We bet you saw the word sumo and the first thing that came to mind was the popular deadlift variation. While many people are aware of and use the sumo deadlift, its squat counterpart, the sumo squat, is far too neglected.
It could bebecause the back squat is an incredible exercise and hard to beat. And when you find something that works, why switch it up?
But we're here to tell you that variation is good! And the sumo squat? It's an excellent asset that deserves a spotin your training program. Sumo squats even offer a few unique training benefits that a back and front squat cannot, including their abilityto improve the hips' range of motion.
This article will go over everything you need to know about this excellent lower body movement, including:
- What is the sumo squat?
- Muscles worked with the sumo squat
- Benefits of the sumo squat
- How to perform the sumo squat
- Sumo squat variations
- How to program the sumo squat
If you've been looking for a new squat variation, this might be it.
What are Sumo Squats?
The sumo squat is a lower-body compound movement that is a variation of the traditional squat. The sumo squat's main difference is its extra wide stance, which gives birth to its name as it resembles a sumo wrestler, similar tothe sumo deadlift.
The sumo stance is usually around double that of a conventional squat stance with your feet turned outward slightly. This results in a more upright torso, requiring core strength to keep from falling over.
Sumo Squat Vs. Traditional Squat
Many people will obviously want to know the differences between the sumo squat vs regular squat. Here's a quick rundown of bothlower body exercises.
The traditional squat uses a narrower stance as you stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. The sumo squat will be about twice this.
During the traditional squat, the feet are pointed straight. When performing the sumo squat, they will be turned outward.
The sumo squat utilizes a more upright torso when compared to the traditional squat. This is because the hips don't move as far back, and the weight needs to stay over the feet.
While both are great for building strength, the back squat can utilize a larger load.
Sumo Squat Muscles Worked
The target muscles of the sumo squat are similar to traditional squats, but the activation varies slightly. Here is a review of how a sumo squat stresses your musculature, along with sumo squats muscles worked.
The glutes refer to all three gluteal muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
As a whole, when discussing sumo squats work what muscles, the sumo squat works the glutes similarly to many other squat variations. And excludingthe front squat, it may be slightly more efficient at activating the gluteus maximus compared to other squats. However, the difference in activation isn't hugely significant.
To be clear, this doesn't mean it doesn't activate the glutes, as it does produce high levels of activation. This just means it's not necessarily better than other variations.
Thequadriceps are one of the thigh muscles and extend the knee. The quads are composed of 4 different muscles:
- Vastus Intermedius: Middle of the thighs
- Vastus Lateralis: Outside of the thighs
- Vastus Medialis: Inside of the thighs
- Rectus Femoris: Overlays the vastus intermedius
Studies examining the effect of foot positioning on squats found that a wider stance produced significant muscle activation in the quad muscles, making it a great quad exercise¹.
While most would assume the biggestdifference would be the part of the inner thighs (vastus medialis), studies show this isn't entirely true.The vastus lateralis and rectus femoris are significantly affected, with these two musclesseeingthe biggest difference in muscle activation².
Consisting of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus, the hamstrings sit on the posterior thighs, with their primary function being knee flexion. This muscle group also plays a role in hip extension. During the sumo squat, the hamstring muscles act as an antagonist to the quadriceps and aid in hip extension.
Whilethe hamstrings consist of three muscles, research has only been done on one of them, the biceps femoris, during the sumo squat³. Similar to the other lower body muscles, the biceps femoris has relatively similar activation when compared to other squats.
A study from 2020 showed that during a sumo squat, the activation of the hamstrings is:
- The same as the back squat
- Slightly more than the hack squat and front squat
- Slightly less than the Zercher squat
The erector spinae is a muscle that runs from the base of the spine and up the back. As it travels up, the erector spinae branches out and "wraps" around the back. When working in conjunction with the core, this provides the rigidness needed to maintain stability in the core, meaning erector spinae exercises are essential.
Duringthe sumo squat, these muscles were found to have high levels of muscle activation throughout the movement². The level of activation is similar for a variety of squat variations, meaning that the sumo variation isn't necessarily "better" than other squats, mainly because they're all awesome.
Adductors And Abductors:
The hip adductorsare inner thigh muscles located in the groin area. Alternatively, the hip abductors are thigh muscles that sit on the outside of the leg.
During sumo squats, the abductor andadductor muscleswork to stabilize the hips as they pull on one another to create a solid structure, allowing you to perform the movement with proper form and biomechanics.
Of these, the adductor longus is the only one that's been tested in a study on sumo squats, and it did show greater muscle activation². When you perform this move, you will feel apull in your inner thighs and groin area. That's a sign it's a greatinner thigh exercise!
Sumo Squat Benefits
Why should you perform a sumo squat? There are multiple benefits of sumo squats, making it amust-include exercise in anyworkout split.
1. Increase Lower Body Strength:
Even with the different variables, the sumo squat is still a squat, meaning it's going to train all of the lower body muscles. Further, compared to various squat variations, sumo squats enable most people to use heavier weights.
Thisplacesmore significant stress on the body, which requires greater neuromuscular control, resulting in an increase inmuscular strength. While we can't definitively say this will lead to more strength gains compared to other squats, it's definitely not going to hurt!
2. Improve Athletic Performance:
Lower body strength is one of the main predictors of sportssuccess. It can predict top-end speed, acceleration, lower body power production, and overall functional strength.
The sumo squat holds its own when compared to a traditional squat, as they'reboth effective at improving strength. It's a safe bet to suggest this would transfer into athletic performance as well.
Further, because it trains the body to be strong in different positions, the body will be better equipped to handle various situations. This is vital for sports, as anything can happen.
3. Mitigate Curvature In The Back:
One unique benefit of the sumo squat is that studies show trainees tend to have less bend in their back.Studieshave shown that when you stand with your feet wide and your toes turned out, you are less likely to have curvature in the lumbar spine¹.
This is because the torso is more upright, similar to the front squat.
4. Compliment A Weight Loss Diet:
The sumo squat is a compound movement that utilizes a lot of muscle mass. Further, these muscles worked can handle large loads, meaning that the body is exerting a lot of work.
As a result, this will help burn more calories and preserve muscle mass. It's the ideal exercise for any cutting workout and diet plan!
Proper Form Of A Sumo Squat
Due to its wider stance, the sumo squat can be an odd move for many people to master. Before you begin loading with heavy weights, practice the movement using only your body weight tobe sure you can perform it with no issues.
These directions for how to do sumo squats are for the sumo squat with barbell, so step one is to load the barbell. If you prefer dumbbells, you can easily turn this into a dumbbell sumo squat by using 1 or two dumbbells. You can even make it a kettlebell sumo squat. To do either of these, hold your load in front of you or between your legs, and follow the same directions.
And, remember, beginnersshould start with the bodyweight variation before progressing to weights.
An important note before getting started: Finding the starting position will be the trickiest part, as it is such a new movement. When finding the wide stance, it will be about twice as wide as your normal stance. This can vary some based on your biomechanics.
For foot position, turn your toes outward. Performing the sumo squat with toes pointing forward increases the chance of your knees caving inward (knee valgus), placing a massive amount of stress on the knee joint and potentially causing serious issues.
The optimum angle occurs with the toes turned outward at around a 45-degree angle. This is likely because of the prevention of knee valgus, but it canalso createless bend in the lumbar spine.
How to do the Barbell Sumo Squat:
- Get in the correct starting position for the bar sumo squat. Then, unrack the barbell in the same manner as the standard squat. Place the barbell midway on your back so that it rests on your traps, and use an overhand grip. Take one step back and prepare your footing.
- Push your hips and allow your torso to drop. Keep your upper body more upright, tightening your core. Continue going down and concentrate on keeping your knees tracking your feet.
- Continue dropping until your hips drop below your knees. The front of your thigh muscles should be parallel to the ground.
- When ready, keep your core tight and push down into the ground to propel your body up. Focus on keeping your shoulders over your feet and the bar moving in a straight line.
Common Sumo Squat Mistakes & Issues
Sumo squats are a compound movement that allows for heavier loads. If done incorrectly, it can result in severalissues. In addition, there are some problems that can complicate performing the sumo squat.
Here's what to avoid doing to ensure proper sumo squat form.
1. Your Knees Cave In:
One of the most common mistakes when performing sumo squats is letting your knees cave in. This can be caused byweakness in multiple muscle groups, including those of the thighs as well as those of the hip joint, mainly the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and vastus medius oblique.
When the knees cave in, it puts an extreme amount of stress on the knees and can cause damage. To prevent injury to the knees, focus on pushing your legs out as you come up. A famous cue is to pretend like you're "spreading the ground apart."
Also, remember to turn your toes outward more as you spread your feet wider. If you keep your toes pointing forward, you put your leg in a position where the knees will want to buckle. If you need to, use bodyweight only first to ensure you've got good form. Once you've got it down, you can then safely focus on muscle hypertrophy.
2. Your hips are Tight:
Tight hips make it very difficult to perform sumo squats with the correct range of motion. This can be caused by various issues, such as tight hip flexors, especially the iliopsoas.
During sumo squats, if the hip flexors are functioning correctly, they should act as hip stabilizers. However, things such as excessive running or even too much sitting, can shorten them and cause tight hips.
You should be able to get in a low squat position relatively easily. If not, add some specific hip flexor exercises and stretches to your routine. Most people can remedy this by themselves, but if it persists, you may need to see a physical therapist.
3. Your Back Curves:
When performing sumo squats, keep your upper back and core tight. This will help keep the back straight and, in return, prevent injury.
To prevent this, always load your sumo squats properly and use appropriate progressive overload.
3 Sumo Squat Variations
Searching for even more variety? Let's go through some great sumo squat variations and alternatives.
1. Plie Squat:
The plie squat is a lower body exercise that looks very similar to a sumo squat, except you hold the weights in front of your body. The plie squat position looks very similar to a sumo deadliftwith the only difference being that you start on the ground for the deadlift.
The plie squat is an extremely popular exercise to train the inner thigh muscles and can be performed at the gym or at home. We like to perform these by holding a single dumbbell or kettlebell rather than two dumbbells.
2. Sumo Goblet Squat:
The goblet squat variation is another very simple exercise to train the lower body muscles and strengthen a weak core. Because you hold the load in front of your chest, the move tries to pull you forward, generating an intense stimulus.
These are usually performed with your feet shoulder-width apart. However, if you want to target the inner thigh muscles like a sumo squat, you can place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and go from there. Just remember to turn your toes out and align your knees with your feet.
3. Leg Press With Wide Stance:
The leg press is one of our favorite pieces of equipment as it can provide a heavy load while mitigating the risk of injury. Further, you can use just about any foot placement you want, including hip width apart, wider than hip width apart, wider than shoulder width apart, single leg, and toes straight or pointing outward.
By using the same extra wide stance with toes turned out, you'll be able to place a large load on the inner thighs along with every other muscle in the lower body. Again, just be mindful of mobility in the hips.
How To Program Sumo Squats
Sumo squats provide similar benefits as regular squats. In this context, you can add sumo squats to your workout routine in a similar manner. That said, your training program and leg workout goals will dictate how you program them.
To increase your functional strength, use heavier loads (>85%) with high sets and low reps. For muscle growth, use a lighter weight (70-80% 1RM) with fewer sets and higher reps.
One tactic we like to use to vary workout ideas is the concept of "exercise swaps." This refers to the practice of swapping exercises with similar biomechanics on a rotation. You could makethis a planned event, i.e., once every 6 weeks, or you could do it when your training stalls or becomes stagnant.
For example, you can begin using the traditional squat in your program. When things become stale, start using the sumo squat.
The Sumo Squat: A Lower Body Exercise Your Workout Needs
The sumo squat is an excellent alternative to the traditional squat. Surprisingly, according to the studies we currently have, the activation of the inner thigh muscles seems to be comparable to other squats. In fact, most of the muscles worked are relatively the same.
Its primary benefits are from providing a more upright torso as well as improving the hips' range of motion. In addition, its ability to build strength in this wide stance will likely improve hip mobility and hip stability.
At the very least, it's a new awesome move you can use to switch things up.
Looking for more great squat variations to include in your routine? Check out how to perform the cossack squat, Zercher squat, and the kneeling squat. Your leg workout will thank you!
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- Lorenzetti S, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, et al. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2018;10(1). doi:10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7
- Coratella G, Tornatore G, Caccavale F, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. The Activation of Gluteal, Thigh, and Lower Back Muscles in Different Squat Variations Performed by Competitive Bodybuilders: Implications for Resistance Training. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(2). doi:10.3390/ijerph18020772
- Deniz E, Ulas YH. Evaluation of Muscle Activities During Different Squat Variations Using Electromyography Signals. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing. Published online November 20, 2019:859-865. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-35249-3_114
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