If your leg-day routine doesn't involve sumo squats, you're shortchanging yourself. The aptly named squat variation resembles the wide stance of a sumo wrestler and targets different muscles (like your hard-to-hit inner thighs) than a standard squat.
- What is a sumo squat? It's a wide-leg squat variation that requires a wider-than-usual stance — usually with feet set 3 to 4 feet apart and the toes pointed out. When done properly, the movement resembles the beginning of a sumo match.
- What muscles do sumo squats target? Basically, your entire lower body, including quadriceps, gluteus maximum and medius, calves and inner thighs.
- Who can do sumo squats? Anyone without a lower-body injury or mobility issues.
If you want to build strength in your lower body from a slightly different angle and incorporate a new squat variation into your workouts, you need to learn how to do a sumo squat.
How to Do a Sumo Squat With Perfect Form
Wondering how to sumo squat for the most effective, safest workout? Follow these step-by-step instructions from Chris Brown, CPT, a certified personal trainer and conditioning coach, to perfect your technique for the sumo squat exercise.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. (If the position feels uncomfortable, move your feet in a little closer).
- Clasp your hands together at your chest.
- Keeping your back straight, push your hips back and bend your knees out over your toes to squat down. Thinking about sliding down a wall, keeping your back as straight as possible and avoiding leaning forward or sticking your butt out.
- Lower until your your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as you can go).
- Activate your core, glutes and quads to propel your body back upright, driving your weight through your feet to return to a standing position.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and repeat.
For a more advanced sumo squat variation, add weight. To do a dumbbell sumo squat, you have a few options: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your shoulders or hips or hold one heavier one at your chest.
Of if you want to do a kettlebell sumo squat, hold a kettlebell with one hand on each side of the handle and hold the weight at the center of your chest as you go through the range of motion. Don't let the weight pull you forward, though.
How Many Sumo Squats Should You Do?
"For sumo squats, beginners can set a goal of completing 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps," Brown says.
As you become stronger and more proficient in the movement, you can vary your reps and add a load, which can range from 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps for hypertrophy (muscle growth) or 1 to 5 reps with a heavy weight for power, Seth Lawrence, personal training manager at Life Time Flower Mound in Texas, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
What's most important — regardless of your fitness level — is ensuring that your sumo squat form with just your body weight is correct, Lawrence says.
What Are Some Sumo Squat Benefits?
"Sumo squats provide a lot of bang for the buck," Brown says. They engage the glutes, hamstrings and quads, and is also great for strengthening the hips and adductors (aka inner thighs).
"I especially love them for athletes, as most athletic stances and power are generated from a wide stance," Lawrence says.
And while they're primarily a strength movement for the legs, sumo squats also work the core muscles and thus contribute to stabilizing the spine, Brown says. Indeed, doing sumo squats is an effective way to activate the pelvic floor, which makes up part of the deep core muscles, and consequently helps to address back pain, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Common Sumo Squat Mistakes to Avoid
"Good form is essential to getting results," Brown says. When you have poor technique, you render an exercise less effective and increase your risk of injury. Here are the most common mistakes to avoid when performing sumo squats:
Not placing the feet wide enough: A narrow stance won't allow you to properly engage the hamstrings and adductors, Lawrence says.
Planting your feet too wide: This causes too much strain on your hips, Lawrence says. And it may overtax your adductor muscles too, Brown says.
Not squeezing the glutes at the ending position: This eliminates glute activation and may cause more strain on the lower back, Lawrence says.
Leaning your chest forward: "Hinging forward may cause lower back pain or injury," Brown says.
Not shifting your body weight into your heels: "Pushing the hips back while lowering into a squat helps avoid knee irritation or injury," Brown says.
Sumo Squat Modifications
If you find the standard sumo squat too challenging, first build up your strength with these modifications.
Use a chair: "For those who have limited hip mobility or tight muscles in the posterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings, calves), chair squats offer the support of a sturdy surface to help complete the exercise," Brown says.
- Start in a sumo stance — feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes turned out at a 45-degree angle — and stand in front of the seat of a chair, facing away from it.
- Lower your hips down and back until the glutes make contact with the seat but don't sit down.
- Squeeze the hamstrings and glutes and return to a standing position.
Bring your feet in closer: This will help stabilize you until you're more comfortable with a wider stance, Lawrence says.
Hold onto something for balance: Using TRX straps, a railing or the back of a chair can help assist you while performing the sumo squat, Brown says.
Sumo Squat Progressions
Once you've mastered the standard sumo squat, ramp up the movement with these challenging variations.
Incorporate weight: Adding a form of resistance (dumbbell sumo squats or kettlebell sumo squats) will increase the difficulty this exercise, Lawrence says. Try holding a weight between your thighs, in a goblet position (at your chest) or in a front rack position (at your shoulders).
Change the tempo: "Tempo sumo squats increase tension and the activation of muscle," Brown says. For example, lower down for 4 seconds, pause at the bottom for 2, then push up for 1 second.
Add a jump: Sumo squat jumps build power in the legs, Brown says. Plus, they get your heart rate way up and torch a ton of calories. From the bottom position, explode upward, straightening your legs, then land with knees slightly bent to absorb the impact.
Pair with calf raises: This combo of compound movements develops lower extremity muscle strength, Brown says. As you raise up from the bottom of the sumo squat, lift up onto your tiptoes, knees and toes still pointing out at 45 degrees. Lower your heels, then continue onto your next rep.
Add an isometric hold at the bottom: This will increase time under tension. In fact, incorporating a wide range of rep durations (including slow tempo reps or isometric moves) is an effective strategy for maximizing muscle growth, according to an April 2015 meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine.
Incorporate Sumo Squats Into Your Workout
Sumo squats can stand on their own. But these workouts pair them with other hip and leg exercises for the ultimate in lower-body training.
- American Council on Exercise: “Addressing Stubborn Back Pain: 5 Exercises that Address the Deep Anatomy”
- Sports Medicine: “Effect of repetition duration during resistance training on muscle hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis”
- Seth Lawrence, personal training manager at Life Time Flower Mound in Texas
- Chris Brown, ISSA-CPT, personal trainer and ALPHA conditioning coach at Life Time