The deadlift is one of the most basic barbell movements. It consists of lifting an object off the ground, and standing up with it.
There is some technique required to lift a maximal load and to do so efficiently, but fundamentally it is pretty simple. In formalized training there are two basic ways to perform a deadlift, the sumo deadlift and the conventional deadlift.
The Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift has a wide stance with toes pointing slightly outward and the hands grip the barbell at shoulder width. Many people lift with this style for several reasons.
Perceived safety. Deadlifts can wreak havoc on your lower back if performed incorrectly. Some people think that the sumo deadlift puts less strain on the lower back. In truth both are perfectly safe if proper technique is used.
Slightly Less Work. Because your feet are placed so wide in the sumo deadlift the distance the barbell has to travel to complete the lift is shorter than the conventional deadlift. If your lifting 700 lbs, a shorter distance increases your chances of completing the lift.
Muscle Usage. Because the setup is different the sumo deadlift uses your muscles a little differently than the conventional deadlift. If you are training for aesthetics then it matters what muscles are bigger than others.
But if you’re training for functionality the conventional deadlift is your best bet.
The Conventional Deadlift
The setup for the conventional deadlift is with your feet directly under your hips and your hands gripping the bar at shoulder width or slightly wider. This setup more closely resembles how you would naturally bend over pickup a bag of dog food.
We primarily train using the conventional deadlift because it better meets our description of a functional movement. As the CrossFit Journal put it in August of 2003.
For us, the guiding principles of proper technique rest on three pillars: orthopedic safety, functionality, and mechanical advantage. Concerns for orthopedic stresses and limited functionality are behind our rejection of wider than hip to shoulder width stances. While acknowledging the remarkable achievements of many powerlifters with the super wide deadlift stance we feel that its limited functionality (we can’t safely, walk, clean, or snatch from “out there”) and the increased resultant forces on the hip from wider stances warrant only infrequent and moderate to light exposures to wider stances.
This doesn’t mean we won’t ever do a sumo deadlift but because we want our functional exercises to mimic life as closely as possible we choose to primarily train with the conventional deadlift.
It is still possible to lift plenty of heavy weight off the ground this way.
Now go move better.