While the traditional squat is seen as the holy grail of leg training, you be missing out on serious gains if you do not try out the barbell sumo squat. This unique squat variation has the capability to challenge your legs in a different way and trigger all sorts of strength and muscle gain in your legs
In this guide, we will break down the form, benefits, and tips for this game-changing leg exercise.
What Is A Barbell Sumo Squat?
The sumo squat is a variation of the traditional barbell back squat. The thing that sets a sumo squat apart is the wide-foot stance taken during the exercise. While performing sumo squats, your feet will be wider than shoulder-width apart.
This slight change in foot placement causes your inner thigh muscles to be challenged further than with regular squats. However, it should be noted that these are still squats so you can still expect your hamstrings, quads, and glutes to still be heavily engaged.
Sumo squats are used by all sorts of athletes. Powerlifters use the sumo squat to strengthen the weakness in their traditional squats while bodybuilders and casual lifters enjoy the sumo squat for its hypertrophy benefits.
How To Do Barbell Sumo Squat
Since the sumo stance can be unnatural for most beginners, it is important to follow these important steps to get the most out of the exercise and avoid any chance of injury
Sumo Squat Video Guide
Step By Step Sumo Squat
Place your hand slightly past shoulder width and grip the barbell with an overhand grip. Unrack the barbell from the squat rack and take a step backward.
From here, you are going to get into a sumo stance by carefully widening your feet. For it to be considered a proper sumo squat stance, your feet should be past shoulder width apart. Your toes and knees should be pointed out at about a 45-degree angle.
Take in a deep breath and engage all of your core muscles. Slowly squat down by bending your knees and lowering your glutes. At bottom of your rep, your thighs should be at least parallel to the floor if not deeper. This will vary based on your mobility.
Lastly, you are going to want to drive up engaging your leg muscles and pushing your feet firmly into the ground. Make sure to keep your upper body upright and core engaged as your return to the standing position.
In terms of sets and reps, it is really up to you. Like the regular squat, this is a movement that can be used for both hypertrophy and strength gains. Here are some basic guidelines for a set/rep scheme based on your goals
Hypertrophy: 3 sets of 10-12
Strength: 5 sets of 5
You will see muscle and strength gains with either setup, higher volume is just more optimal for hypertrophic purposes.
Sumo Squat vs. Traditional Squat
The main difference of course is that the sumo squat requires you to get into a sumo stance. The wider stance results in your lower body and joints being loaded differently. While the main movers remain the same (gluteus medius, quadriceps, hamstrings) throughout the movement, the sumo version heavily engages the inner thighs (adductor muscles).
For many lifters, the sumo squat is therefore seen as an effective squat variation for triggering muscle growth in the inner thighs.
Another effect of the widened stance is that the range of motion is less on a sumo squat compared to a regular squat. As a result, many people with mobility limitations opt for sumo squats as their knees and ankles do not have to bend as much.
Sumo Squat Benefits
Aside from adding basic variation to your leg training, the sumo squat has a number of other applicable benefits:
Targets Inner Thighs
The inner thighs, or adductor muscles, are crucial for giving your legs a muscular, aesthetic look. The problem is that the inner thighs can be hard to directly target. Especially, if you only have a barbell and no machines.
This is what makes the sumo squat so great since you can still train minimally while still targeting every muscle in your body.
Less Mobility Required
The traditional squat is seen as a very technical lift that requires high levels of mobility to perform correctly. While it is advisable to continue working on your mobility and technique, the sumo squat can allow you to squat even with limited mobility.
Since your legs start in a wide stance, the range of motion is less than compared to a regular squat. As a result, your knees and ankles do not have to bend as much. If you are finding that your ankles and knees are the cause of your poor squat form, give the sumo squat a try and see if you like it.
Many tall lifters opt for the sumo squat since it works better for their longer limbs as well.
Any gains you make on the sumo squat will transfer over to your other leg lifts. In fact, the sumo squat can be used as a useful squat variation to strengthen weaknesses and break through traditional barbell squat plateaus.
More Core Activation
Since you will be in a sumo stance, your core has to work that much harder to keep your torso in an upright position.
More Sumo Squat Variations
If you do not have access to a barbell or find it to be too challenging, you can also use some of these great squat variations. You will not be able to load as much weight as with a barbell, but you will get all of those amazing sumo squat benefits:
Bodyweight Sumo Squat
If you struggle to perform the sumo squat with a barbell, try to master the bodyweight version first. The bodyweight version is great for beginners as it allows you to master the movement pattern without risking injury with the use of heavyweight.
You can also stick your hands out in front of you if it helps you maintain balance.
This is another great sumo squat variation. For this version, all you are doing is holding the weight in between your legs in the form of a dumbbell/kettlebell and squatting down.
I really recommend this version if you do not have access to a square rack/barbell or are struggling with the balancing aspect of the squat. Having the weight in between your legs drastically changes the center of gravity and makes it much easier to balance.
The only downside is that many people find even the heaviest dumbbells to be too easy after a while. This is not all bad, it just means you will have to go higher in reps to get the same level of muscular activation.
Smith Machine Sumo Squat
The smith machine version of the sumo squat allows you to really focus on muscular activation as it is much easier to keep your torso in an upright position.
The fixed bar path of the smith machine is perhaps the most popular variation due to how beginner friendly and effective it is.
Landmine Sumo Squat
For this variation, you just load one side of the barbell and insert the other end into a landmine attachment.
The benefit of this version is that you can actually lean forward to help you balance since you have the bar in front of you.
Common Sumo Squat Mistakes
If you are having trouble with the sumo squat or it just doesn’t quite feel right, look for these common mistakes and correct them. In most cases, it is just a matter of using too much weight before your body is ready.
Not Staying Upright
More than a regular squat, the sumo squat requires you to have a solid core for the entire movement to avoid leaning forward. If you do lean forward, you are risking a lower back injury and not working your legs properly.
The issue may simply be that your core is not strong enough for the weight even if your legs are. Drop the weight until you can perform the movement properly and move up from there.
Having Toes Forward
As we mentioned in the guide, your knees and toes should be pointed outward at a 45-degree angle. If you just have your toes pointed forward like a regular squat, you are putting yourself in an unstable position and not engaging the muscles you want.
If you notice throughout any point of the exercise that your knees are wobbly or caving in, stop and lower the weight until you can do the movement with good form. Knee caving inward will eventually lead to joint pain or ligament damage.
Should I Be Stronger On Sumo Squats Than Regular Squats?
Whether or not you are stronger on this squat variation will depend on your particular build. Many people that are taller find the sumo version of the squat to be easier than the regular version due to the shortened range of motion.
Regardless, just be sure to start out slow and work your way up to higher weights. If you are one of those people blessed with this variation, it will show quickly.
The barbell sumo squat is a fantastic squat variation for anybody who wants to take their legs to the next level. There are a few other exercises if any that allow you to target the musculature of the inner thighs so precisely.
Aside from the muscle-building benefits, many lifters will find that the sumo squat is actually more comfortable for them. We highly encourage lifters of all levels to give this exercise a go!
The sumo squat is a great squat variation that most would benefit from including in their squat training. The wider stance used in the sumo squat heavily engages the inner thigh while still working the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Sumo squats are more biased toward the inner thighs (adductors) but they still heavily work the glutes.