Semi Sumo Deadlift Ultimate Guide (4 Benefits, 2 Drawbacks)

Photo of author
Written by Wasim Kagzi
Last updated on

Key Points

  • The semi sumo deadlift is a hybrid of the leg positioning between the conventional and the traditional wide leg stance sumo deadlift.
  • Semi sumo deadlifts are more suitable for lifters with an arm length over 38% of their body and hip range of 125-135°.
  • These hybrid deadlifts are helpful for increasing glute size & strength, breaking the barbell off the ground and performing a stronger deadlift.

There are so many deadlift variations I’ve lost count. Have you ever heard of the semi sumo deadlift? No?

Well, I’ve put together a beast of a guide on what it is and the main similarities and differences of the semi sumo deadlift. 

What is the semi sumo deadlift?

So let’s get to the guide and you can determine if this type of deadlift is right for your training.

What is the Semi Sumo Deadlift?

Your first thought when you hear semi sumo deadlift is a half way version between sumo and conventional deadlifts.

Turns out you would be pretty accurate.

The semi sumo deadlift is a hybrid of the leg positioning between the conventional and the traditional wide leg stance sumo deadlift.

It’s basically a narrower stance sumo deadlift if you’re sitting there confused scratching your head. 

How the Semi Sumo Deadlift is Different from the Standard Sumo Deadlift

The main differences are;

  1. Leg Stance – The leg stance is narrower than the conventional deadlift but not as narrow as the standard sumo deadlift.
  2. Back Angle – There is a more forward lean which draw more back activation and may not be as safe as the more upright traditional sumo stance.
  3. Biomechanics and Muscle Emphasis – The starting position enables you to pull from the hips (more glute work). Whereas the traditional sumo may extend more at the knees (more quadricep work).

As you can see from the image below.(1,2)

Starting stance for semi sumo deadlift and standard sumo deadlift
Starting stance for semi sumo deadlift and standard sumo deadlift

How to Perform the Semi Sumo Deadlift (13 Steps)

Step 1: Find a clear space in the gym suitable for deadlifting. I like to go to a squat rack but your gym may not have one.

Step 2: Place an Olympic barbell on the floor. Get one that has knurl marks so you can get correct hand positioning.

olympic barbell on the gym floor

Step 3: Load up the barbell in relation to your training goals. Start at a low load with new exercises.

Barbell loaded with weight to prepare for semi sumo deadlift

Step 4: Line up to the center of the barbell with the feet positioned ever so slightly outside shoulder width apart and no further. Don’t go wider than the knurl marks.

Step 5: Flare the feet out and position the center feet directly underneath the barbell.

Step 6: Grasp the barbell with a double overhand grip at shoulder width. This position would be inside near the shins.

Step 7: Shift your weight to the heels of the feet, while simultaneously bending at the knees and dropping the hips back to form a deadlift position.

Step 8: Alter your position slightly if needed. You should be in a position so your shoulder blades are in front of the barbell.

Lifter getting ready for the semi sumo deadlift in a starting position
Starting stance for the semi sumo deadlift

Step 9: Take a deep breath and brace the core, lats, shoulders and arms to keep the spine in a safe neutral position. I think of breaking the slack out of the bar.

Step 10:  Press from the ball of the foot while simultaneously straightening the knee. Drive the hips forward as you pull the barbell up the leg.

Step 11: To finalize the movement retract the scapular following the hip thrust movement. Scapular retraction basically means pin the shoulders back.

Step 12: Breath out. Ensure your shoulders are pinned and depressed.

Bar raised during the semi sumo deadlift.

Step 13: Drop or place the barbell back down and repeat the movement.

Getting back to the starting position for semi sumo deadlift

Semi Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked

There are similar muscles worked than a conventional deadlift. First, let’s go over the preparation of the movement.

1. Core Stability Muscles

The core stability muscles come in to play in any sort of deadlift. You breathe and brace your core in preparation to lift the weight. Your core keeps your spine safe and stable.

 2. Forearms

  • Brachioradialis (underneath bicep)
  • Brachialis (side of lower arm)

The forearms work more isometrically in this deadlift. That is, the forearms work without any change in the length of the muscle. 

How so?

In step 1, I mentioned gripping the bar firmly is the mediator for the exercise. 

3. Calf Muscles 

  • Gastrocnemius (back of the lower leg)
  • Soleus (outer lower leg)

There are two points of the movement where the calves activate.

  • Setting up – While drawing into the ‘sit down’ position as mentioned in step 8 where you would place the majority of your weight into the heel of the foot (dorsiflexion).
  • Deadlifting – The initial movement would be to press from the center and ball of the foot (plantar flexion) which will activate the calf muscles significantly. Take a look at step 11.

4. Quadriceps

  • Vastus lateralis (Outer upper leg)
  • Vastus medialis (Inner upper leg)
  • Rectus femoris (Centre of the upper leg) 
  • Vastus inter-medialis (Centred and Subsurface of the upper leg)

Your quadricep muscle is the upper thigh muscle group. There are 4 individual muscles, mentioned above. 

During the second movement of straightening the legs (knee extension) the quadriceps activate, see step 10.

Furthermore, the rectus femoris could be considered a ‘special’ quadricep muscle as it aids the hip movement during the 3rd pull. 

 5. Gluteus

  • Gluteus maximus (large muscle on posterior)

The glutes would activate in two ways:

  • Hip movement – Since you drive the hips forward (hip extension); this is where the gluteus maximus is activated. 
  • Foot positioning – Flaring the feet out in the semi sumo stance would also activate the glutes. Another glute action is twisting the leg outwards (external rotation). 

6. Adductors

  • Adductor magnus (inner thigh)

The adductor magnus is an important muscle which doesn’t get much attention from lifters while talking about this deadlift.

In fact, it holds the legs in position and prevents them from drifting out too much while performing the movement.  

 8. Hamstring 

  • Bicep femoris (Two larger muscles on the back of the thigh)
  • Semitendinosus (Thin muscle in the centered on the back of the thigh)
  • Semimembranosus (Thin muscle down position on the inner on the back of the thigh) 

The hamstrings don’t work as much during this deadlift variation. 

However, they activate if you control the weight back down as oppose to just dropping it from the knee bending movement (knee flexion).

8. Lower Back Muscles

  • Erector Spinae (lower back)

The lower back helps to stabilize the movement and plays an important part in pulling the barbell to the end point (back extension).

9. Upper Back Muscles

  • Latissimus (Outer back) 
  • Rhomboids (Subsurface of the upper back)
  • Trapezius (Centre of the upper back)

Remember that bracing and scapular retraction (step 12) is crucial to finish the movement, which stimulate the upper back muscles greatly.

Do Deadlifts Work Lats? Yes, See How

What Type of Lifter Should Do the Semi Sumo Deadlift?

Your anatomy and physiology will determine which deadlift is best for you.

Arm Length 

The semi sumo deadlift requires more range of motion than the traditional sumo. However, it doesn’t draw the same amount of body flexion as the conventional deadlift, hence why it’s known as the ‘hybrid’. 

For this reason, lifters with longer arms will perform better in this deadlift as it allows you to grasp the barbell. 

Arm length greater than 38% of your whole-body length is considered ‘long’ (3).

For example, if you stand at 180cm and arm length is around 69-70cm, you present ‘long arms’. Whereas 68cm would be considered ‘average’ and anything below would be ‘short’. 

Hip Range of Motion

For the most part, hip range of motion is determined by the genetics of the pelvis, hip socket and femur. 

Some individuals cannot abduct their hip bone more than 120° who would be more suited for the conventional deadlift (3).

On the other side of the spectrum, some individuals can stretch out past the 135° and it only makes sense that the traditional wide stance sumo deadlift position could be used (3).

Lastly, other individuals are left in the range of 125-135° and this is where the semi sumo deadlift could work (3).

Suitcase Deadlift Muscles Worked: Another Neat Deadlift

Who is This Lifter?

In a nutshell, lifters with an arm length over 38% of their body and hip range of 125-135° will enjoy the semi sumo deadlift.

On the other hand, you could try out this exercise and see if you feel stronger than any other variation.

Personally, I’ve never measured out my anatomy for a lift. 

Some lifters just don’t have the time and effort to start measuring out limb lengths and hip ranges, especially for recreational lifters and bodybuilders.

Sometimes you just got to go by the feel. As long as the exercise isn’t causing any sharp pains.(3)

Isometric Deadlift Guide: A Variation To Help With Sticking Points

4 Benefits of Semi Sumo Deadlift

1. Increases Glute Size and Conditioning

Let me just put it out there, all the variations of the deadlift will pretty much target the same muscle groups.

However, some variations will emphasize certain muscles more than others. 

This hybrid deadlift could place an additional focus on the glute muscles.

Why?

Firstly, the flared foot positioning externally rotates the hips which hits the glute muscles. Whereas, in the conventional deadlift the feet will pretty much be directed at a 12 o’clock angle.  

Secondly, unlike the traditional sumo deadlift, a lot more hip movement is required to perform this deadlift, this is where the glute muscle fibers fire the most.(1,2)

Therefore, my suggestion would be to opt for this hybrid deadlift if you’re looking to bring out the glutes a bit more.

Moderate intensities at moderate rep ranges have been shown to promote muscle hypertrophy.(4) 

Based on this understanding, I would suggest working at an intensity of around 70% for 10-12 reps per set for 3-5 sets.

For example, if your 1RM is around 250lbs, 10% would be 25lbs (250/10=25) you’d then multiply 25 by 7 to give you 70% which equates to 175lb (25×7=175). 

You could then perform 10 reps x 3 sets @70% which gives you a training volume of 5250lbs (175×10=1750x 3= 5250).

2. Increases Glute Strength

For the same reason as benefit #1, if you’re lacking glute strength the semi sumo deadlift will greatly help.

Strength gains are more optimal at higher intensity lifting.(4) 

What does this mean?

Higher intensity refers to heavier loads, but this is entirely dependent on your capabilities. 

Your 80% might be my 50% Or Vice versa 

I would suggest working in the range of 80-90% intensity to build strength.

The calculations would be similar to the ones I’ve given above.  

3. Perform a Stronger Deadlift

If you have strong hip extensor genetics (glutes) and development, plus all of the other anatomical measures mentioned above are in check, you may be destined for the semi sumo deadlift.

These types of genetics may even help you produce an impressive lift for powerlifting meets, even on the elite stage. 

For aspiring powerlifters, it may be ideal to measure limb length and hip flexibility.

Based on genetics, many great powerlifters have produced whopping deadlifts with the hybrid version, such as;   

  • Ed Coan who was able to rack up a 901lb deadlift at only 220lbs.
  • Angelo Fortino who ripped 722lbs off the ground at 182lbs bodyweight.

4. Easier to Break the Barbell off the Ground

Since you’re closer to the ground, you can break off the ground a lot easier compared to the traditional sumo deadlift. 

Even if you’re just a recreational lifter and just figuring out your craft, this may be a good reason to use this deadlift variation. 

2 Drawbacks of Semi Sumo Deadlift

1. Harder to Lockout 

Compared to a traditional sumo stance most lifters will require more range of motion and will be forced into a more horizontal position during the movement.

For this reason, pulling the bar up could be more difficult, along with the lockout at the top of the motion requiring more scapular retraction. 

So, we need a considerable amount of back development for those goliath lifts you see all over the internet. The more developer your back is the easier it is to lockout.

2. Higher Injury Risk for the Lower Back 

Many lifters will indeed have a higher risk for a lumbar back injury with the semi sumo deadlift. 

Why?

The standard sumo deadlift forms a vertical/upright posture, whereas the semi stance creates a forward lean.(5) 

Any high intensity load bearing exercise that creates forward lean can stress the lower back and at times could even cause spinal curving/loading and subsequent injuries.(5) 

Tips to Performing the Best Semi Sumo Deadlift

Deadlifting Bare Feet or Socks

I’d say lifting socks are the better option than barefoot deadlifting and I’ll get to that. 

The idea of a deadlift is to press from the ground to get a strong ground reaction force and reduce the range of motion that the bar travels during the upward phase.

Think about it. Imagine deadlifting in 5” boots, that’s an additional 5” to pull through.

I say socks, because they practically add no height and allow you to right of push off the ground, right? 

But why do I think lifting socks are the better option to barefoot lifting?

Lifting socks wrap tightly around the lower leg and during the semi sumo deadlift. The barbell slides up the shins during the upward phase, where the socks add a protective layer to the skin.

Socks prevent those bloody shins you see lifters get from deadlifting.

Perfect Your Foot Flare

Unsure how to flare your feet as highlighted in step 5 of my guide? 

Not to worry! I’ve got you

To perfect the foot flare, take a look at a clock and try to position your left foot so that it’s pointing towards the 10 o’clock angle and your right foot pointing towards 2 o’clock 

This top tip will put you into the perfect semi sumo stance to hit those glutes. 

Use of Lifting Straps 

Lifting straps are my ‘go-to’ accessories when it comes to any deadlift variation. 

It’s great to max out on intensity or get those few extra reps because it offers you an artificial grip around the barbell. 

The downside is that the lifting straps won’t allow you to develop your grip strength. It probably won’t be ideal for completive powerlifters because;

  • Powerlifters need to maximize grip strength to lift heavy loads.
  • Lifting straps are prohibited in competitive powerlifting.

So, let’s just say it’s an accessory for bodybuilders and recreational strength trainers. 

Lift off a Hard Surface

‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ – Newton’s law of motion

Why have I brought up this law of motion?

During this deadlift variation, a lifter must press off the ground through the legs. 

And by lifting off a hard surface we can maximize the ground reaction force and optimize short term lifting capabilities and other long-term strength training benefits.

Lifting off a soft or foamy ground will absorb a lot of the force and hinder force production and balance. 

The same applied to footwear hence why I recommended deadlifting without shoes.  

Common Semi Sumo Deadlift Mistakes

1. Back Rounding

It’s a lot easier for the back to start rounding with higher weights.

The semi sumo deadlift forms a lot more forward lean or more horizontal to the barbell. Whereas the traditional sumo stance presents a more upright posture in most cases.

I would definitely recommend working on core stability and overall muscle strength before going up in weight.

You can also prevent back rounding by working on mobility exercises for your deadlift.

2. Not Using a Proper Semi Sumo Stance 

Lifters need to place their feet slightly outside shoulder width but not too wide.

I’ve coached some lifters who had a habit to place their feet too narrow or too wide that it just becomes a traditional sumo deadlift. 

Each deadlift variation has its own pros and cons so using the proper stance is important for training.

3. Wrong Shoulder Positioning During the Set up  

The shoulder blades should be slightly in front of the barbell.

Some lifters tend to draw the shoulder blades too far forward in front which causes the barbell to swing and shift the weight onto the toes while performing the lift. 

This causes a loss of balance and even causes a fall which could result in an injury. 

On the other side of the spectrum, some lifters bring their shoulder blades too far back during the setup, which causes the hips to drop back and the knees to protrude out.

Why is this a problem?

When performing the lift, the lifter can be forced to pull the barbell around the knees which is suboptimal for muscle tension and maximizing the semi sumo deadlift. 

The knees can also obstruct the bar path on the way up, which diffuses muscle tension and the energy being produced from the lift. Not to mention, the barbell coming into contact with the knees can cause a blunt force injury.

FAQs

Are running shoes good for semi sumo deadlift?

No, running shoes elevate a lifter from the ground, therefore creating more range of motion to pull the bar and making it more difficult to perform the lift.

Final Thoughts

The semi sumo deadlift is essentially a narrow stance sumo deadlift and is a great exercise that may suit some lifters. However, it may not be great for other lifters. Many factors come into play including arm length, hip flexibility, muscle genetics.

The main benefit is the emphasis on the hip hinge. As a derivative of the conventional deadlift, this version has similar muscles worked including the glutes.

Those with stronger glutes may be able to produce a more impressive lift as long as the other body measures are in check. 

Remember as a result of the back lean there could be a higher chance of getting injured. However, this shouldn’t be a reason to shy away from exercise as essentially any activity poses risk. 

References

  1. Fluentis, M.F., Lozano, J.M.O., Muyer, J.M. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLOS ONE. 2020; 15(2): e022950
  1. Clifton, H. Understanding the deadlift and its variations. ACSMs Health and Fitness Journal. 2020; 24 (3):17-23
  1. Cholewa, J.M., Atalag, O., Zinchenko, A., et al. Anthropometrical Determinants of Deadlift Variant Performance. Journal of Sport Science and Medicine. 2019; 18(3): 448-453
  1. Carpinelli, R.N., & Otto, R.M. Strength Training. Sports Medicine. 1998; 26 (2): 73-84
  1. Diggin, D., Regan, C.O., Whelen, N., et al. A BIOMECHANICAL ANALYSIS OF FRONT VERSUS BACK SQUAT: INJURY IMPLICATIONS. Biomechanics in Sport. 2011; 11(1): 643-646

More About Deadlifts:

Photo of author

Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've dedicated my life to learning and the pursuit of strength science. I hope to eventually compete one day and become the strongest version of myself.

Leave a Comment