The sumo squat is a squat variation that involves squatting with your feet wider apart than normal (usually about twice as wide as shoulder-width apart).

While this seems like a minor change, it substantially affects the mechanics of the exercise and the muscles worked.

In this article, you’ll learn what a sumo squat is, the benefits and downsides of the sumo squat, how to do a sumo squat with proper form, the best sumo squat variations, and more!

 

What Is a Sumo Squat?

The sumo squat is a lower-body exercise similar to other squat variations such as the back squat and the front squat.

What makes sumo squat form different from other squat variations is it’s performed with a wider stance and your feet turned further out to the sides.

Most people also perform the sumo squat with a dumbbell instead of a barbell, holding the dumbbell so that it hangs just below hip height between their legs (this is why it’s sometimes called the “dumbbell sumo squat” or “DB sumo squat”). 

At this point you may be wondering, isn’t this basically a dumbbell sumo deadlift? Not quite.

Although you hold the dumbbell between your legs like a deadlift, you don’t lean as far forward, and thus the exercise is biomechanically more similar to a squat than a deadlift.

Sumo Squat Benefits

1. It emphasizes the glutes.

Research shows that performing squats with a wide stance increases the activation of the glutes, which might be helpful if you want to build a bigger butt.

The sumo squat also allows you to squat deeper, which research shows tends to be better for training your glutes.

2. It emphasizes the inner thighs.

Research shows that performing squats with a wide stance and your feet turned out effectively trains your adductor longus (inner thigh muscles), possibly more so than regular back squats

Despite what some people claim, though, this doesn’t mean sumo squats are more effective at reducing inner thigh fat or giving you a “thigh gap.”

You can’t “spot reduce” fat by doing exercises that train specific “problem areas,” and the distance between your thighs is primarily dictated by your overall body fat percentage and genetics (which no amount of sumo squatting can change).

3. It helps you produce more power.

Studies show that you can produce 30-to-35% more power when you squat with a 1.5 times shoulder-width stance (a stance that’s 1.5 times wider than the width of your shoulders) than when you squat with a narrower stance. 

The more power you can generate, the more weight you can lift, which is one of the reasons you’ll often see powerlifters using a very wide stance when they squat in competitions.

4. It puts less strain on your lower back.

When you squat with a wide stance, you generally maintain a more upright posture, which puts less stress on your lower back.

This makes it a good option for people with a history of back injuries or who find regular squats uncomfortable for their lower back.

5. It requires less ankle mobility.

Squatting can be difficult if you have limited ankle mobility because you have to lean very far forward to squat with a full range of motion. This is a problem because leaning forward too much can throw off the mechanics of the exercise, making it harder to maintain your balance and possibly increasing your risk of injury.

You don’t need as much ankle mobility to squat with a sumo stance because your shins stay more upright throughout the entire movement. That’s why squatting with a wide stance can be safer and more comfortable than squatting with a narrow stance if you have limited ankle mobility.

That said, if you lack sufficient ankle mobility to squat to parallel with a normal stance, it’s probably sensible to improve your mobility rather than use a wide stance as a workaround.

Who Should Use the Sumo Squat Exercise?

At this point you may be thinking that the sumo squat is all pros and no cons, but like any exercise, it has its drawbacks.

For example, many people find squatting with a wider-than-shoulder-width stance uncomfortable, ungainly, and unnatural. What’s more, squatting with a shoulder-width stance (or slightly wider) is easier to learn and more comfortable for most people.

Plus, it’s debatable how much the increase in glute and inner thigh muscle activation really matters over the long haul. While it may be a little better than regular-stance squats for developing these muscles, that’s still speculation.

Finally, some people also find the wide-stance squats irritate their hips and knees. 

Thus, it’s normally better to master standard squat form before you experiment with different stance widths, like the sumo squat

There are, however, three instances when the sumo squat makes sense:

1. Glute training: The sumo squat is an effective exercise for training your glutes, particularly toward the end of your workout after you’ve already done your heavy training for the day using exercises like the . . .

In other words, if you want to use the sumo squat to train your glutes, I recommend you do it after and in addition to your regular back and front squatting, rather than as a replacement. 

2. Powerlifting: If your main goal is to squat as much weight as possible, using a sumo stance may help. However, to ensure you learn how to do a sumo squat for powerlifting correctly, I’d recommend working with a powerlifting coach.

What’s more, don’t assume that you’ll squat more with a wide stance. While this works well for some powerlifters, you should experiment with different stances to find what works best for you (many of the strongest powerlifters to ever step under a barbell used a normal-width stance, such as Mikhail Koklyaev, Mike Tuscherer, John Haack, and others).

3. Protecting the lower back: While most people have no problem with regular-stance squats, if you find they irritate your lower back, try widening your stance and see if that helps. 

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Sumo Squat: Muscles Worked

The sumo squat trains almost every major muscle group in your body, excluding your arms, chest, and shoulders.

Specifically, it helps develop your . . .

Sumo Squat: Form

The best way to learn how to do a sumo squat is to separate the exercise into three phases: set up, squat, and ascend.

Step 1: Set Up

Hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) with both hands, either by one end or by the handle.

Place your feet about 1.5 times shoulder-width apart, and turn your toes outward at about a 30-to-45-degree angle. You may have to play around with your stance width and foot position until you find a width and foot angle that clicks for you.

Relax your arms so that the dumbbell hangs just below hip height between your legs.

Step 2: Descend

Take a deep breath of air into your belly, then, keeping your back flat, sit down and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel with the ground and your shins are more or less vertical.

Step 3: Squat

Keeping your back flat, drive through your feet until you’re standing up straight.

Sumo Squat: Variations

1. Barbell Sumo Squat

Strength athletes commonly use the barbell sumo squat because it puts you in a biomechanically advantageous position to lift heavy weights safely and effectively. It doesn’t feel as natural or comfortable as the standard barbell back squat for most people, though, so it isn’t necessary if your main goal is just to gain muscle and strength.

2. Sumo Goblet Squat

The only difference between the sumo goblet squat and the dumbbell sumo squat is that in the sumo goblet squat you hold the dumbbell (or kettlebell) in front of your chest rather than between your legs. This makes the sumo goblet squat slightly easier on your grip, but more taxing on your upper back.

3. Kettlebell Sumo Squat

The kettlebell sumo squat (or “KB sumo squat”) is the same as the dumbbell sumo squat, only instead of holding a dumbbell, you hold a kettlebell.

4. Smith Machine Sumo Squat

The Smith machine sumo squat trains the lower body similarly to the barbell sumo squat. That said, research shows that Smith machine squats activate your lower-body muscles less than free-weight sumo squat variations, which means they’re generally not as effective for building muscle.

5. Elevated Sumo Squat

In the elevated sumo squat (or “deficit sumo squat”), you perform a sumo dumbbell squat with your feet elevated a few inches off the floor on weight plates, boxes, or steps. This allows you to squat deeper without the dumbbell hitting the floor, which likely makes it more effective at training the glutes.

6. Landmine Sumo Squat

In the landmine sumo squat, one end of the barbell is anchored in a landmine attachment. This means the bar travels in a natural arc as you squat the weight up. This feels more comfortable and stable for some people than holding a dumbbell, which requires more balance and coordination to prevent it from swinging. 

FAQ #1: Sumo Squat vs. Regular Squat: Which Is Better?

It depends.

The sumo squat emphasizes your glutes more than the regular squat, requires less ankle mobility, and is slightly easier on your lower back. Thus, if you want to focus on glute development, have poor ankle mobility, or experience back pain while squatting with a regular stance, then the sumo squat may warrant inclusion in your program.

That said, many people find the sumo squat more uncomfortable, ungainly, and unnatural than the regular squat. What’s more, squatting with a shoulder-width stance (or slightly wider) is easier to learn and more comfortable for most people.

That’s why it’s probably sensible to learn the standard barbell back squat before you start experimenting with different stance widths. 

FAQ #2: Goblet Squat vs. Sumo Squat: Which Is Better?

It depends.

Research shows that the goblet squat effectively trains the quads, whereas the sumo squat is better suited for training the glutes.

Thus, if you want to focus on quad development, the goblet squat is a better option than the sumo squat. And if you want to emphasize the glutes, the sumo squat is the way to go.

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FAQ #3: Sumo Squat vs. Deadlift: Which Is Better?

It depends.

The sumo squat and the deadlift are effective exercises for training the glutes and hamstrings. The difference is the deadlift emphasizes your back muscles, whereas the sumo squat emphasizes the quads.

Thus, if you want to develop balanced full-body strength and muscle, it makes sense to include the deadlift and at least one squat variation (such as the sumo squat) in your program.

Additionally, the sumo deadlift and sumo squat train many of the same muscles in similar ways, so you probably don’t need to do both in your program (that is, it might be better to do a conventional squat and sumo deadlift or vice versa). 

+ Scientific References