Jeff Nippard responds to bodybuilder Chris Bumstead’s opinion that the Sumo Deadlift is “cheating”

Fitness feuds aren’t always a bad thing. A hearty little debate can be engaging, informative, and fun for everyone involved. Trainer and social media mastermind Jeff Nippard weighed in on the idea on April 25, 2022, when he posted a video detailing his beef with commentary made by three-time Classic Physique Olympia champion Chris Bumstead.

During a question and answer session, Bumstead mentioned that he thought deadlift sumo was a “cheat”. Although the comment was probably made in jest, Nippard took the opportunity to scientifically critique the idea that one style of deadlift is superior to another.

Watch the video below and read on for an in-depth recap of what Nippard had to say about it (and why he has a cardboard cutout of Bumstead locked away in his basement):

[Related: Jim Stoppani on the Use of Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Bodybuilding]

According to Nippard, the “sumo deadlift is cheating” argument depends on two factors – that an athlete can lift more weight due to the setup and execution of the sumo deadlift, and that the exercise is beneficial due to its supposedly shorter range of motion.

Statistics and science

To begin its campaign, Nippard pulled data from the 2018 and 2019 International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Championships and analyzed athlete trends. Notably, and despite the claim that the sumo deadlift is unfairly efficient, Nippard observed that a majority of lifters in the 93-kilogram male weight class performed their deadlifts with a conventional stance.

He also mentioned an interesting tidbit – the number of competitive lifters shooting with a sumo stance decreases as the weight classes become heavier. Nippard notes that in the 66-kilogram category, almost 75% of athletes have done sumo. However, in the super heavyweight division, a similar percentage deadlift conventionally.

Nippard’s data for female athletes shows a similar but less extreme trend. Women in the middleweight classes seemed to have a roughly even distribution in their preferred deadlift positionbut the heavier and lighter women overwhelmingly preferred to shoot conventional and sumo respectively.

The range of motion “problem”

After a brief intermission in which Nippard returns to his basement to (unsuccessfully) interrogate Bumstead’s two-dimensional face, he spends the rest of the video addressing the disparity in ranges of motion between sumo and conventional deadlifts.

My sumo range of motion is 15% shorter, but I also pull about 15% more weight when using a sumo stance. The overall rate of perceived exertion ends up being about the same.

After some hands-on testing in the gym, Nippard notes that the distance his barbell travels is indeed several inches shorter in the sumo deadlift. However, he contradicts this by noting that he is stronger with a sumo stance and that the increased intensity offsets the “bonus” of a reduced range of motion, in terms of overall training effect.

Nippard also argues that even with a shorter range of motion, sumo deadlifters still have to get through the hardest parts of the lift – initially take off the bar from the ground and pass the knee without dropping it. As such, Nippard suggests, the two deadlift styles are more similar than they appear visually.

Nippard references two scientific papers when battling for the sumo deadlift. He argues that even though the absolute range of motion is shorter in sumo, your demand for knee extension is actually upper due to the nature of the installation.

Additionally, when hip musculature activation levels were measured, there was little or no difference in hip muscle engagement between the two deadlift styles. (1)(2)

What it all means

Nippard concludes his video by saying that despite popular perception, stereotyping, or subjective experience, “actual physiological differences [between sumo and conventional deadlifts] are much smaller than many think.

Nippard notes that Bumstead’s initial allegation regarding the “cheating” is probably due more to the conventional deadlift feeling more difficult due to the increased demand on the lower back.

As a general recommendation, Nippard proposes that lighter athletes may have more success with the sumo deadlift while heavier men or women are inclined to excel more in the conventional style. However, it’s ultimately about trial and error, and he strongly encourages trying both and seeing what works best.

[Related: Krzysztof Wierzbicki (110KG) Deadlifts 490 Kilograms (1,080.3 Pounds) In Training]

Which deadlift is right for you?

After listening to Nippard’s verbal fight (one-sided joking) with the classic Mr. Olympia triple Physique, you might come away with more questions than answers about your own deadlift workouts. On the other hand, the debate may have served as an introduction to the deadlift in the first place.

Either way, here’s a crash course in pulling technique.

How to do the conventional deadlift

Approach the bar and place your feet underneath in a hip-width position with your toes pointing forward or very slightly turned out. The bar should be about an inch from your shins. Hinge at the hips and push down to grab the bar with an overhand grip, hook or mixed grip. Don’t let your knees move excessively forward as you grip the bar.

Flatten your back, take a deep breath, and push back into the floor with relaxed arms. Make sure your hips and shoulders rise at the same rate — don’t try to “squat” the bar or pull your hips too high. Push up to a standing position and hold for a moment.

Technical Elements of the Conventional Deadlift

How to Do the Sumo Deadlift

Approach the bar and place your feet in a very wide stance with your toes turned dramatically. Taller lifters will likely find their toes fairly close to the plates. From there, sink down by opening your hips wide and pushing your knees out to the sides as hard as you can until you can grab the bar.

Once you’ve grabbed the bar, use it to “pull” your torso into a stable, rigid posture. Push off the floor with your quadriceps, keeping your knees as far apart as possible so the bar can move freely. Once the bar clears your knees, push your hips forward aggressively to lock it in.

Technical elements of the sumo deadlift

References

  1. Escamilla, RF, Francisco, AC, Kayes, AV, Speer, KP and Moorman, CT, 3rd (2002). An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Sport and exercise medicine and science, 34(4), 682–688.
  2. Escamilla, RF, Francisco, AC, Fleisig, GS, Barrentine, SW, Welch, CM, Kayes, AV, Speer, KP and Andrews, JR (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Sport and exercise medicine and science, 32(7), 1265-1275.

Featured Image: @jeffnippard on Instagram

Teresa E. Burton