The dumbbell sumo deadlift is a great variation of the conventional barbell deadlift. It helps to build strength in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. What makes it different is that you stand in a wide stance with the dumbbell between your legs, like a sumo wrestler, and you use a dumbbell (or kettlebell) instead of a barbell. Inside, we’ll take a closer look at what that means in terms of benefits, when to use this variation as a female lifter, etc.
- Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts: The Overview
- Using Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts In A Female Workout
- Q&A About The Dumbell Sumo Deadlift
- What Next?
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts: The Overview
All deadlift variations, including the dumbbell sumo deadlift, are primarily a hip-hinge movement and carry similar benefits. With that said the dumbbell sumo deadlift is particularly helpful for:
- Those with back pain. The dumbbell sumo variation lessens back fatigue compared to conventional deadlifts. When you hinge at the hips, this can put a lot of stress on the spinal erectors that protects the spine, making them very sore. You can ease into this hip-hinging movement by doing the dumbbell sumo deadlift. You won’t need to hip hinge quite as much as the conventional deadlift, saving your spinal erectors along your spine from doing all the work. Your quads (front of thighs) will jump in a bit more to help out your lower back. As your lower back gets stronger, you can continue to progress towards a conventional deadlift if you want.
- Those who are lifting at home with limited equipment. No barbells or Olympic plates are needed for this deadlift variation. This makes it a great option for women who are lifting at home and only have access to a few kettlebells, dumbbells, or some adjustable dumbbells.
- Those who want a deadlift variation that is quick to set up and to tear down. Sometimes you want to train the hip-hinge pattern but don’t want to spend several minutes setting up and tearing down a full-out barbell deadlift. Grab a dumbbell off the rack and you’re ready to lift.
Here are some other benefits to the dumbbell sumo deadlift (that it shares with many other deadlift variations.)
- Improves posture. If you have a slumpy posture, any deadlift variation can help. When you hip-hinge and bend over, the weights will work your spinal erectors. These muscles go up along your spine to stabilize them. Studies have shown that by doing exercises that work these muscles, you can help fight against things like kyphosis and anterior pelvic tilt. With the sumo variation, you will stay a bit more upright, taking some stress off the lower back. While this makes it less powerful in terms of postural restoration, it can also help to limit back pain as someone eases back into the hip hinge movement. So it can be a great rehab deadlift variation or for a complete beginner.
- Improves grip strength. When you’re holding the dumbbell, you will need to fight to keep the dumbbell from slipping away. Most women wouldn’t mind a little more grip strength for holding heavy bags (and opening that stuck lid on a pickle jar.)
- Increases muscle mass in all the right areas. When you do a deadlift movement, because it’s a compound exercise (works many joints at once), it will add muscle all throughout the body. Not only does this provide a natural, balanced and feminine look, but it’s more athletic.
- Boosting metabolism for fat loss. On the Bony To Bombshell website, while we teach women how to gain weight through muscle gain, we do help skinny-fat women trim fat. Any deadlift variation is a great exercise to include when focusing on fat loss to remind the body to hold onto muscle while lowering energy intake.
- It makes you more athletic, which adds a finishing sheen to your physique. While deadlifts are solid for building muscle, they’re often discounted for being too fatiguing. But you’re not just doing this exercise to gain muscle or shed fat (although it can help with both). This exercise will test your entire body, and that will help your whole body learn to work athletically as one unit. Your body will become physically capable and graceful. When you’re athletic, little muscles pop out that you wouldn’t have normally noticed. Maybe the sides of your glutes are rounded out. Maybe your forearms look a bit more badass. Maybe you’re standing a little less slouchy and look more lively. Maybe your shoulders cap a bit to give you a great hourglass shape. Being athletic translates into real life, making it easier—hauling groceries, picking up kids, and lifting heavy travel bags.
The dumbbell sumo deadlift is a full-body exercise. You might notice that even your fingers get a little sore from these ones. However, it is more lower-body-focused.
- Quads (front of your thighs). Because you’re standing wider, you don’t need to hinge back as far to get down to the weight. This means some of the work will taken away from the spinal erectors and hamstrings and placed upon your quads.
- Hamstrings (the back of your thighs). Your hamstrings will get work anytime you’re sitting back into your hips.
- Glutes. The glutes get placed in a good stretch as you sink back into your hips and will help you thrust the weight as you stand back up tall.
- Forearms. Your grip strength will improve a lot with these ones.
- Postural, core, hips, and all of the main stabilizer muscles. Every little muscle that contributes to you standing up tall, this lift hits them. Spinal erectors, obliques, abs, upper back, lower back, etc.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift Video Demonstration
Here’s Marco coaching Marielle on how to do the dumbbell sumo deadlift:
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift Proper Form Breakdown
- Grab a dumbbell that you can handle but feels heavy.
- Find a space where you can do the lift, and put the dumbbell down on its end.
- Stand wide, feet about shoulder-width, with the dumbbell in between your legs on the floor. Don’t go so wide that it gets uncomfortable.
- Make sure your feet are pointed out to stay in line with your knee bend.
- Sink back into your hips, and let your arms drape down until your hands can grip the dumbbell on both sides.
- This is your starting position for each rep.
- Take a deep breath and explosively stand up, pushing through your heels as you breathe out.
- From the top position, take a deep breath, and under control, begin to sit back into your hips and lower the dumbbell back down to the floor.
- Don’t bounce the weight between reps. There are two schools of thought. You can tap the dumbbell lightly or let it fully rest on the ground for half a second, full stop, keeping your muscular tension high, before doing the next rep. There’s no wrong answer. Just stay consistent.
- When you’re done with all the reps, your set is done, go take a seat somewhere, even on the floor, to help your body recuperate.
Common Mistakes With The Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift
- Choosing too heavy of a dumbbell. If the dumbbell is too heavy, you’ll have a hard time getting the dumbbell into the right position. Perhaps your back will round a bit, and your form will crumble.
- Choosing too light of a weight. While we’re using dumbbells, you still want it to be heavy enough to work your legs. At that point, your form can be wonky with a light dumbbell since your body doesn’t need to be efficient in movement.
- Not breathing! Too many people hold their breath and bang out reps and wonder why they feel so lightheaded. At the very least, you should be doing a full breath in between reps, depending on how you like to brace when lifting the dumbbell.
Using Dumbbell Sumo Deadlifts In A Female Workout
Use A Lower Rep Range
In research, to optimize for muscle growth and muscle size, you want to choose a weight that you can do 4–40 repetitions with. The sweet spot for the dumbbell sumo deadlifts, though, is in the lower rep range of around 5-7 reps. The reason is because the deadlift exercise is one of the most fatiguing exercises in history. It is best to do it for a handful of reps, stimulate the whole body, and then move on to other less-fatiguing exercises.
If you find yourself not able to do 5 reps, use a lighter weight. If you can do more than 9 repetitions, use a heavier weight. That will guarantee that the workout is helping you gain both muscle size and muscle strength and not making endurance adaptations.
Challenge Yourself, But Stop Shy Of Failure
Ideally, you’ll stop your db sumo deadlifts when you’re just about to fail, but you could still do a couple of reps more. But if you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know exactly how hard you’re pushing yourself. Normally, we recommend exploring what failure feels like, but because any deadlift variation will be heavy and involve your spine, it’s not the best idea for beginners to do this. Err on the side of lifting too light, and if it’s too light, count it as a warm-up. Keep working up, and you’ll know when the weight is right for your goal reps.
Start With Two Sets, and Add More When Needed
Start with just a couple of sets, then over time, add more sets as you get stronger. We recommend doing two sets in the first week. Practice your form, find the right weights, and take your time learning the hip-hinging motion.
Next week, if your fingers, lower back, quads, and hamstrings aren’t too sore at the start of each workout, try adding a set to each exercise. If that goes well and you feel ready for more, add another set next week. You can do around 3–6 sets per exercise. Most women will do best with 3–4 sets. If you ever start to feel worn down, or if you’re coming back after a long break, start the cycle over again, going back to just two sets and rebuilding from there.
Rest 2-3 Minutes Between Sets
How long you rest between sets of deadlifts isn’t that important. Whether you rest for 2 minutes or 10 minutes, you’ll still stimulate a similar amount of growth. The important thing is that you rest long enough to catch your breath, ensuring that your cardiovascular system doesn’t limit the performance of your muscles.
We want to challenge your grip, quads, hamstrings, and glute muscles—not just your heart (though your heart will get a good workout, too!)
The main reason to rest for just a couple of minutes is to keep your workouts shorter. You don’t want to spend all day in the gym. But if you need more rest or get interrupted partway through your workout, no problem. Just pick up where you left off.
If you want to blast through your workout even faster, you can do the lifts in a circuit/superset. Do a set of db sumo deadlifts, rest a minute, then do a set of push-ups, rest a minute, then do your second set of db sumo deadlifts, and then do your second set of push-ups. That way, you’re still giving different muscle groups plenty of time to recover between sets, but you’re doing another exercise during the rest period.
Free Routine For Female Beginners: Full Body Workout That Includes The Dumbell Sumo Deadlift
If you don’t have a workout, you might be interested in our full Bony to Bombshell program. A sample beginner’s workout for women that includes db sumo deadlifts could look like this:
- Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift: 2 sets of 7 repetitions.
- Raised Push-Ups: 2 sets of as many reps as you can.
- 1-Arm Dumbbell Row: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Dumbbell Goblet Squats: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Bonus Glute Work: 2 sets of glute bridges or hip thrusts
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Q&A About The Dumbell Sumo Deadlift
Q: Is the dumbbell sumo deadlift as effective as with a barbell?
A: The main difference between the dumbbell and the barbell variation will be weight. A barbell will bring stability; it’s easier to hold onto, and you can add more weight than you could handle with a dumbbell. Your muscles will get more challenged with the heavier weights, making the barbell version more challenging than the dumbbell version.
That doesn’t mean the dumbbell version isn’t great for certain situations. The dumbbell is quick to set up, quick to tear down, the grip will be slightly higher, etc.
This makes the dumbbell sumo deadlift version more appropriate for female beginners who don’t need to be deadlifting 135+ pounds to get started. They can get great results with a 25, 50, or 75-pound dumbbell.
Or the dumbbell version might make more sense as an accessory exercise halfway into the workout. Your body is already fatigued a bit mid-workout, and you want some extra work for your lower body. No set-up time can help you get the work in, especially with higher reps, without spending all day setting up and tearing down.
Lastly, for those with back problems or back pain, the dumbbell version is slightly higher to grip. This means there will be slightly less tension on the lower back, and it can help someone with a touchy back slowly build their strength back up with this reduced range of motion.
Q: How does the dumbbell sumo deadlift compare to other types of deadlifts?
A: The deadlift motion, at its most fundamental definition, is sinking back into your hips and picking a “dead” weight off of the ground. This differs from a squat, which is more knee-dominant (and you stay upright), and the weight doesn’t start from the floor.
So the deadlift is:
- Picking up a dead weight off the ground.
- Primarily a hip-hinging movement (unless it’s a sumo variation which introduces a bit more knee-bend.)
So there are all sorts of variations of the deadlift motion, depending on what equipment you have access to or if you want to keep things fresh.
The dumbbell sumo deadlift is different because you’re using a dumbbell and not an Olympic barbell and Olympic plates, like normal. The second main difference is that you’ll be using a wider stance to get down to the weight. This will shift the emphasis of the muscles worked towards your quads (away from hamstrings and the lower back.)
Here are some other deadlift variations:
- Conventional barbell deadlift. This is your classic deadlift that most people would reference. You use a normal hip-width stance (as if you were going to jump or a tiny bit wider.) You’ll want to use big enough plates so the barbell is raised high enough off of the ground to grip. So unless you have bumper plates, this usually means a conventional barbell deadlift will start at 135 pounds (45-pound Olympic bar + 45 pounds plates x 2)
- Sumo barbell deadlift. This is a barbell lift, like the original lift, but your stance is wider than your hands/grip, turning it into a “sumo” stance. This variation keeps your body more upright and can be easier on the lower back, with less work for the glutes/hams but harder on the quads.
- Dumbbell conventional deadlift. If you want to keep set-up simple or you’re training at home without a barbell, you can still do the hip hinge movement. In this case, most people normally just do the dumbbell RDL, but you can totally go all the way down and touch the weight to the floor.
- Dumbbell Sumo deadlift. You’re already on the page for this one! This is a good beginner variation because there’s no set-up (just a single dumbbell), it’s light, and you’re a bit more upright. The technique is easy and simple to learn.
- Barbell Romanian Deadlift. This variation starts with the weight up off the floor. It is 100% all hip-hinging, and there is no knee movement which is required to get the weight down onto the floor like the conventional deadlift. For this reason, it’s a lighter exercise that tends to work the hamstrings, glutes, and forearms well.
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift. This, like the barbell RDL, is a great hamstring, glute, and forearm variation but with little to no set-up. Just grab two dumbbells and start hinging.
- Hex-barbell Deadlift. This specialty barbell isn’t at every gym, but it’s common enough to mention. This version allows you to stay more upright, as you don’t need to wait until the barbell clears your knee before you knee-bend, like the conventional version. That makes it a go-to for those who want to deadlift but feel like the conventional makes their back a bit touchy.
- Raised Deadlifts (and rack pulls.) Raised deadlifts are a beginner variation to help someone work their way down to the floor. You can also use this variation if you can’t yet lift 135 pounds and need to use the shorter-weight plates. Rack pulls are done in a squat cage on safety pins. Like a raised deadlift, you don’t need to get down as low. This lift is normally used to shorten the range of motion so you can lift heavier.
By incorporating dumbbell sumo deadlifts into your lifting routine, your grip, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and general posture will be thanking you. If you liked this article, you’d love our muscle-building newsletter. We’ll keep you up to date on all the latest muscle-building information for women. Or, if you want us to walk you through the process of building muscle, including teaching you the lifts, giving you a full workout program, a complete diet guide, a recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Bombshell Program.