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The Power of Progression, Part 3: Sumo Deadlift High Pull

ByCrossFitOctober 13, 2019

The sumo deadlift high pull (SDHP) is an often overlooked movement in CrossFit programming. However, the movement pattern of the SDHP is invaluable for learning to transfer power from the hips and legs, through the upper body, and into the object being lifted with maximal efficiency. This skill is seen in many other sports applications such as rowing, throwing, and weightlifting. Additionally, with its large range of motion, significant contribution from most major muscle groups, and the potential for fast cycle time, the SDHP proves to be a very useful conditioning tool.

As we’ve seen previously (see push jerk and med-ball clean progressions), breaking down movements into a series of simple steps that build upon each other offers several benefits to both the athlete and trainer. The athlete gets the benefit of focusing on important elements without having to worry about successfully completing the entire movement. The trainer benefits by limiting the total number of faults that can happen during the full movement to just those that are most common at each stage. With the use of a progression, therefore, trainers are able to narrow their focus and simplify the corrective process.

The SUMO DEADLIFT HIGH PULL progression uses three introductory steps before the athlete experiences the full movement:

  1. SUMO DEADLIFT
  2. SUMO DEADLIFT + SHRUG (SLOW)
  3. SUMO DEADLIFT + SHRUG (FAST)
  4. SUMO DEADLIFT HIGH PULL

First, the primary points of performance used in the conventional deadlift are transposed to the wider stance and narrower grip of the sumo deadlift. The athlete should be able to maintain a neutral spine, keep the bar close to the body, set up with the shoulders over or in front of the bar, and have the heels down with weight balanced in the mid-foot.  Additionally, the sumo deadlift requires a stance that is about shoulder-width or slightly wider (but not so wide that the athlete cannot keep the knees tracking over the toes) and a narrower grip inside the legs (but not so narrow that the pull becomes imbalanced).

Next, the athlete learns to elevate the bar beyond the finish position of the sumo deadlift by adding a shrug at the top. The slow speed of this second step in the progression is used to emphasize the timing and correct positions: The hips and legs should reach full extension before the shoulders elevate. The arms should remain straight throughout, and the bar should not drift away from the torso.

Once the timing between the lower and upper body is understood, the next step is to teach the athlete to accelerate while maintaining the quality of movement present in the slower version of the drill. Commonly, athletes will begin shrugging early and/or allow themselves to raise their heels prematurely, pulling them off balance.

Finally, the arms are allowed to bend once the positions, timing, and acceleration are understood. Athletes should focus on keeping the elbows “high and outside” so they can keep the bar close to the body. The arms should only be allowed to bend after the deadlift and shrug, following the correct sequence: DEADLIFT, SHRUG, PULL. The same steps should be followed in reverse to successfully lower the bar for the next rep.


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