Deadlifts are perhaps the most primal exercise anyone can do – it's about picking up a heavy object, holding it briefly and setting it back down. Yet despite its apparent simplicity, there are nuances to the movement that can take decades to master. Truth be told, the deadlift requires an individualised approach in order to ensure that it's executed both safely and effectively.
The deadlift is most frequently associated with powerlifting due to its emphasis on heavy loads, and no powerlifter worth his/her salt would not be familiar with the name “Ed Coan”. Holding what most regard as the best deadlift record in the history of powerlifting (409kg in the 100kg weight class), Edward “Ed” Coan is also known for popularising a deadlift variation known as the semi-sumo deadlift.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
As its name suggests, the semi-sumo deadlift sits between the conventional deadlift and the sumo variant. Instead of having the feet placed either around shoulder width or near the collars of the barbell, the lifter takes a position that is in the middle of the two. Like the sumo deadlift, the feet are rotated outwards at an angle to allow for a closer positioning of the body's midline.
Once the setup is complete, executing the semi-sumo deadlift should feel like a regular sumo deadlift but with some conventional deadlift styling sprinkled on top. You will still be initiating the movement with a push of the legs, but you will be more aware of glute involvement due to the abduction of the hips. If you're used to conventional deadlifting, the feeling of your forearms running up your thighs as you reach full extension might feel weird at first. As long as you're keeping the arch in your lower back and holding the barbell close to you, you should be fine.
While the semi-sumo deadlift does bridge the strengths of the two primary deadlift variations, it also does the same for some of their weaknesses. You get more use of the legs and a shorter range of motion, but at the expense of other things such as lesser hamstring recruitment. Ultimately, the semi-sumo deadlift exists simply as another avenue through which to practice the hip hinge with heavy loads, and not as an exercise variation that is somehow inherently superior.
For those who aren't able to perform the conventional deadlift safely yet lack the flexibility to set up for the sumo variation, the semi-sumo deadlift is a happy medium that can assist you in building the strength and mobility required to perform the other two. It's also a great alternative to consider if your lower back happens to be beat up after going through a steady stream of conventional pulling!