Sumo squats are made for sumo wrestlers, right? Nope, this squat variation has some serious lower bod benefits for everyone, no wrestling ring or even any equipment required.
Sumo squats offer unique benefits that a standard squat does not. The sumo is able to recruit smaller muscles that help shape and tighten the legs, while also engaging the heavy hitters of your lower body—glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
“The biggest benefit to doing sumo squats is that the wider stance offers a unique challenge to the inner thigh muscles, or your adductors” says John Calarco, CSCS, owner of Power Health and Performance in Harrison, New York.
In addition to targeting the major lower-body muscles, like the basic air squat, sumo squats specifically increase activation in your adductors. These muscles run along your inner thigh and are responsible for helping your knees and hips extend, flex, and rotate, explains Alena Luciani CSCS, creator of Training2XL. “It’s so important to build that overall strength in your lower-body, because a lot of injuries happen when [muscles] are more dominant in one area and the joint is overloaded,” she says.
Meet the experts: John Calarco, CSCS, is a trainer and owner of Power Health and Performance in Harrison, NY. He also holds a degree in exercise physiology from Adelphi University. Alena Luciani CSCS, is a trainer and creator of Training2XL, where she works with NHL, CFL, NCAA, OHL, and USports teams, players, and coaches.
So…are sumo squats better than regular squats? The short answer is no. “They aren’t better, just different,” says Luciani. The adductors tend to be weak in the average human, she adds, so sumo squats provide a boost and slightly different stimulus to strengthen that area. That's just one of the many benefits of squatting in a wide stance. Here's everything to know about sumo
How To Do A Sumo Squat
While this move can be done with bodyweight or added resistance using a kettlebell or dumbbell, you want to make sure your form is spot on to reap the legs for days benefits. What's more, practicing good form protects your knees, hips, and ankles.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, evenly distribute your weight, and toes turned out to 10 and 2 o’clock. (Too narrow and you won’t challenge those adductors or hamstrings; too wide and you’ll jam up the hip joint at the bottom of the position, Calarco says.)
- Keep your core tight (yes, squatting works your core!) and chest tall as you inhale, bend your knees, and sink your hips down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. “Depth is dependent on the individual, so go as far down as you can,” says Luciani. “Think about sitting down in a chair and driving your knees along the lines of the toes. Your feet and toes are like train tracks, and your knees are the train moving along the track.”
- Exhale as you drive through your feet back to an upright standing position. “When you stand up, think about pinching a $100 bill between your butt cheeks to bring those hips through,” says Luciani.
Find your stance sweet spot: Start with feet just wider than hip-width apart. Using no weight, see how it feels to squat with your feet out a little, then out a little more, and so on, until you can feel a stretch in your inner thigh without compromising your form, per Calarco.
Benefits Of Sumo Squats
Sumo squats are a great move to add into your workout rotation and are key for stacking up strength—in all parts of your lower-body. Your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors will thank you (and probably be a little sore).
Here are the big benefits you can expect when you add sumo squats to your workout routine.
- Work your adductors. It’s easy to focus on strengthening those heavy hitter muscles like your quads and glutes, but don’t forget your adductors! The wider “sumo” stance adds the unique challenge of strengthening those hard-to-hit inner thigh muscles, Calarco explains. Keeping your adductors in shape helps build up strength around your knees, ankles, and core, while also helping to prevent injury.
- Rehab injuries. If you’re coming off an injury, you should always make sure to get cleared by your doctor or physical therapist. However, sumo squats can be a great way to retrain your muscles and joints. If the injury is at the ankle, knee, or hip, getting the adductors involved can be really beneficial in someone’s recovery process, explains Luciani. “A party is always fun with more people, so when the adductors join in you get that more holistic strength training.” Notice a pattern? Adductors need toning too!
- Increase range of motion. #WFH often leads to more sitting, which can lead to tighter hips and stiff muscles, but luckily, sumo squats actually work your range of motion in your hips, knees, and ankles. “A wider base support creates more space for the hips,” says Luciani. (Remember 10 and 2 o’clock!) Working on an increased range of motion will ultimately help you engage more muscles, strengthen your lower-body, and help prevent injury, explains Luciani. “You get a lot of bang for your buck.”
- Level-up your strength. Whether you’re new to lower-body workouts or you’re a squatting superstar, sumo squats are great for all levels. While bodyweight squatting is tough on its own, if you’re ready to progress you can add additional weight. “In order to progressively overload the body and continue to get stronger, you want to add some sort of external load,” says Luciani. This can be done with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell.
How To Add Sumo Squats to Your Workout
If you’re trying to strengthen and grow your lower-body muscles, work the sumo squat in two to three times a week, Calarco advises. It’s best incorporated into a strength workout. “You want to pair the sumo squat with movements that don’t fatigue the lower body any further so that you don't take away from the sumo squat itself,” Calarco says.
Remember to always warm-up before you start. If you’re adding additional weight, make sure you first do a few bodyweight reps to get loose and activate the muscles, says Luciani.
If you are sticking to bodyweight squats, Luciani recommends aiming for three sets of 10 reps.
What about adding extra weight to sumo squats? If you have strength trained in the past, a good general rule of thumb is adding 15 to 25 pounds, says Luciani. “When it comes to increasing the load or adding weight, I like to use the two-rep rule,” says Luciani. “You want to find a weight where the last two reps of the set are challenging.” She explains that working out at a resistance where you feel the burn is going to challenge the body and build strength.
Common Sumo Squat Mistakes To Avoid
- Your stance is off. Too narrow and you won’t challenge those adductors or hamstrings; too wide and you’ll jam the hip joint at the bottom of the position, Calarco says. Improper footing can compromise form, so get a feel for your squat with no weight before getting into your sets.
- The position is painful. A deep squat is a sensitive position to be in, so if you feel any pain in your groin or hip area, or a limited range of motion, you want to stay away from that movement, says Luciani. “Our bodies aren’t going to cooperate all the time, but don't force discomfort.”
- Your hips or ankles are tight. Luciani explains that these joints can be especially tight and sometimes painful. She recommends working on mobility drills like calf stretches and fire hydrants to loosen up your ankles and hips. Properly warming the body with simple stretches will help maximize your training and keep you pain free.
Sumo Squat Variations And Progressions To Try
If you feel strong and you’re ready to level up, try one of these progressions. As long as you can keep your form in tip top shape, you're good to go for the challenge. Say it with me… knees in line with toes, core tight, chest tall.
- Use TRX straps. If you are totally new to squatting, start with TRX straps or another type of suspended support. (Hold the TRX straps in front of your body with elbows back at 90-degree angles and stand far enough back so there is no slack in the straps. Use the straps as a guide while you squat down and pull yourself back up.) Holding onto something will help with range of motion and allow you to sit nice and deep, explains Luciani.
- Practice with a box. If your hips and ankles are extra tight and that full range sumo squat isn’t happening yet, try a box squat to loosen up. “It will give you a rough idea of how deep you can get,” says Luciani. From here, you can work on range of motion and practice squatting your way down to that full 90-degree bend.
- Hold a dumbbell low. Hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) and have it hang between your legs as your squat. Adding this additional weight works on loading the muscles and building strength, says Luciani. Be careful not to round your back as you squat though, keep your chest tall and core tight.
- Add a kettlebell up high. Think of a goblet squat as you hold a kettlebell to your chest using both hands, but stay wide in the signature sumo squat style. “Bringing the weight a little higher is going to challenge your core and posture,” says Luciani.
Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.