If you’re looking for some leg-day inspiration, it’s time to talk deadlifts… specifically dumbbell sumo deadlifts.
The dumbbell sumo deadlift is a fantastic variation of the traditional deadlift exercise and can be used in all sorts of strength training plans.
The sumo stance puts more emphasis on the glutes during the lift, as well as being kinder to your lower back and knees.
This wider stance can also make it more comfortable to lift dumbbells, by allowing you to hold them between your legs (which prevents bulky dumbbells rubbing against your outer legs).
But how do you actually do a sumo deadlift properly, what are the benefits compared to a narrower stance and ultimately, who should be doing them?
In this handy exercise guide, we delve into everything you need to know about the dumbbell sumo deadlift to help you decide if this movement is right for your overall fitness goals.
How to do Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts
To do dumbbell sumo deadlifts:
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart and your feet pointing outwards at a 45 degree angle.
- Bend at the knees and hips, pushing your hips back as you lower yourself down.
- Grab a dumbbell with an overhand grip in each hand between your legs.
- With your back straight and chest up, pull the dumbbells upwards as you push down through your glutes and legs.
- Keep your core braced throughout and your arms straight during the lift.
- Lock out the movement before lowering yourself down to repeat the movement.
Coach’s Tip – There’s no golden rule for sumo stance position, ultimately it comes down to what feels comfortable. If your hips are hurting, or you feel like you could lose balance, you’ve probably gone too wide.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift Workout
Dumbbell sumo deadlifts can be integrated into all sorts of workouts. The use of dumbbells instead of a barbell also makes them more suitable for at-home workouts.
Dumbbell sumo deadlifts will force your muscles to work hard, so bear that in mind if you’re thinking of pairing it with other heavy lifts. You may find your legs struggle if you try and incorporate multiple heavy compound lifts on the same day.
Some example workouts below:
Strength Leg Workout
10 x 3 Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts
8 x 5 Hip Thrusters
15 x 3 Air Squats
10 x 3 Dumbbell Squat Jumps
HIIT Leg Workout
10 Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts, 10 Squat Jumps, 10 Devil’s Press, 10 Air Squats – repeated 5 times.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts Muscles Worked
The glutes are quite literally doing a lot of the heavy lifting in this exercise. Like any type of deadlift, the glutes provide a lot of the power to help you push through the floor and pull the weight up.
The wide stance of a sumo deadlift will engage the glutes more as you’ll naturally rotate your hips out and adopt an upright position.
If you want to strengthen, tone or sculpt your derrière, the sumo variation is the way to go.
The use of dumbbells as opposed to a barbell also means there is less chance of one side overcompensating for the other, and you’re likely to engage both side of the glutes more evenly.
Although variations like the Romanian deadlift or the Straight Leg deadlift will target the hamstrings even more, this muscle group will still be vital for any sort of deadlift.
The sumo deadlift requires you to bend at the knees more during the initial lift. Essentially, you are performing a squat to get into the position. This engages the quads to provide the power to push you up out of the movement.
A word of caution, due to this increased bend at the knee, and the knee rotation required to point your feet outwards, if you struggle with knee pain, this could be a deal breaker… so practice with no weight first, to ensure you feel comfortable with the full range of motion. Although you may find you can lift more weight than in other deadlift stances, you may find you need to work on your knee range of motion and flexibility before you see such gains.
Our recent guide outlines some useful exercises and stretches for knee pain if that is a struggle.
This is really where the sumo stance comes into its own. Due to the wider stance, you’ll find your torso is naturally more upright.
This means as you perform the movement, there is less pressure on your lower back, and thus, less risk of lower back injuries (which can sometimes be associated with deadlifts if technique is poor).
The lower back is still engaged during the movement though, helping to provide the support and balance required to keep your body stable.
Upper and Mid Back
As previously mentioned, the more upright position reduces some of the pressure on the lower back. This means the upper and mid back take a bit more of the weight during the lift.
The use of dumbbells as opposed to a barbell will also engages these upper and mid back muscles more, as the weight is less stable and consequently needs to be stabilized during the entire movement.
Your core will be engaged to help provide stability during the movement.
Dumbbells are naturally less stable to lift than a barbell, so your core is going to be recruited more to ensure you remain balanced.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift Benefits
Strength and Power
The dumbbell sumo deadlift is ultimately a power movement. In fact, it’s common to lift more weight in a sumo stance than a regular stance for the deadlift. You are closer to the ground and able to really shift heavy weight easier.
For those who are primarily focused on developing strength, power, and muscle mass, this ability to overload the muscles with more weight can mean when you revert back to a regular deadlift, you can discover new gains.
A sumo stance requires more hip flexibility and range of motion than a narrower stance.
It always good to “test” your hip range of motion with variations such as a wider stance, to ensure tight hips aren’t holding you back.
If you do find you’re actually just struggling to sit in a sumo stance, check out some of these hip adductor stretches to improve your hip flexibility.
This is probably the main reason why you’d adopt a wider stance for deadlifts. The opened hips and outward knees result in the glutes taking more of the weight during the pulling movement.
If you want to train your glutes, this is probably the best way to do it. Sure, there are dedicated glute trainers and equipment, but really, overloading the glute muscles with more weight during a compound lift is hard to argue against for those glute gains.
Easier for Taller People
The wider stance of a sumo deadlift is often easier than a traditional stance for taller people. It avoids curling the back which isn’t good for technique and helps taller people complete the movement with better posture.
Easier with Dumbbells
Although it’s possible to simply grab a single dumbbell, we generally like to hold a dumbbell in each hand during this movement. As a result, you may find a sumo stance is actually more comfortable with certain dumbbells than a regular deadlift stance.
A lot depends on you the dumbbells you have and your technique, but if you find yourself exercising at home with a pair of dumbbells and struggle to really get into the flow of things with dumbbell deadlifts, try adopting a sumo position and seeing if that’s easier.
Better for Lower Back
Deadlifts are undoubtedly one of the best movements for strength… but many struggle with correct form.
Sumo deadlifts are generally better for your lower back as your back is more upright for the entire movement.
If you’re new to lifting weights, this is probably better for beginners as it means you’ll probably naturally adopt better posture during the exercise.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift Vs Barbell Sumo Deadlift
Any sort of sumo deadlift will largely work the same muscles, however the choice of equipment does influence aspects like range of motion and the ability to lift heavy weight.
For the powerlifting purists, a barbell is always going to be first choice. This is what’s used in competitions, and it is the most effective way to increase the weight during sets and workouts. We find barbells usually test your grip strength better than dumbbells too. If you want to hit a new sumo deadlift PB, a barbell is probably your best bet.
Dumbbells, on the other hand, create more instability during the lift, which helps to further improve core stability and strength. It can also be easier to do super-sets with other exercises if you’re using dumbbells.
Similarly, in some instances, such as exercising at home, you may find you only have access to equipment like dumbbells, in which case, understanding variations like dumbbell sumo deadlifts, allows you to do effective workouts, even if you don’t have your preferred choice of equipment.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift Alternatives
Barbell Sumo Deadlifts
The dumbbell sumo deadlift is really a variation of the barbell sumo deadlift.
Barbells are more popular for those looking to shift serious weight. It’s much easier to add progressive overload to the muscles through adding plates to a barbell.
If absolute strength and power is your end goal, a barbell is likely your better option.
Dumbbell Straight Leg Deadlifts
If you’re keen on strengthening the glutes and like using dumbbells but aren’t feeling the sumo stance, straight leg deadlifts are a great alternative.
They’re perhaps more beginner friendly as the movement is really just about hinging at the hips. You keep you back, arms and legs straight for the whole movement… so there’s less to think about.
Single Dumbbell/Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift
Another very similar alternative would be to use either a single dumbbell (held with both hands) or a kettlebell.
Using a kettlebell would be useful if you wanted to do sumo deadlifts alongside other kettlebell movements like the kettlebell swing.
This is also sometimes done with a deficit too, which further activates the muscles by increasing the range of motion at the hips and knees.
Dumbbell sumo deadlifts are a great variation to the traditional powerlifting exercise. They promote good posture, allow you to lift heavier weight and deliver an effective glute workout.
All you need are a pair of dumbbells, making it a great option for those exercising at home too.
If you’re looking to progress the movement, opt for heavier weights or use a deficit variation by standing on two raised surfaces so the dumbbells can be lowered below your feet. This increases the range of motion at the hips and knees.