The lifelong debate in powerlifting, sumo vs conventional, how do you choose?
Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to this question and like most things in lifting, it depends.
Although you can start to get into the conversation of leverages and which leverages are more optimal for which stance, from a practical perspective this is easier said than done.
So let’s get into it. How should you choose if you are a conventional or sumo lifter?
Have you ever deadlifted before? If the answer is no, it’s best to start with conventional. Are you newer to the gym or new to powerlifting? If yes, it’s probably better to go with conventional.
Sumo is much more technical and I find it’s easier for new athletes to learn conventional first. Conventional deadlift people tend to find it more natural and newer lifters tend to find it less overwhelming as they can get the hang of it pretty quickly.
This does not mean they will pull conventional forever but it’s a good place to start.
This should seem fairly obvious but you should be able to train pain-free. For example, if you think your sumo is stronger but it always causes hip pain and conventional is pain-free, it might be better to stick with pain-free conventional.
Which looks better?
Now I want to preface this by saying this is extremely subjective and not a one size fits all answer. That being said, depending on a lifter’s leverages, one stance might look more natural and comfortable than the other.
Determining which stance looks better is subjective and comes with the experience of coaching and watching a lot of deadlifts. Getting feedback from athletes is also helpful. If they have one stance that they say hands down feels better, it’s usually an indicator that it’s a less stressful position for the lifter’s body to be in.
Coming off of this, which stance allows the lifter to get into the best starting position. Starting position is key for a strong deadlift. If one stance has a better starting position than the other, that’s a good indicator.
Using the legs
Sometimes it can be more difficult to execute the cue ‘leg press the floor away’ in conventional.
This is sometimes easier to click in sumo as there is less flexion in the hips and more knee flexion, forcing a lifter to use their legs more.
Once again, this has nothing to do with sumo being a stronger or better stance for someone, it’s only that they may be able to execute it more efficiently.
Is one stance stronger?
An athlete might have one stance that is very obviously stronger than the other. If this is the case, that’s your answer as to which stance you should choose.
On the other hand, athletes will often look at the opposite stance (usually conventional lifters looking at sumo) like the grass is greener on the other side and they might be stronger if they switched.
There is no way to know for sure without trying. If a conventional lifter tries out sumo and it’s around 90% of their conventional max, sumo might be stronger but if trained consistently, it’s likely to be on par with conventional.
On the other hand, if a conventional lifter were to pull over 90% of their max in a sumo stance, there is a good chance that sumo might be stronger and it might not be a bad idea to give sumo a solid chance. Barring of course, it doesn’t cause any pain.
As stated before, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing a stance. As a coach, this is often very subjective based on how the deadlift looks and how the athlete feels.
If you have questions about which stance might be best suited for you, feel free to reach out and send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org