The Sumo Deadlift High Pull Is Stupid
On April 23, 1985, the Coca Cola Corporation introduced New Coke. Banking on some sketchy market research and blind taste tests, the makers of New Coke launched their product onto the market and were quickly met with fierce, flaming-torch, storming-the-castle style resistance.
Three months later, Coca Cola changed their minds. They realized New Coke was simply a horrible idea and they pulled it. In fact, a lot of companies have launched products or services that simply haven’t worked and have shown little compunction for pulling something that just wasn’t right. Netflix, Microsoft (Zune, anyone?), and even the makers of Smell-O-Vision movie theaters found that some things just simply needed to be retired. It’s okay to admit something isn’t working and pull it from the shelves.
So then, my question is, why is the sumo deadlift high pull (SDHP) still around?
I am going to state this as unequivocally as I can: The SDHP is stupid.
The SDHP, for the uninitiated, involves taking a loaded bar or a kettlebell and hoisting it from your shins to your chin. The object here is to bring the bar up to your chin with your elbows as high as possible. The SDHP is one of the nine foundational movements taught in the CrossFit Level 1 certification. Of all of the possible movements CrossFit might consider to be necessary for giving prospective coaches a solid foundation from which to begin coaching, they include a useless, dangerous lift.
You can watch the entire original Greg Glassman L1 SDHP lecture here:
There have been plenty or articles written about the SDHP - mostly against it. Rather than write another “how bad this is for your shoulders” approach and include side-by-side pictures of the SDHP with the Hawkins-Kennedy Impingement Test, rather, I am going to offer a question and a challenge:
- Why is the sumo deadlift high pull a foundational movement of CrossFit, taught at the CrossFit Level 1 cert?
- A call to CFHQ to admit this is the Smell-O-Vision of CrossFit and to drop it.
- A call to all affiliates to ban the movement, including in classic workouts like “Fight Gone Bad.”
And yes, while this approach is somewhat on behalf of injury prevention, my angle is more from the standpoint that, you know what? This movement makes no sense. Eliminate it.
Let’s Talk Foundation Movements
The nine foundational movements of CrossFit taught at the L1 cert to include:
- Front Squat
- Overhead Squat
- Push Press
- Push Jerk
- Sumo Deadlift High Pull
- Medicine Ball Clean (The medicine ball clean will be the focus of a future article. Don’t even get me started on the silly waste of time this is.)
That’s quite an interesting list. When one thinks about, from a 30,000-foot view, what might be laid down as a foundation to potential CrossFit trainers and box owners at an L1 Cert, the SDHP hardly comes to mind. If you consider which movements are most likely to show up in your programming on a weekly or monthly basis, this doesn’t even come close to fighting with the GHD bench press for last place.
Foundational movement? Really? Foundational as it relates to what exactly? I can think of a number of movements I would want to invoke in order to lay a foundation of strength and conditioning. Squatting, (air, front, back) pushing (push ups, shoulder press), pulling (strict pull ups), followed by the introduction to the Olympic lifts. And then there’s running, jumping rope, and proper rowing technique, or basic core work like front leaning rest and side planks. You know - foundational stuff.
I might then begin to include some CrossFit-Specific movements like wall balls, burpees, and Russian kettlebell swings, in order to provide more insight into good ways to coach those movements. But SDHP? Hell, why not pistols then, or Turkish get ups? Seriously, how on earth is the SDHP a “foundational movement” of CrossFit? One of only nine?
I will tell you why. Because Greg Glassman decided this in 2005 and so far no one who works for CrossFit has the balls to raise their hand and tell the emperor he is naked.
The SDHP is neither a functional movement nor a piece of any other movement. Meaning, things like snatch pulls and clean grip deadlifts at least serve a purpose as being a part of the chain of some other more complex movement. And yes, the SDHP includes the word deadlift, but this has zero to do with a proper deadlift.
So what is its purpose? To beef up the suck of a metcon? Perhaps. Do enough of these in a metcon and it can certainly suck. But you know what? That goes for anything. Push presses, burpees, 200-meter sprints, you name it. Include enough reps and high intensity and nothing sucks quite like [insert name of movement here].
I have heard defense of the SDHP couched in terms of “teaching the ballistic value of the hip extension.” Bull. Ask any Olympic weightlifting coach what the go-to movement for reinforcing hip extension and most likely he or she will say snatch pulls and clean pulls. Better yet, hang cleans and snatches. In fact, I would bet $100 that if one of the L1 certification staffers would approach a weightlifting coach like say, Mark Canella, who coached Holly Mangold to the London Olympics, and suggest the SDHP as a training piece, the CrossFit staffer would be laughed straight out of the building. In fact, I would simply love to watch that conversation take place.
The SDHP makes no sense. Zero. It does nothing. It does not assist your snatch, clean, or deadlift, and at best, it’s an internal-rotation, shoulder-murdering farce of a move that should be excised from the body of CrossFit.
So here’s the call to action for CrossFit:
- Consider revamping your L1 and eliminate the SDHP. It’s okay to admit it’s a ridiculous movement. No one will think any less of you. Classic-Coke that crap and move on.
- Rewrite “Fight Gone Bad” to use another movement such as heavy Russian kettlebell swings or hang power cleans. Call it “Fight Gone Bad 2014-Style.” Trust me, people will respect you more for admitting it’s time to erase the mistake.
For the affiliates: Be the consumer here. Refuse to buy the New Coke. If you never, ever program SDHPs again, en masse, it won’t matter that CFHQ teaches it as one of the nine foundational movements. If boxes don’t program it, it doesn’t exist.
For the athletes: If the SDHP is programmed at your box in a workout, advise your trainer that you will be doing a substitute. Sub a hang power clean with about twenty more pounds on the bar. That should do it. Or try a heavy Russian swing. Take charge of your own fitness and decide this abomination is not for you.
And for those attending the L1 certs: I challenge you to push back a bit. Seriously. When your instructor is taking you through the SDHP lecture, speak up. This would be my dream conversation:
You (hand raised): “So, what’s the point of this sumo deadlift high pull, exactly?”
Instructor: “It develops hip speed and reinforces triple extension.”
You: “So why not do clean pulls, without the shoulder impingement? No, really. What’s the point of these?”
Instructor: “Well, it mimics the gross motor movements of the deadlif-"
You: “No, it really doesn’t. It’s not reinforcing any deadlift skill at all. You said hip speed. Deadlifts aren’t about hip speed. Which is it?”
Instructor: “Look, this is one of the nine foundational movements of CrossFit.”
You: “I know a guy who made it all the way to the CrossFit Games and never did one in his entire life. Is he missing part of his foundation?”
Instructor: “Next question…”
Photo 1 courtesy of CrossFit LA.