To be “conventional” or “sumo” is a question that bothers the heads of many iron addicts. In order to find your answer, you first need to ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with my deadlift 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 provides better leg drive and allows the lifter to have a straighter back.
It’s also worth noting that the
conventional deadlift has a larger range of motion (ROM) which means that more work is being done. This increases the stress on your back even further. Larger ROM is not necessarily a good or a bad thing – it just means that there is higher demand imposed on that area.
Out of the two the sumo deadlift could be considered the younger brother. The sumo deadlift was created with one goal in mind – to allow powerlifters with poor levers to pull more weight. If you have really short arms, the conventional deadlift could be quite hard for you. When you spread your legs apart during a sumo deadlift, the distance between your arms and the barbell on the floor is shortened. This allows you to pull much heavier weights than what you could normally.
Powerlifters look at the conventional and sumo deadlift the same way they treat close and wide stance squats. Technically, you are able to do the squat with any stance you want as long as you break parallel, so why not approach the deadlift the same way?
However, most people are not really powerlifters and don’t compete. This means that even if you have poor levers for the conventional deadlift, you may still benefit more from it. There is no point in doing an exercise solely to get better numbers unless you compete. If you’re doing the deadlift to acquire a thick back, the conventional would be a better choice, provided that you can do it safely. The conventional has also a very good carryover to the sumo deadlift while the opposite cannot be said. Many good sumo deadlifters do the conventional deadlift as an assistance exercise while conventional deadlifters almost never bother with sumo pulling.
Another thing you could consider is the trap bar deadlift which provides attractive parts from both worlds. It’s a solid exercise that also reduces the stress on the lower back compared to the conventional deadlift, but at the same time it has a better flow than the sumo deadlift. In fact, one of the biggest downsides of the sumo deadlift is that it’s so awkward to do. Having your hands pressed against your upper legs during a sumo pull is not the most mechanically correct choice. The trap bar deadlift and the conventional are less awkward to do.