If the workout Gods came down and said we could only do one type of lift, it would be squats. The lift works every muscle in the lower extremities as well as a ton of stabilization muscle in the lumbar and back. The exercise works 75% of the entire body and the great aspect of the squat is that there is a ton of variations to the exercise. The sumo squat in particular is one of the variations that is regularly used in most strength and conditioning programs.
Feet placement is the main difference between squats and sumo squats. Think of an analogue clock. For the regular squat, the feet are hip-width and the toes are pointed at either 12 or 11 and 1. For a sumo squat, the feet are usually wider than the shoulders and the toes are turned out to 3 and 9. The stance is really the key to sumo squats. If the feet are too narrow, there will not be correct activation of the hip adductors (muscle on the inside of the leg) or hamstrings. If the feet are too wide there will not be correct movement in the hip joint. Feet placement can vary from person to person so figure out what works best. Remember, that the sumo activates the adductors and that is where the exercise needs to be felt.
This nice thing about sumo squats is that it can stack up strength throughout all the lower musculature. Depending of core strength, there might be a challenge to balance and posture because of the new alignment because of the feet placement that might cause a slight rocking forward.
How Many and What Weight?
First things first, how is the form? Poor technique and increasing the load is a recipe for injury. Start by doing the sumo squat as part of a warm up in order to ensure proper form and function. Once the technique is in place, increasing the load is the easy part. Here are a couple common ways to add weight to the sumo squat.
1. Barbell. The bar placement is exactly the same on a sumo squat as a conventional barbell squat. This can be back, front or even overhead placement. Once again, form is key so make sure to have a good understanding of how to perform all these exercises before adding a sumo squat.
2. Dumbbell/Kettlbell. If a barbell added conflicts with the form of the squat, dumbbell or kettlebells are good option to increase load. Weights can be held in front of the pelvis while the exercise is being performed. This allows a little more “wiggle room” to help decrease the risk of injury while still increasing the load. In addition, a kettlebell can be held goblet style while performing the exercise for additional core development.
In terms or reps and sets, treat the sumo squat like another squat for strength. Generally, 3 to 4 sets for 10 reps a couple times a week. Traditionally, a sumo deadlift has a limited number of reps because it is used for power (1-3 reps) development as opposed to sumo deadlift for volume.
Start implementing slowly and see how the body reacts. A small change in any routine can have a dramatic change on development to the body by how the body reacts to that change. Like any new exercise, a rapid investment and implementation can lead to injury which can put the breaks on any progress. Be a student of strength. This means that it is a lifelong process. Quick gains mean quick loss so be patient and start working the sumo squat in slowly until they become a regular staple in a lifting routine.