Training > Sumo Deadlift vs Back Squat: Differences and Muscles Worked

Sumo Deadlift vs Back Squat: Differences and Muscles Worked

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Key Points

  • There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to heavy lifting; it depends on you and your goals.
  • You should consider the muscles worked for each exercise. Choose the appropriate one for you between sumo deadlift and back squats.

At first glance, the pure strength it takes to perform a proper deadlift or squat exercise looks to be too much for your average person or athlete. 

However, deadlifts and squats are two of the most used and trained exercises in the world of strength training.

Chances are, as a lifter, these exercises have found their way into your program. 

As an athlete myself, I was initially intimidated by the idea of heavy weight training. I understand that it can be scary to imagine yourself lifting heavy amounts.

The two heavy lifting styles I am discussing today are the sumo deadlift vs. the back squat.

So, what are the differences between the sumo deadlift vs back squat? The back squat involves the weight placed on your traps and bending your knees to get as low as possible. This movement activates your quads, glutes and hip flexors. The Sumo deadlift is a wider stance deadlift involving the hip hinge movement. The weight starts on the floor and you pull the weight to your hips. Sumo deadlifts target the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

I will help you understand the differences, how to perform, and muscles worked. The article will also go over risks and benefits of both lifts.

Sumo Deadlift vs Back Squat: Key Differences

Although both exercises use a barbell and focus on the lower aspects of your body, there are plenty of differences between them. Here, I will go into detail on these two exercises and how they differ from each other in several ways.  

There are 5 main differences between the sumo deadlift vs back squat: 

  1. The Body Stance 
  2. Weight Restrictions
  3. The Length of Motion 
  4. Muscles Worked
  5. The Direction of the Movement 

1.  The Body Stance

Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a type of deadlift where your feet are much wider than your hip. Your feet also point slightly outwards. This activates your hips and glutes, and the exercise works the hip movement a lot more than the knee movement. The main difference in stance is that your feet are much wider apart than with the back squat.

A female lifter performing Sumo deadlift stance
The Sumo deadlift is a wider stance deadlift

Back Squat

The back squat is a type of squat, where your feet are shoulder width apart. Your glutes and quads activate. The exercise works your knee movement a lot more than your hip movement. Your feet are much closer together than with the sumo deadlift. 

2. Weight Restrictions

Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift will allow for heavier weights than the back squat. This is mostly because the exercise has a smaller range of motion. 

Back Squat

The back squat will require lighter weights. This is mostly because the exercise has a larger range of motion. 

3. The Length of Motion

Sumo Deadlift

Like I mentioned above, the sumo deadlift has a smaller range of motion. The exercise itself covers from the floor to the standing position. The bar is below the waist with straight arms. 

Back Squat

The back squat has a larger range of motion. With the bar held above the shoulders, it moves to the bottom of the squat. Then the bar moves back up again to the starting position. 

4. Muscles Worked

Sumo Deadlift

While both these exercises focus on the legs, the posterior chain is the focus of the sumo deadlift, which refers to the glutes and the hamstrings, along with the back-core muscles. It also focuses on the quads, but not as much as the back squat. 

illustration showing sumo deadlift vs back squat muscles worked
Sumo deadlift vs back squat muscles worked are very similar

Back Squat 

The back squat also involves the glutes and the hamstrings but focuses a lot more on the core muscles and the quadriceps. 

5. The Direction of the Movement 

Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift movement involves the bar moving up from the ground with straight arms, and then lowering it back down to the floor. This means you are lifting the weight up, and then down, with a pulling motion.

Back Squat 

With the back squat, the bar moves down with you into the squat, and then back into the starting position. So, you are lifting the weight down, and then up, lifting the weight in a pushing motion.

Female lifter performing back squat form and stance

How to Perform Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a heavy lifting exercise that takes a lot of practice. In my experience, in order to successfully perform the deadlift, it takes plenty of focus and dedication. 

Here is how to perform a sumo deadlift:

  1. Set up your barbell on the floor with equal weight on both ends. Stand in front of it. 
  2. Start with a wide stance, wider than your shoulders, with your toes pointed outwards. 
  3. Squat down with your knees out so they track above your feet and allow your hips to move back. Have your arms straight down while doing this. 
  4. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your arms straight.
  5. Take a moment before the actual lift for a deep breath. Get yourself ready. 
  6. Keep your chest up and back straight, and exhale as you push into your heels to drive up with your legs, keeping your arms straight holding the bar. 
  7. Drag the bar up your shins and over your knees. 
  8. Once you pass your knees, drive your hips forward to fully straighten and the lift is complete!
  9. Either lower the bar in the same manner or drop the bar if your settings allow, being careful to avoid your feet or any other object.

Technical Tips for Sumo Deadlift

  • Keep your back straight. In order to prevent any injuries from occurring, this is very important. Keeping your back as straight as possible during the lift is essential to perform it well, and in order to work the necessary muscles. Make sure not to arch or round your back or you have the potential to hurt yourself! I like to squeeze my shoulder blades together before beginning the lift to emphasize the position of my back.
  • Test out your foot angle. Knowing the appropriate angle your toes should be is very important. It will differ for every athlete, so make sure you test out the different angles and find the one that is best for you! This will ensure you get the absolute most out of the sumo deadlift, while maintaining stability throughout the exercise.

Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked

The muscles used in the sumo deadlift are hamstrings, glutes, back, calves, and obliques.

The sumo deadlift targets more muscles than any other lift, targeting the posterior chain. It will strengthen your lower back, as well as your legs. That is why it is so important to have the proper technique, as you can injure yourself with improper form.

Should You Squat and Deadlift in the Same Workout?

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Sumo Deadlift

There are a few mistakes to avoid when doing sumo deadlifts. Here are a few you will want to try and avoid:

  • Pulling the bar up with your neck and arms

This is an easy mistake to make with this lift. As you get stronger and add weight, there is a tendency to bend your elbows and pull up with your arms and shoulders. This is a mistake I still make sometimes, even as a professional athlete.

My tip would be that when you’re taking that deep breath before you start the lift, squeeze your shoulder blades together and allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears. Focus on activating your lower back and your glutes. This allows your mind to focus on the necessary areas!

  • Your hips and shoulders disconnect from each other

This can happen at the end of the lift, when you have almost performed it perfectly, but your shoulders come up earlier than your hips. You want to think about your body working as one, with the movement of it all flowing naturally.

You will know when you have made this mistake, as it is like a ‘kink’ that happens. Like stated earlier in this article, think about keeping your back straight and neutral, and this will help you avoid making this easy mistake. 

Benefits of Sumo Deadlift

Some of the pros of sumo deadlift are: 

  • Extra work on the quadricep muscles. With the extra width between your legs when you’re performing the sumo deadlift, your quads are taking a lot of the weight. This is beneficial if this is one of your target areas that you’re looking to get stronger. There is plenty of activity in the quadriceps, making it a very good choice for those muscles!
  • Can be a rehab exercise for back injuries. While the sumo deadlift is a great exercise for strengthening your posterior chain, it can also help overcome a back injury. Plenty of athletes use it as a way to strengthen their back muscles, helping get their body back to where it was before they had an injury. Personally, I have noticed a big difference in my back not being sore since incorporating the sumo deadlift into my training regimen. 

Cons of Sumo Deadlift

Some of the cons of the sumo deadlift are: 

  • Hurting your shins. As I explained above, the way to perform this exercise well is by having the bar against your legs. The wider the stance, the more the bar will push against your legs, causing your shins to potentially end up bloodied or bruised. To avoid this, wear long socks in order to protect your shins. 
  • Extra stress on wrists and hands. When doing the lift, you are hold a very heavy bar with your upper extremities. This can potentially cause an injury. to these parts of your body, as they might not be used to holding such heavy weight. To try to avoid this, warm up your wrists and hands very well before performing the lift. This is different than with the back squat, where you are holding the heavy weight on your back and your wrists are barely holding any weight at all. 

How to Perform Back Squats

The back squat is a classic exercise, that is beneficial for all kinds of people and athletes. I was introduced to my first back squat when I was 15 and have loved the move ever since. I notice all the positives it brings to my tennis, including a ton of strength and power. 

Here is how to perform a back squat:

  1. Get your power rack ready, so the barbell is sitting roughly at your armpits, and stand in front of it.
  2. Using an overhand grip, grab your bar slightly wide than shoulder distance. Dip underneath the bar.
  3. Squeeze together your shoulder blades and find a comfortable spot on your trap muscles for the bar to sit. 
  4. Set your feet so they are under your hips and balanced. 
  5. Using your lower body force, stand up to take the bar off the rack. 
  6. Take a couple small steps backwards to get some space between you and the rack. 
  7. Adjust your legs and feet, making sure you are in a correct and balanced position. 
  8. Take a deep breath before beginning, activating your muscles.
  9. Begin to lower into a squat, focusing on bending your hips and your knees at the same time.
  10. Making sure your back stays as neutral as possible, and lean slightly forward during the descent, pushing your knees outwards. 
  11. When your hip crease dips lower than your knees, drive into your heels to push away the floor aggressively and rise to stand. The lift is complete!

Technical Tips for Back Squats

  • Always stay balanced and on the middle of your feet. When you have gotten to the point of having a lot of weight on your barbell, it is easy to get shaky. Find the right balance between leaning over too much and falling forward or standing too upright and falling backwards. Making sure you are balanced will help you perform with the most success and get the most out of squat!
  • Focus on activating your abs. This is a big one for me, as it is critical in allowing my body to do its best work. Whenever I am struggling a little more than usual, focusing on my core muscles fixes the problem. It is a surefire way of getting your mind focused on the right things, allowing your back to stay neutral, and giving your lower body the work that it needs. 

Back Squats Muscles Worked

The muscles used in the back squat are glutes, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, and your core muscles. 

When you are performing the squat, there are many different muscles that play a role in making the lift come together. Every aspect of your lower body, especially ankles, knees, and hips, are bending to make a successful lift.

When you are dipping down into the squat, your ankles and calves are working, along with your knees and your hips, to stabilize your body. This is the time of the lift where your glutes are completely activated as well.

When pushing into the floor and coming up to a standing position, the quadriceps become the key player in the lift. At the end of the lift, the calves help with total extension into the standing position.

During this entire time, the core muscles are helping your torso remain straight and strong, making it so you do not lose your balance and fall forwards or backwards. It is a simple yet complex move that when done well with all the key muscles activated, can make a difference in an athlete’s training regimen. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Back Squats

There are a few mistakes that are often made when doing back squats. Here are a few you will want to try and avoid:

  • Going too heavy, too soon

This is a mistake that every person or athlete has made in their training lifetime. You think you can handle more than you can, and it ends up hurting you because it affects the technique of the squat.

It is always better to have less weight with better technique, rather than develop bad habits with a higher amount of weight.

Remember, you can always add weight after, if the exercise doesn’t push you enough. With the right practice and technique, you will get the most out of your back squat without pushing yourself too far.

  • Beginning the squat with your knee instead of your hip

This is an extremely common mistake and makes the exercise focus on the wrong muscles first. When this happens, it creates a great amount of strain on the quadriceps rather than the glutes.

Always begin the exercise with movement in your hips, allowing your body to feel it in the correct places. A way to make sure you don’t make this mistake is by focusing on pushing down and back.

When I’m at the end of a back squat set and I’m feeling a little fatigued, I try to focus on pushing down towards the ground to keep my technique pristine. 

Benefits of Back Squat 

Some of the pros of the back squat are: 

  • Helps in power training. Sometimes in lifts, you want to train power while you are getting stronger. The back squat is great for power training, as the motion lifting the weight up is fantastic for building up those powerful muscles. If you are in any sport that involves big pushes and quick moving, the back squat would be great for cross training for you and will make you feel way more powerful! 
  • It is a total body workout. While the back squat works your posterior chain and lower body mostly, there isn’t really a body part that isn’t being worked when performing this lift. While it focuses on the upper legs and core, it is working the calves, back, neck and shoulders, all while you’re maintaining that solid technique. It is a total body workout, that will leave you feeling great about your lifting progress. 

Cons of Back Squat 

Some of the cons of the back squat are: 

  • It is a very technical lift. While there is plenty of mobility needed in order to perform the back squat, it also considered to be one of the most technical lifts. You need to be very focused and disciplined, to maintain your body in the proper position to perform it with the most success. Personally, I have made the mistake of not having my mind fully engaged on the lift, which has resulted in poor technique. I now know I need to take a deep breath and fully engage my body and mind before beginning the back squat. 
  • Back injuries are common. Although the back squat is good for working your back muscles, those muscles have a lot of pressure when performing this lift. Like I stated above, there is the potential to lose focus and not engage your core in the necessary ways. This is when back injuries can happen as the technique is lost and the back has too much weight with the wrong form. 

Which is Better for You – Back Squats or Sumo Deadlift

There is no correct answer here. Both the sumo deadlift and back squat are good for targeting separate body parts. 

In my personal experience, I find the sumo deadlift to be ideal for focusing on the hamstrings and the back, as well as strengthening your core. If you are looking to grow your legs and glutes, the back squat is the lift for you. 

I like to train the back squat when focusing on power and core stability, as I can be more explosive when performing this lift.

These are two separate lifts that can be performed for different training goals. Try out both to see which exercise you prefer. Then go ahead and pick your poison! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sumo deadlifts easier than back squats?

This depends entirely on the individual performing the exercise. It depends on their athletic ability, their strength, and their body type/composition. In my opinion, sumo deadlifts might be a little bit easier because there is a smaller range of motion and therefore a slightly decreased number of muscles needed. This is simply my personal preference for my body and will most definitely differ depending on who you ask. 

Can sumo deadlifts help my back squats and vice versa?

Doing each of these exercises can potentially help improve the other. However, if you are trying to get better at a specific lift and get stronger, I would definitely recommend sticking with one variation for a bit of time. After a few training cycles of either exercise, you will notice your body getting better quickly, and it won’t take as long to perfect. These are two intense lifts, and I believe that in order to reach your potential, focusing on one of them at a time is the best idea.

How do I warm up before performing a sumo deadlift or a back squat?

Warming up your body should be a part of your daily training regimen, no matter what exercises you plan on doing that day. It is an integral part of any type of lifting or training. Specifically, I would suggest doing some bodyweight reps of each exercise, or reps with the minimum amount of weight. When I’m training and before I do any sort of heavy lifting, I make sure my body is comfortable with the movement by doing some reps with little to no weight. This is a simple way of preparing your body and your mind, for the movements it is about to endure.

Final Thoughts

The sumo deadlift and the back squat are two of the widest used exercises in the world of heavy lifting. They are both fantastic exercises for strengthening; choosing between them depends completely on the specific intention you have with your fitness training. 

If I was trying to sum up the answer for each exercise, I would say to choose the sumo deadlift if you are wanting to focus specifically on your glutes, and if you wanted an exercise with smaller range of motion. Choose the back squat if you are wanting a lift that focuses specifically on your quadriceps, as well as with a little more work in your core muscles. 

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to heavy lifting; it depends on you and your goals. No matter which of these lifts you decide to choose, I hope you use this article to master your technique and go for it with full engagement and total focus. You will love the results!  


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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 been lifting for more than 10 years and hope to eventually become a Certified Personal Trainer. My goal is to compete in weightlifting and train to be the strongest version of myself.

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