Matt Wenning is a world record holder and has a masters degree in biomechanics to go along with a 2,665 lb. equipped powerlifting total (which was a previous all-time world record.)
Wenning trains NFL players, Olympians, firefighters, the 82nd Airborne unit and stay-at-home moms. And everyone he trains learns to deadlift sumo-style.
“If I get guys to do sumo first their lifting is much better and they have a little more hip dominance, which protects the lower back,” said Wenning, who owns Ludus Magnus gym in Columbus, Oh.
“The major cause of lower back issues is lack of hip mobility. A good sumo deadlifter doesn’t lack hip mobility. I get people very proficient at sumo deadlifts and, once they have that control over the glute medius and maximus, the flexibility of the hamstring and groin, then when I put them back in the conventional deadlift, they can correct [things] no matter where their feet are.”
Wenning, who analyzes injury reports when working with large groups (such as the military) experimented with a test group of about 7,000 athletes.
The key for him has, and will always be, producing a more balanced athlete.
In that vein, Wenning has long been an advocate of everyone —from high-level powerlifters to newbie CrossFitters — incorporating sumo.
“It has a much longer lifespan when done properly and attacks a major issue: lack of hip mobility. About 85-90 percent of the population will have or has had lower back problems,” Wenning said.
“I get guys as strong as they can without getting injured and make sure it transfers over into the street. If you were to look at my injury reports and strength [charts], sumo deadlift has played a massive part in improvements.”
Because sumo-style is done in a wider stance than the conventional version and the progression of the pulling direction, it recruits much more from the hamstrings, hips and glutes. It also reduces the sheer force on the knees and back and can be trained more frequently and at a higher volume.
It’s not “cheating” as you may have incorrectly heard or read and it’s not necessarily easier. While the width of your feet makes your pull shorter in sumo, just getting the bar off the ground is more difficult. It’s a tough position to leverage, one that takes time to get comfortable with.
Wenning believes sumo has a longer life span (in keeping athletes healthier) while conventional is more powerful, citing most of the 14 lifters in the 900-lb. deadlift class who use the conventional method.
While some lifters are better suited for sumo-style overall, Wenning said the aim is to at least have your max sumo be in the 85 percent range of your conventional dead lift max.
“A lot of people, the average athlete or CrossFit person, if they can’t sumo that’s a muscle imbalance issue,” Wenning said. “And you will see it in a lot of people. It shows you where you need to work. Try to find the weakest link and make it better.”
Wenning, who has pulled 804 lb. as a raw lifter, credits the sumo-deadlift —along with his Conjugate-style training method—for helping him stay injury-free during 20-plus years of lifting.
“It corrects motor patterns, and protects the lower back while people are learning. I pull all over the place- conventional in competitions, but 75 percent of my training is sumo,” Wenning said.
“If you mix and match the planes in which you train, and change constantly it’s a huge advantage, not just to the wear and tear, but to make you stronger in the weakest links. You see a lot of problems with these [training] systems coming out, they are not looking at trying to fix weakness or train in different planes constantly.
If you do this for twenty years you will realize how important that is. Doing the same thing all the time is what wears you down. If you want to train heavy and hard, it has to be different or you are going to have a problem.”
Photos courtesy of Matt Wenning.