Conventional vs. Sumo Deadlifts: What’s better?

| December 20, 2014 by Truth Seeker |

To be “conventional” or “sumo” is a question that bothers the minds of many iron addicts. To find your answer, you first need to determine the purpose of your deadlifting efforts.

If your goal is to build a bigger back, the conventional deadlift would technically be a better choice since it’s more back dominant. The sumo deadlift, on the other hand, reduces the stress on the back by allowing you to be more upright.

It’s also worth noting that the conventional deadlift has a larger range of motion (ROM) that increases the stress on your back even further. However, a larger ROM is not necessarily a good or a bad thing – it just means that a higher demand is imposed on that area.


One of the main reasons for the existence of the sumo deadlift is to allow lifters with inferior proportions to pull more weight. For example, if you have really short arms, the conventional deadlift could very difficult. When you spread your legs apart during a sumo deadlift, the distance between your hands and the barbell on the floor is shortened. This allows you to pull heavier weights.

However, most people are not really powerlifters. This means that even if you have poor levers for the conventional deadlift, you may still benefit more from it than the sumo, provided that you can do it with proper form. There is no point in doing an exercise solely to get better numbers unless you compete.

To summarize:

  • The conventional deadlift is the better back builder, but only if you can do it safely. People with short arms may have a hard time keeping a proper back position during conventional deadlifts.
  • The sumo works the legs harder than the conventional deadlift.
  • The conventional is a very good option for natural deadlifters.
  • The sumo deadlift makes the legs shorter in an artificial way. This can help people with an inferior structure for the deadlift (e.g., short arms, very long femurs) pull heavier loads with less stress on the spine.

Note: Both conventional and sumo deadlifters could benefit from incorporating the opposite style in their training cycles. The conventional deadlifters who choose to try sumo will acquire stronger glutes whereas as the sumo pullers who do the conventional will build stronger backs.

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