There are many different hip extension exercises to choose from but the king of the jungle has been and always will be the bent knee deadlift.
There are only two basic styles of a bent knee deadlift: conventional style and Sumo style.
Which one is better? This question has practically been argued to death. That’s why I decided to write this post and give you my opinion, based on my 20 years of coaching these lifts.
At first glance, the two lifts appear to be very similar. They both involve lifting a barbell off of the floor until you’re body is in a vertical position.
There are, however, two major differences between these two styles: the width of stance and the width of grip.
In the conventional style (Fig. 1), I recommend setting your feet close together (shoulder width or closer) and positioning your grip so your arms pass right outside your legs.
In the Sumo style (Fig. 2), a moderate to wide foot stance is utilized with a close handgrip to allow the arms to pass inside the legs.
It has been stated that the Sumo style is biomechanically more efficient than the conventional style because the bar does not travel as far during the lift. In fact, studies have shown that Sumo style can decrease vertical bar distance by 10%.
This is true, but since conventional lifters hold more world records than their Sumo style counterparts, further investigation is clearly warranted.
After decades of analysis involving many lifters using both techniques, my findings are as follows:
In the set position, conventional lifters knees are considerably more extended. This raises the hips up higher and eliminates wasted energy from shooting your hips up during your pull before the bar leaves the floor.
At liftoff the trunk angle is considerably more upright in sumo lifters. My speculation is that by having a more vertical body posture, sumo lifters will experience more leg activity and less activity in the erector spinae muscles.
This hypothesis corresponds well with many EMG studies that showed more activity from the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis in the Sumo style.
A number of my subjects over the years had a greater one rep max with conventional, but at a percentage of their max did more reps using Sumo. Could this be coincidence or could the different styles emphasize different muscle groups with different fiber makeup?
Some similarities are apparent early in the lift (the first pull). In both styles knee and hip angle both increase, indicating a dominance of knee extension over hip extension during this segment of the lift. During the top portion of the lift (the second pull), mostly hip extension is noted, although this is more pronounced in the conventional style.
After collecting the data, I am of the opinion that for muscle building and strength training, conventional style is a better staple exercise.
That being said, you may choose to utilize either style depending on which muscle group you need to emphasize according to your individual strengths and weaknesses.
I hope this puts an end to the deadlift debate once and for all. Please leave your comments below and share your experiences with us about these two lifts.
Dedicated to your success,