9 Best Sumo Deadlift Alternatives – How to Perform

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Written by Wasim Kagzi
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Key Points

  • The Sumo deadlift is beginner friendly and a great variation of the traditional deadlift.
  • A good sumo deadlift alternative works the posterior chain muscles, with more emphasis on the glutes.
  • Sumo deadlift alternatives include Romanian deadlift, barbell hip thrusts, kettlebell swing, trap bar deadlift and more.

The deadlift is one of the best compound exercises to strengthen your posterior chain muscles and develop strength. The same goes for the sumo deadlift.

However, from time to time we want to add some variability to our training. There is also the situation where an injury might prevent you from doing the sumo deadlift properly. Is there a sumo deadlift substitute?

For this reason, we bring you the nine best sumo deadlift alternatives.

What is a Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a deadlift performed with a wider stance, with feet pointing out and with arms resting between the thighs.

Compared to the traditional deadlift, which is done with a narrower stance, the position of the sumo deadlift puts less stress on the lower back and activates the glutes more. Also, it allows you to lift more weight than with the traditional deadlift stance.

Sumo Deadlifts Muscles Worked

The sumo deadlift, as with any deadlift variation, works the posterior chain muscles – the hamstring, glutes, back muscles, but also the quads.

Compared to the conventional deadlift, because of the specific leg position, the sumo deadlift puts a lot more emphasis on the glutes and the quads, and less on the lower back. This makes the sumo deadlift a lot more glute and quad-dominant than other deadlift variations.

What Makes Sumo Deadlift Alternatives Good

A good sumo deadlift alternative works the posterior chain muscles, with more emphasis on the glutes.

Any sumo deadlift substitute should also have similar movement and biomechanics so it can translate to the lift.

9 Best Sumo Deadlift Alternatives

1. Romanian Deadlift

The main difference between the sumo deadlift and the Romanian deadlift is that the Romanian deadlift puts more emphasis on the hamstrings, while the sumo deadlift activates the glutes more. 

The Romanian deadlift has a shorter range of motion and a different leg position than the sumo deadlift. 

The legs should be straight during the whole movement. There is no bending in the knees on the way down. This puts a lot more emphasis on the hamstrings. The bottom position of the Romanian deadlift is slightly below the knees, not on the ground, as in the sumo deadlift.

Also, the starting position is different. The sumo deadlift starts at the floor, while the Romanian deadlift starts at the position that would be the top position in the sumo deadlift. This allows you to start the Romanian deadlift from the rack and not directly from the ground.

How to Perform

  1. Grip the bar with the overhand grip, pull it off the rack and stand upright with it. With your feet shoulder-width apart, the resting position of the barbell should be in front of your upper thighs.
  2. Find a neutral spine position and slightly bend your knees and push your hips back. Keep this leg position during the entire time.
  3. Without rounding your back, push your hips back into a hinge position. The ending hinge position should be when your torso is roughly parallel to the ground and the barbell slightly below your knees. 
  4. From this position, push your hips forward until you are upright. Your back should remain neutral. Avoid overarching your back on the way up. All the movement should come from your hips. Then repeat.

2. Barbell Hip Thrusts

The hip thrust is one of the most popular glute exercises. Except for the glutes, it works your hamstring too. The hip thrust is a great addition to your leg day, and because of great glute activation, it can be an effective sumo deadlift alternative.

What differentiates the hip thrust from other posterior chain exercises, such as sumo deadlift, is the body position. The hip thrust is performed by leaning your back on the bench and with your hips below the shoulders. 

This horizontal position provides better gluteal activation compared to standing posterior chain exercises, such as the deadlift. The horizontal position allows a greater range of motion and puts the glutes under bigger tension. Thereby, the hip thrust is an excellent exercise if your goal is to develop strong and great-looking glutes. 

You will need a bench, a barbell, and a barbell pad for the hip thrust. At heavier loads, it’s uncomfortable to hold the barbell on your hips, so the pad will come in handy.

How to Perform

  1. Lean with your upper back on the edge of a bench. Place a barbell across your hips. Your feet should be firmly on the ground, slightly wider than your hip-width. Lower your butt on the ground.
  2. Slightly tuck your hips and squeeze with your glutes to extend the hips and lift the barbell until it is in line with your knees.
  3. Hold that position for a few seconds, then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position without losing the tension in your glutes. Then repeat.

Best Hip Thrust Alternatives for a Strong Butt

3. Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are not just a great posterior chain exercise. In addition to building muscle strength and endurance, they are a great way to build your cardio too. 

Unlike the sumo deadlift, kettlebell swings are done more explosively and with higher repetitions.

The most important tip for the kettlebell swing is to drive the swing from your hips, not your back. All the movement and the power should come from the hips, not from your back. 

Your back should be straight during the swing. Especially at the downward momentum of the kettlebell. If your back rounds at the downward travel of the kettlebell, it could cause injury. Especially at heavier loads.

How to Perform

  1. Grab the kettlebell with both hands and stand upright. The kettlebell should rest between your hips. 
  2. Soften your knees and slightly tuck the pelvis. Find a neutral spine position and prepare for the swing.
  3. Push your hips back and get into a hinge position. Then from the bottom position explode from your hips and swing the kettlebell upward. The explosive hip extension should swing the kettlebell, don’t pull with your arms. 
  4. Keep your back straight and swing the kettlebell approximately to your chest level.
  5. Let the kettlebell pull you back into a hinge position. Don’t round your back on the downward swing of the kettlebell. As it pulls you back into the hinge position, explode from your hips once again to swing the kettlebell up. Then repeat.

4. Trap Bar Deadlift

The trap bar deadlift is also known as the hex bar deadlift. What differentiates trap deadlift from the traditional barbell deadlift is a more biomechanically friendly body position. This position makes it more suitable for beginners and people with back issues.

How Trap Bar Deadlifts Can Help You Jump Higher?

Unlike the barbell deadlift, which puts the load in front of you, the trap bar loads the body closer to your center of mass. This allows a greater hip range of motion and puts less stress on the lumbar spine. The trap bar deadlift is easier to learn and requires less technique than the barbell deadlift.

 How to Perform

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in the center of the trap bar. Slightly bend your knees and lean from your hip and grip the bar.
  2. Find a neutral spine position and keep this position during the whole exercise. Do not bend in your back. Brace your core and push the hips forward to get back to the upright position. Tighten your glutes at the top position. Slowly lower the bar without rounding your back. Then repeat.

5. Cable Pull Through

The cable pull throughs work the hamstrings and the glutes. They are mostly performed on the cable machine. However, they can be done with a resistance band as well.

What makes the cable pull through a great alternative for sumo deadlift is the time under tension on the glutes and the hamstrings. During the pull through, the cable provides tension during the whole movement. This extended time under tension provides greater strength development and hypertrophy potential.

This is a hinge exercise, just like the deadlift. This makes it a great stepping stone for novice lifters to practice the motion and build up strength for a proper deadlift. Also, it is a great exercise for more experienced lifters. It helps develop hinge strength and improves the deadlift.

How to Perform

  1. Attach the rope to the cable machine and place it on the low setting. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with your back facing the cable.
  2. Slightly bend your knees and drive your hips back with your back straight. From this hinge position, grab the ropes and grip them firmly with your hands.
  3. Without using your upper body, extend the cable with your hips. Squeeze the glutes and drive your hips forward until you are upright again.
  4. As you fully extend your hips and get upright, hold for a second. Then slowly return to the starting position. Make sure you are providing resistance to the cable on the way back. You should control the motion on the way back. Then repeat.

6. Good Mornings

Good mornings are a great sumo deadlift alternative. They are a hinge exercise, which means they are a great way to hit your hamstrings and glutes. 

However, good mornings can be tricky for beginners since most beginners don’t know how to hinge properly. Good mornings look like a lower back exercise, but they are not.

Although the lower back does act as a stabilizer, the primary movers are the hamstring and glutes. So make sure you have proper hinge mechanics before doing good mornings. If you feel your lower back doing most of the work, you are doing it wrong. So check your form.

How to Perform

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put a barbell on your shoulders, brace your core and find a neutral back position. 
  2. Keep your back straight, push your hips back and get into a hinge position.
  3. From the bottom position, push the hips forward until you get upright. Don’t arch from your lower back. Repeat.

7. Single-leg Romanian Deadlift

This is a great exercise to balance the strength discrepancy in your legs and improve stability. Also, the greater hip range of motion increases glute activation. This makes the single-leg Romanian deadlift a great alternative to the sumo deadlift.

The single-leg Romanian deadlift follows the same rules as the regular Romanian deadlift. The only difference is it is done standing on one leg. This activates your core more and requires a lot more activation and stabilization from your hip muscles.

Single leg Romanian deadlift can be done with a barbell or dumbbells. In the beginning, it is advised to perform the single-leg Romanian deadlift with a dumbbell holding in the opposite arm of your standing leg..

How to Perform

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees. Grab a dumbbell in the opposite ram of your working leg.
  2. Raise one leg off the floor and lean forward from your hip. Drive the heel of the lifted leg towards the ceiling. Do not bend in your back. Make sure your hips are leveled and you are not leaned to one side.
  3. As your torso gets almost parallel to the ground, squeeze the glute of the standing leg and push your hips forward until you are upright again. Feel the glute and the hamstring work. As you get to the starting position, repeat.

8. Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is an anteriorly loaded squat variation. Its setup is similar to the front squat and the goblet squat since the barbell rest in front of your body. The Zercher squat places the barbell in the crease of the elbows. By flexing the elbows you try to hug the weight and keep it as close as possible to your body. This barbell position loads the body closer to its center of mass and allows a more vertical squat.

Because of its position, the Zercher squat places a greater emphasis on the quads, core, upper back, hamstring, and glutes. The greater glute, quad, and back activation make the Zercher squat a great Sumo deadlift alternative.

Zercher Squat: Benefits and How To Guide

How to Perform

  1. Place your arms underneath the barbell, flex your elbows and place the barbell in the crease of your elbows. Bring your fists towards your chin and keep the weight as close as possible to your body.
  2. Engage your core and keep your back upright. Don’t let the weight pull you forward and round your back.
  3. Squat down until the barbell touches your thighs. Push with your legs and get back to the starting position. Then repeat.

9. Rack Pull

The rack pull is a great alternative to sumo deadlift. Especially if you are a novice lifter. It is less demanding than a deadlift, both technique-wise and strength-wise. So it is great for people who are newer to weightlifting.

Rack Pull vs Deadlift: Differences, Pros, Cons, and Muscles Worked

Athletes often use rack pull to improve their strength for other pulling exercises. Therefore, rack pulls are a great way to improve strength and lift more in your sumo deadlift.

Also, rack pulls are easier on your lower back than the deadlifts. This reduces the risk of back injury and is greater for people who have a hard time deadlifting due to back issues.

To get started, you will need a rack and a barbell.

How to Perform

  1. Set the rack height. The height depends on how tall you are. Most people prefer the rack height to around knee height or slightly above. Adjust the height according to your preference. There are no strict rules.
  2. Set the barbell on the rack and load the barbell with weight. Approach the barbell and get into position. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes under the barbell.
  3. Slightly bend your knees, bend in your hips with your back straight and grip the bar. 
  4. Brace your core, keep your spine neutral, drive hips forward and get upright with the barbell. Don’t round your back, lift only from your hips.
  5. Hold the weight at the top. Don’t overextend in your lower back at the top position, the extension should come only from your hips and knees.
  6. Lower the bar back to the rack. Keep your spine neutral and bend only in your hips. When you reach the rack with the barbell, repeat.

Rack Pull vs Deadlift – Key Differences

Final Thoughts

The sumo deadlift is a great variation of the traditional deadlift. It is more beginner-friendly, puts your body in a more comfortable position, strains your lower back less, activates the glutes more, and allows you to lift more weight. 

However, a sumo deadlift is only one way to develop strong glutes and posterior chain muscles. From time to time, it is fun to try new things and add them to your training regime. And with sumo deadlift alternative exercises from this list, you can easily mix things up and get the same benefits as with the sumo deadlift.

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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.

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