stance. Your hands grip the bar on the outside of your leg span.
This variation in foot and hand placement means that your hips sit at a higher positioning, making the distance at which the bar travels to be much longer than that in sumos. This is a variation many prefer for a variety of reasons, one of them being mobility, as it usually takes a larger amount of hip, ankle and knee mobility to perform a sumo deadlift when compared to a conventional deadlift.
The longer the distance the bar travels means the lifter may experience decreasing levels of strength or a weakened grip much faster than they normally would, while performing a sumo deadlift.
An additional difference between both deadlifts, is the positioning of your torso and hips while performing a conventional deadlift versus a sumo deadlift. During a conventional deadlift a narrower stance means less depth is achieved when a hip hinge is performed. This lack of depth while hip hinging means your hips sit at a higher positioning and your torso has more of a forward lean than it would while performing a sumo deadlift.
HYPERTROPHY DIFFERENCES IN CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFTS
While sumo deadlifts have been widely misunderstood to be a superior glute building movement, conventional deadlifts have actually proven to be far more superior. In this movement, the narrow stance allows for a larger emphasis to be placed on the hamstrings, glutes, erectors and lower back. The decrease in quad activation that is experienced while performing this movement means increased glute activation.
This is mostly due to the mechanics of this variation allowing the lifter to put a larger stress on the glute muscles in the lengthened position. Due to the initiation of the movement coming directly from the hip hinge, more glute fibers are recruited to perform the lift from start to finish. All of these factors make the conventional deadlift far more optimal when glute hypertrophy is a main goal.