Deadlift Variations

Trap Bar Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift

In a study by Swinton (2011), individuals had a higher 1RM with the hexagonal barbell compared to the straight barbell. The hexagonal barbell altered the resistance moment at the joints which caused a higher peak moment at the knee and a lower peak moment at the lumbar spine, hip and ankle. (Swinton 2011)

According to Camara (2016), when the Straight-bar Deadlift is performed with heavy loads, it can beUSArmyWeightlift.jpg very demanding on the lumbar region of the spine. For those with lower-back pain/injuriese Camera suggests using a hexagonal barbell (trap bar) for deadlifts . The Trap Bar Deadlift can evenly distribute the load and reduce the moment at the lumbar region. It also maximizes force, power, and velocity. On the other hand, the straight barbell may be a better choice if the goal is to strengthen the lumbar region and the hamstrings. (Camara 2016)

Rippetoe believes that the trap bar is a poor and unsafe substitute for the barbell for pulling off the floor. He argues that the body is not locked into a set position as firmly as it is with a barbell deadlift due to inherent instability of the trap bar deadlift which could potentially increase risk of injury. (Rippetoe 2020)

Sumo Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift

The individual credited for popularizing the sumo deadlift was Mike Bridges, IPF 1982 world record holder at 2100 lb (954.5 kg) for 181 lb (82.5) weight class (Rippetoe 2015).

The Sumo Deadlift offers various mechanical trade-offs as compared to the conventional deadlift. The wide stance of the Sumo Deadlifts allows the bar to be positioned closer to the hips. The sumo position, along with the lower positioning of the hips, allows the torso to begin in a slightly more upright posture. Although this allows for a shorter moment arm between the hips and barbell, the lower position of the hips creates longer moment arms between the knees and hip.

The wide stances of the Sumo Deadlift also positions the body slightly lower to the ground thereby reducing the need to bend over as far. It could be said that the sumo stance decreases the distance the bar needs to be lifted but in effect it actually decreases the moment arm distances on the sagittal plane (< spine angle) while positioning moment arms more in the coronal plane (hip adduction). The legs push both outward and downward into the floor at lateral angles creating a converging reactive force driving the hips upward.

Sumo Deadlift 1

Sumo Deadlift 2










The Sumo Deadlift uses similar muscles as the Conventional Deadlift with a few notable variations. The Sumo Deadlift has a greater reliance on the powerful hip musculature with relatively less emphasis on the spinal musculature.

The wider stance and deeper initial squatting position relies heavily on the Gluteus Maximus and particularly the Adductor Magnus. Like the Squat, the hamstrings act as Dynamic Stabilizers moving through the hips and knee with little change in length. The hamstring may act as a Synergist nearer the top of the lift if the knees extend significantly sooner than the hips, which may be caused by a narrower sumo stance or long femura, possibly requiring the knees to be extended early in the upper mid position thereby permitting the bar to clear the knees.

Although the knees do not extend as far beyond the ankle with the wide stance with knees pointing outward, significant knee torque is still generated by the bilateral forces angled slightly outward and downward, eliciting quadriceps evolvement.

The Erector Spinae and their antagonist stabilizers, Rectus Abdominis and Obliques, while still heavily involved in stabilizing the spine are proportionally less evolved in the Sumo Deadlift due to the more upright posture of the torso as compared to the more bent over positioning of the Conventional Deadlift. This more upright posture also decreases the tendency for the spine to flex forward under the weight of a load.

The Sumo Deadlift is typically relatively easier nearer the top of the motion as compared to the Conventional Deadlift. However, placing the arms narrower than shoulder width creates unneeded torque near the top of the motion potentially interfering with a full upright lockout since the bar cannot be held as close to the center of gravity at the top of the lift with the arms positioned anteriorly on the body.

Escamilla (2000) quantified kinematic and kinetic parameters by employing a three-dimensional analysis during sumo and conventional style deadlifts. They focused on biomechanical analysis at liftoff and the instance the bar passes the knees with the following key findings:

  • Sumo Deadlift
    • Thigh position was 11-16 degrees more horizontal for the sumo group
    • Vertical trunk and thigh positions were 5-10 degrees greater 
    • Wider stance (70 +/- 11 cm vs 32 +/- 8 cm)
    • Feet turned out more (42 +/- 8 vs 14 +/- 6 degrees).
    • Barbell gripped with hands closer together (47 +/- 4 cm vs 55 +/- 10 cm)
  • Conventional Deadlift
    • Knees and hips extended approximately 12 degrees more for the conventional deadlift. 
    • Foot stance 2-3 times narrower than the sumo group
    • Greater ankle plantar flexor moments
    • Less time in the acceleration phase of the deadlift and reaches peak bar velocity faster.
    • Vertical bar distance, mechanical work, and predicted energy expenditure were approximately 25-40% greater in the conventional group.
  • Differences
    • Ankle and knee moments and moment arms were significantly different between lifts
  • No significant differences
    • Hip moments and moments arms
  • The researchers noted that three-dimensional calculations are more accurate and significantly different than two-dimensional calculations
    • Particularly for the sumo deadlift

Rippetoe & Bradford (2017) note that the wider stance of the sumo deadlift gives the effect of shorter legs and allows the back to be more upright thereby decreasing the moment arm in the trunk. This results in a more vertical bar path closer to the hips.

A shoulder width grip is suggested for the sumo deadlift since narrower than shoulder width grip will make it more difficult to lockout at top. This is because the bar is forced forward further away from the hips once the upper arms make contact with sides of the rib cage, effectively creating a greater moment arm. This becomes apparent when the lifter has difficulty standing straight near the top range of motion. (Needs reference)

SumoDeadliftVsConventionalDeadlift4x3.pngWhen body segment ratios are not considered, Cholewa (2019) found no significant 1RM strength differences in the sumo deadlift versus the conventional deadlift in subjects with no deadlifting experience. Rippetoe & Bradford (2017) suggested that the sumo stance may offer a better starting position for individuals with longer femurs. However, Cholewa (2019) reported that sumo deadlift to conventional deadlift strength ratio had an inverse relationship with sitting height to total height ratio (r = 0.297) in subjects not familiar with deadlifting. This suggests that those with longer torsos tended to have a mechanical advantage in regard to 1RM performance with the sumo deadlift whereas those with a shorter torsos tended to be better suited to the conventional deadlift, at least in beginners. (Cholewa 2019)


Camara KD, Coburn JW, Dunnick DD, Brown LE, Galpin AJ, Costa PB (2016). An examination of muscle activation and power characteristics while performing the deadlift exercise with straight and hexagonal barbells. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 30.5, 1183-1188.

Cholewa JM, Atalag O, Zinchenko A, Johnson K, Henselmans M (2019). Anthropometrical Determinants of Deadlift Variant Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Aug 1;18(3):448-453.

Escamilla RF, Francisco AC, Fleisig GS, Barrentine SW, Welch CM, Kayes AV, Speer KP, & Andrews JR (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32(7), 1265–1275.

Rippetoe M (2015). Ask Rip #10. YouTube. Retrieved September 8, 2022 from

Rippetoe M (2020). Why the Trap Bar is Completely Useless with Mark Rippetoe. Retrieved May 3, 2022 from

Rippetoe M, Bradford SE (2017). Starting strength: Basic barbell training. Aasgaard Company, 156, 164, 173, 182-183, 191, 196-197, 210-211.

Swinton PA, Stewart A, Agouris I, Keogh JW, Lloyd R (2011). A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 25(7), 2000–2009. 

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