Squats are the mainstay of exercises for the lower body. And for good reason: The fundamental exercise is relatively easy to learn, targets multiple muscle groups, and doesn’t require equipment. But if you’re neglecting certain squat variations — particularly the sumo squat — you might be missing out on valuable advantages for your legs, hips, and knees.
Here, fitness experts dissect the primary reasons why the sumo squat should be an essential part of your fitness routine and explain the muscles that the exercise engages. Additionally, they describe how to perform the classic sumo squat and suggest modifications and progressions worth trying.
How to Perform Sumo Squats
A sumo squat is pretty similar to a traditional squat — you’ll sit back into your hips and bend your knees to lower your buttocks to the floor. The primary difference, however, is your posture. Specifically, your feet will be a few inches wider than shoulder-width — not hip-width — apart, and your toes will be turned out to 45-degree angles instead of pointing straight forward, explains Edith Partida, a NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. “If someone were to come and try to push you over, you should be able to maintain your stability,” she says.
Need help visualizing the lower-body exercise? Watch Rachel Mariotti, an NCSF-certified personal trainer in New York City, demonstrate the sumo squat below.
- Stand with feet slightly three to four inches wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out to a 45-degree angle. Clasp hands in front of your chest.
- On an inhale, sit back into your hips and bend your knees to lower until your thighs are parallel or almost parallel with the floor, making sure to keep your chest up and prevent your back from rounding.
- On an exhale, press through your feet to straighten your legs and return to a standing position.
The Key Benefits of Sumo Squats
The sumo squat may appear straightforward, but it delivers significant benefits for the strength of your lower body and joints. Here’s what you need to know.
Strengthens Inner Thighs
Thanks to the wide stance involved, a sumo squat helps target your inner thigh muscles, also known as the hip adductors, according to Partida. In case you didn’t know, the hip adductors include the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, obturator externus, and gracilis.
The primary purpose of the muscle group? To offer stability to the lower body. And if they lack the necessary strength to furnish such assistance, you might experience discomfort in the lower back, Leigha VandenToorn, C.S.C.S., P.P.S.C., a certified personal trainer recognized by NASM, mentioned to Shape magazine previously.
While you can utilize the hip adductor machine at the gym or perform reverse clamshells on the floor to activate those inner thigh muscles, those movements are isolation exercises, which means they only target one muscle group and one joint, according to Partida. On the other hand, a sumo squat is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups (including glutes, hamstrings, and quads) and joints. As a result, incorporating sumo squats into your routine will give you more benefits, says Partida.
Relieves Tightness in Hip Flexors
If you spend your entire workday sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, it’s likely that your hip flexors are significantly tight, says Partida. While this discomfort may not seem like a big deal, when muscles are tight in any part of your body, another muscle group (in the case of tight hip flexors, the lower back) may compensate for the lack of mobility, leading to additional strain on the healthy muscles, as pointed out by Amanda Butler, an NASM-certified trainer and instructor on the fitness app Onyx, previously mentioned in Shape. The good news is that doing a few sets of sumo squats can help alleviate that tightness, according to Partida. “This is an excellent movement to open up those hips,” she explains. “Performing a bodyweight sumo squat and holding it at the bottom, just to get that nice, good stretch, for around 12 to 15 repetitions, will be a fantastic variation for individuals who sit at their desks all day.”
Reduces Knee Pressure
Compared to traditional squats, sumo squats place less strain on the knee joint, says Partida. “You’re engaging so many more muscle groups, especially the inner thighs, which helps to lessen the pressure on the knee itself,” she explains. “That’s why I recommend this movement for individuals with knee pain.” Additionally, it’s easier to control the range of motion in a sumo squat compared to a traditional squat, so people with knee problems don’t have to worry about going too low in the movement and feeling discomfort.
Muscles Targeted by Sumo Squats
In addition to the hip adductors and hip flexors, sumo squats also work your glutes, specifically the glute medius and glute minimus — muscles that are responsible for moving your leg away from the center of your body and rotating it inward, says Partida.
(FTR, a classic squat will mainly activate your gluteus maximus, she adds.) “You’re also going to receive a slightly increased amount of calf work compared to your customary-stance squat because your toes are angled out,” says Partida. Similar to a classic squat, the workout will also test your quadriceps, hamstrings, and core, adds Mariotti.
Various Sumo Squat Options
If you try the traditional sumo squat and realize it’s not to your liking, you have alternatives.
Modification: Sumo Squat with Static Hold
If you’re not yet prepared to repeatedly perform the full range of motion of the sumo squat, consider incorporating a static hold, suggests Mariotti. Instead of descending into a squat, rising back up to a standing position, and repeating the process multiple times, you will lower yourself into the squat and maintain that position for approximately 30 seconds, she explains. This adjustment will help you become comfortable with the correct technique before introducing dynamic movement, she says.
Progression: Sumo Squat with Overhead Press
Ready to advance your bodyweight sumo squat? Try slowing down your repetitions or adding a brief pause at the bottom to enhance the time under tension, or incorporate a jump as you ascend back to a standing position to test your strength, suggests Partida. If you have a dumbbell available, you can hold the weight in front of your chest in a goblet position to build your power, she says. Alternatively, you can follow Mariotti’s suggestion and perform an overhead press while in the squat position. “By using your core and abdominal strength to press while in that position, you’ll apply additional resistance to your hips, thus creating [an added] stability [challenge] when lifting the weight overhead,” states Mariotti.
Common Mistakes in Sumo Squats
As you lower yourself into the squat, remember to keep your kneecaps aligned with your big toes and prevent your knees from collapsing inward, as this helps prevent joint irritation, says Partida. You’ll also want to avoid rounding your lower back or leaning your torso forward, as these could indicate tightness or mobility issues in your hip flexors or a lack of core strength, she adds. In that case, try incorporating stretches for your hip flexors and exercises that focus on the core into your routine to address those problems and refine your form in sumo squats.
Incorporating Sumo Squats into Your Workout Routine
While sumo squats can benefit anyone, individuals who experience lower back discomfort may find this exercise particularly advantageous, notes Mariotti; the movement involves less hip hinge compared to a standard squat, thus reducing strain on the lower back, she explains.
Runners may also desire to incorporate sumo squats into their regimen, as the leg-focused activity can result in tight hip flexors and hip adductors, according to Partida. “Runners would derive great advantages from sumo squats solely for the purpose of opening up those hips,” she adds. Finally, expectant individuals may discover that the sumo squat is more accommodating than the conventional squat, as it provides greater room for their expanding abdomens, states Partida.
Generally speaking, the sumo squat doesn’t come with any significant warning signs, and it’s typically safe for most individuals to engage in, says Partida. However, if you recently had an injury or surgery on your hips or knees, make sure you receive approval from your physical therapist or healthcare provider before attempting the exercise, she says.
Thanks to the exercise’s benefits for your joints and lower-body strength, Partida suggests incorporating sumo squats into your workout routine at least once a week, either utilizing solely your bodyweight or dumbbells, barbells, and other equipment. While the specific number of reps and sets you should perform depends on your objectives, skill level, and other factors, a good guideline is to begin with three sets of 10 to 15 reps and adapt as needed, says Partida. Rest assured, your legs will appreciate it.
Photography and art: Jenna Brillhart
Model and fitness expert: Rachel Mariotti
Wardrobe: SET Active
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