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  • Writer's pictureCoach Matt Pippin

The Best Sumo Deadlift Alternative For Hip Pain



If your feet are naturally turned out a little bit like mine are (or duck-footed), then sumo deadlifts will be your preferred choice when deadlifting. 


Duck-footed means your hips are externally rotated (ER), and the sumo stance allows you to utilize this ER bias to your advantage, whereas traditional deadlifts would force you into a position that’s not quite as comfortable.


However, if your inner thighs or hips are starting to become a problem doing sumo stance, stick around because I’m going to give you a great alternative you can use in the short term while you’re still working on your hip mobility.  


WHAT IS A SUMO DEADLIFT?

A sumo deadlift is a variation of the conventional barbell deadlift, where the foot position is not only wider but is also turned outwards. Leg length and the ability to externally rotate and abduct the hips determines how wide the feet are placed and to what degree they’re turned out.  


The wider you’re able to make your stance, the smaller the range of motion is, which in turn allows you to lift more weight, thus making the sumo deadlift the preferred choice for most competitive powerlifters.  


HOW ARE SUMO DEADLIFTS DIFFERENT FROM CONVENTIONAL DEADLIFTS?

The main difference between sumo style and conventional deadlifts lies in the stance and grip. Sumo deadlifts utilize a wider stance, which reduces the range of motion required to lift the weight off the ground. Additionally, the grip in sumo deadlifts is inside the knees, whereas in conventional deadlifts, the grip is outside the knees.


Both are a compound exercise and work all the muscles of the lower body, however, sumo deadlifts place more work on the inner thighs, and overall less stress on the lower back due to the more upright torso position.  


BENEFITS OF SUMO DEADLIFTS

Sumo deadlifts offer several benefits, including:


  • Increased activation of the hip external rotators and inner thigh muscles

  • Reduced stress on the lower back due to the shorter range of motion and more vertical torso

  • Improved hip mobility and flexibility, especially the inner thighs and external rotator muscles

  • Strengthening of the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae muscles

  • It's a great alternative for those with longer legs. Conventional deadlifting can be a problem for tall people as the bar has to maneuver around the knees.  


WHAT MUSCLES ARE WORKING DURING A SUMO DEADLIFT?

During sumo deadlifts, you should primarily feel the engagement of the muscles in your hips, inner thighs, glutes, and hamstrings, and to a smaller degree, all the muscles of the mid and upper back. It’s not uncommon for the lower back muscles to feel fatigued during sumo deadlifts, however, it should not be the dominant muscle group being worked.  


Other Deadlift Variations that Work Similar Muscles


  • Trap Bar Deadlift: This variation allows for lower hip mobility and technique requirement, thus placing less stress on the lower back compared to traditional deadlifts. The hexagonal shape of the bar ensures an easier bar path since the bar no longer has to maneuver around the knees, thus making it a great alternative for those with long legs.

  • Romanian Deadlift (RDL): RDLs target the posterior chain but since the range of motion is much smaller, less hip mobility is required. With little to zero knee movement involved, more focus can be placed on strengthening the hamstrings and glutes without the quadriceps being a factor. See also: Low Back Pain From RDLs? Try This Alternative.

  • Hip Thrust: This exercise isolates the glutes and external rotators of the hips. These have very low hip mobility and skill requirements but still offer tons of benefits in being able to isolate the glutes and external rotators of the hips. By supporting the upper body on a bench and driving through the hips, hip thrusts offer an effective way to build hip extension strength while minimizing discomfort.

  • Kettlebell Swing: With its dynamic nature, the kettlebell swing engages multiple muscle groups, including the posterior chain, without requiring heavy weights. The hip hinge motion involved in swings can improve hip mobility while providing a full-body workout.

  • Rack Pulls: By starting the lift from an elevated position, the rack pull reduces the range of motion and can be adjusted to accommodate individual needs. This variation places less strain on the lower back and can be beneficial for those with hip mobility deficits.



WHAT ROLE DO THE HIPS PLAY IN A SUMO DEADLIFT?

The hips play a significant role in sumo deadlifts, as the wide stance and positioning of the hands inside the knees place emphasis on hip abduction and external rotation. Very few lifts place the hips in this extreme position, thus providing a great way to train new lines of tissue and tension. 


How your hips help in a conventional deadlift

ARE SUMO DEADLIFTS BAD FOR YOUR HIPS?

While sumo deadlifts can be an effective exercise for strengthening the hips and lower body, they may not be the best option for everyone, especially those with pre-existing hip issues or discomfort.


If you lack hip external rotation and abduction (feet wide and turned out), trying to force yourself into this position may be a recipe for disaster. However, if you have these necessary requirements, then sumo deadlifts are a great exercise to add to your strength training routine.  


IS IT NORMAL TO HAVE SORE HIPS AFTER DOING SUMO DEADLIFTS?

It is not uncommon to experience soreness in the hips after performing sumo deadlifts, especially if you are new to the exercise or have recently increased the intensity of your workouts.


The inner thighs and glutes will usually be the most tender, and this is typically a sign that your muscles are adapting to the new demands of the exercise and is often temporary.  


WHY DO SUMO DEADLIFTS HURT MY HIPS?

Sumo deadlifts may cause hip pain for several reasons, including:


  • Poor form or technique

  • Lack of hip mobility in abduction (spreading the feet apart) and/or external rotation (turning the feet out)

  • Weakness or imbalances in the muscles surrounding the hip joint, such as the glutes and hip flexors

  • Too much load, volume, or frequency for the body to handle


WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU HAVE HIP PAIN FROM SUMO DEADLIFTS

If you are experiencing hip pain from sumo deadlifts, it is essential to avoid the following:


  • Ignoring the pain and continuing to perform the exercise with poor form

  • Overloading the hips with heavy weights before addressing any underlying weaknesses or imbalances

  • Neglecting proper warm-up and mobility exercises to prepare the hips for the demands of the workout

  • Being a meathead thinking that if you keep training, the pain and discomfort will eventually go away


WHAT HELPS HIP PAIN FROM SUMO DEADLIFTS

To alleviate hip pain from sumo deadlifts, consider implementing the following strategies:


  • Focus on your form and technique, ensuring that your hips are properly aligned and engaged throughout the movement

  • Incorporate mobility exercises and stretches to improve hip flexibility and range of motion

  • Gradually increase the intensity and volume of your sumo deadlift workouts, allowing your hips to adapt to the demands of the exercise over time

  • Use a sumo deadlift alternative that has lower hip mobility requirements to allow you to continue to train while not making things worse


THE BEST ALTERNATIVE FOR SUMO DEADLIFTS IF YOU HAVE HIP PAIN

If sumo deadlifts are causing hip pain, one of the best deadlift alternatives is the hybrid stance deadlift. I love this variation because it allows you to still get all the benefits of the sumo deadlift, but places less stress on the inner thighs and external rotators by bringing the feet in just slightly.


You’ll still use the same equipment (barbell and plates), but let’s use less weight in the beginning since this is a new stimulus for your body to respond to.  


How to Perform the Hybrid Stance Deadlift:


  • For your starting position stand with your feet halfway between the conventional stance and sumo stance, with them slightly turned out

  • Grab the bar with your palms facing toward you and your arms are in between your thighs. Your arms should be perpendicular to the ground

  • Pull your hips down and back so your torso is slightly leaning forward and the bar is almost touching the front of your shins 

  • Brace your core, and drive your feet through the floor while simultaneously pushing your hips forward until your legs are locked out

  • Slowly lower the weight to the floor by pushing the hips down and back while bending at the knees

  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, focusing on controlled movements and maintaining constant tension in your core throughout the exercise


How to do a hybrid stance deadlift

HOW TO FIX HIP PAIN FROM SUMO DEADLIFTS

To address hip pain from sumo deadlifts, follow these steps:


  • Take a break from sumo deadlifts allowing your hips to rest and recover, and instead use the variation from above as long as it’s not contributing to your hip pain

  • Work on improving hip mobility in the inner thighs and external rotators. A great place to start is with Frog Pose PAILs and RAILs. This video has a great introduction to this exercise and setup. 

  • Once your hip mobility starts to improve, gradually start to widen your stance as tolerable, listening to your body's feedback to avoid causing injury again


CONCLUSION

Sumo deadlifts are an effective exercise for building lower body strength and targeting different muscle groups like the hips, inner thighs, and glutes. However, those with hip pain may find sumo deadlifts uncomfortable or even exacerbating.


The good news is that the hybrid deadlift serves as an excellent alternative, providing similar benefits while placing less stress on the inner thighs and external rotators. By using the hybrid variation and addressing your hip mobility, you can alleviate hip pain and continue to progress toward your fitness goals.


WANT PAIN-FREE HIPS?

If you want the full system to unlock tight, sticky hips, then I’d definitely recommend checking out the Healthy Hips 10 Day Challenge where you get step-by-step instruction on what to do and when. Hope to see you inside!


unlock tight hips


 

ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN

Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.

Certifications:

  • NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

  • Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist

  • Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach

  • Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)

  • Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor

  • Weck Method Qualified


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