Research Roundup #35: Sumo vs. Conventional Deadlift, Eating Based after Hard Workouts, & Mental Tricks for Weight Loss


It’s estimated that there are over 2+ million scientific papers published each year, and this firehose only seems to intensify.

Even if you narrow your focus to fitness research, it would take several lifetimes to unravel the hairball of studies on nutrition, training, supplementation, and related fields.

This is why my team and I spend thousands of hours each year dissecting and describing scientific studies in articles, podcasts, and books and using the results to formulate our 100% all-natural sports supplements and inform our coaching services. 

And while the principles of proper eating and exercising are simple and somewhat immutable, reviewing new research can reinforce or reshape how we eat, train, and live for the better. 

Thus, each week, I’m going to share three scientific studies on diet, exercise, supplementation, mindset, and lifestyle that will help you gain muscle and strength, lose fat, perform and feel better, live longer, and get and stay healthier. 

This week, you’ll learn if the sumo deadlift is “cheating,” whether you should eat more or less based on how hard you train, and a strange mind trick to help you eat less and lose weight.

Sumo deadlifting isn’t easier than the conventional deadlift.

Source: “Anthropometrical Determinants of Deadlift Variant Performance” published on August 1, 2019 in Journal of Sport Science & Medicine.

“Sumo is cheating.”

Or at least that’s what many conventional deadlifters say when a sumo-pulling peer outlifts them.

The basis for this grievance is that the sumo deadlift has a shorter range of motion than the conventional deadlift, which means you should, in theory, be able to lift heavier weights when you pull sumo.

Sumo deadlifters claim instead that their bodily proportions suit sumo better, making it feel more comfortable, but that the exercise isn’t inherently easier than its conventional brethren.

Who’s right?

To investigate, scientists at Coastal Carolina University had 47 people with no deadlifting experience learn how to perform the conventional and sumo deadlift. 

The deadlifters then did two deadlift workouts in a random order, separated by 2-to-3 days. In one of these workouts, they tested their conventional deadlift one-rep max by doing progressively heavier sets of 1 rep until they could no longer lift the weight (or couldn’t lift it with good form), resting 3-to-5 minutes between sets.

Once they’d established their one-rep max, they rested for 5 minutes, then did a single set to failure with 60% of their one-rep max.

In the other workout, they followed the same process, substituting the conventional deadlift for the sumo deadlift.

The results showed no significant differences in deadlift one-rep-max strength between either style of deadlift for men or women.

Furthermore, the researchers found no connection between height, limb length (arm, hand, thigh, and lower-leg length), or joint size (wrist and ankle girth) and one-rep max performance.

The only measurement that made a trivial difference was torso length—people with longer torsos tended to have a negligible advantage in the sumo deadlift.

Given that none of the participants had experience with deadlifting and neither style seemed “easier,” there’s probably no truth to the argument that sumo is cheating. 

Likewise, it doesn’t appear that bodily proportions have much impact on pulling strength, either.

If neither is inherently easier or better suited to some people based on their frame, how should you decide which deadlift variation is most suitable for you?

If you’re completely new to deadlifting, I recommend starting with the conventional deadlift. That’s because the sumo deadlift is slightly more technical than the conventional deadlift and requires considerably more hip flexibility to perform correctly, which means it can be more challenging for beginners.

The only exception to this rule is if you try the conventional deadlift and find it too uncomfortable (it causes lower-back or hip pain, for example). In this scenario, feel free to start with sumo—just be prepared for a steeper learning curve.

Another thing to consider is how your femurs (thigh bones) attach to your hips, as this can make one style more comfortable than another. You don’t have to tie yourself in knots trying to figure this out. Simply try both stances and identify which produces pain, tightness, a pinching sensation, or discomfort. 

Once you’ve established this, you should have a pretty good idea of which version to emphasize in your training.

The final and most important thing to consider is personal preference. Stick to the style that you enjoy and that allows you to lift the heaviest weights safely.

And what if you can perform and enjoy both?

Do both. A good way to do this is to include the conventional deadlift in your program for 8-to-10 weeks of training, take a deload, then replace the conventional deadlift with the sumo deadlift for the following 8-to-10 weeks of training.

Then, you can either continue alternating between the exercises every few months or stick with the one you prefer for an extended period.

This is how I personally like to organize my training, and it’s similar to the method I advocate in my fitness book for intermediate and advanced weightlifters, Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger.

(Or if you aren’t sure if Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger is right for you or if another strength training program might be a better fit for your circumstances and goals, take Legion Strength Training Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know the perfect strength training program for you. Click here to check it out.)

TL;DR: Sumo deadlifting isn’t easier than conventional deadlifting, regardless of your bodily proportions. Do whichever deadlift you prefer. 

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You don’t need to eat more on days you train hard. 

Source: “The effects of training load during dietary intervention upon fat loss: A randomized cross-over trial” published on August 23, 2022 in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport.

The idea that you should eat more calories on days you train harder has been knocking around the fitness space for eons. 

This seems somewhat commonsensical, too: you train harder or longer, you burn more calories, and thus you eat more to replace what you burned, right? 

And on the flipside, if you don’t train as hard, you can afford to dial back your calorie intake to keep losing fat lickety-split, without running into the usual wages of low-calorie dieting.

This sounds neat in theory, but this study from scientists at Solent University is one of the first to test it in a controlled manner.

The researchers had 130 weightlifters (most of whom had been training for more than 6 months) do 2 separate 4-week full-body training programs. During one of the programs, they trained with heavy weights (80% of their one-rep max), and during the other, they trained with light weights (60% of their one-rep max).

On both programs, the weightlifters trained twice weekly, performing nine machine exercises for a single set to failure in each workout. 

During each 4-week program, the weightlifters ate in a 20% calorie deficit and consumed ~0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. In the 8-week gap between each program, they returned to their regular diet and training program.

The results showed that after both programs, they lost about the same amount of fat (after heavy training, they lost ~1.5 lb, and after light training, they lost ~1.2 lb), retained all of their muscle, and gained about the same amount of strength (though they tended to gain slightly more strength after training with heavy weights).

While the researchers didn’t measure the number of calories burned during each type of training, it’s reasonable to assume that the numbers would’ve been similar given that the weightlifters lost the same (negligible) amount of fat after each program.

These findings align with the results of previous research investigating the effect of training intensity on energy expenditure, too.

Thus, the takeaway is straightforward: Don’t change your daily calorie intake based on your training intensity. Don’t eat more when your workouts include lots of full-body compound weightlifting or less when you train smaller muscle groups like the biceps, triceps, or delts—any differences in calorie burn are too small to matter in practice.

Just calculate the number of calories you need to eat to lose weight using this calculator, then hit your target every day regardless of what you did in the gym.

(Or if you’d like even more specific advice about how many calories, how much of each macronutrient, and which foods you should eat to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Diet Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what diet is right for you. Click here to check it out.)

TL;DR: Calculate how many calories you need to eat to reach your health and fitness goals, then eat the same number of calories every day regardless of whether you do a hard or easy workout.

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You can trick yourself into eating less by imagining you ate more earlier.

Source: “Imagine this: Visualising a recent meal as bigger reduces subsequent snack intake” published on February 1, 2023 in AppetiteI.

Several bodily processes contribute to hunger and satiety.

And while most studies center on how organs, hormones, and tissues affect appetite, research increasingly suggests that cognitive factors also play a major role.

For example, scientists now know that memories of recently consumed food affect how much you eat in subsequent meals.

A good example of this comes from a study by scientists at the University of Cambridge.

The researchers had 151 students come to the lab for a lunch consisting of 300 g of rice, served on a plain plastic plate.

Three hours after finishing the meal, the researchers split the students into 5 groups:

  1. Recall+enlargement group: These students thought about their lunch, then listened to an audio recording that prompted them to imagine their meal was bigger and more filling than in reality.
  2. Recall+rumination group: Students in this group also recalled their lunch, then listened to an audio recording that encouraged them to visualize eating the meal in great detail.
  3. Recall+handling group: These students thought about their lunch, then listened to an audio recording that prompted them to imagine moving their food around a plate.
  4. Food picture+handling group: The students in this group didn’t recall a meal. Instead, they looked at a photograph of food, then listened to an audio recording that prompted them to visualize moving the food from the photograph around a plate.
  5. Non-food+handling group: These students didn’t recall a meal. Instead, they looked at a photograph of stationary, then listened to an audio recording that encouraged them to imagine moving rubber bands and paperclips around a plate.

The researchers then gave the students three packets of cookies and asked them to rate the cookies based on taste. In reality, the taste test served no purpose other than to “blind” the students to the researchers’ true intentions: to see how many cookies each student would eat.

The results showed that the group who recalled the previous meal and imagined that it was larger and more filling than it actually was ate 32% fewer cookies during the taste test than the other groups. This meant they consumed 122 fewer calories—a significant difference, especially in the context of weight loss.

Here’s a graph to illustrate this difference:



How memories of food affect appetite



The researchers offered two theories for why this strategy might work.

First, it may be connected to interoception, which is your ability to perceive your body’s fullness or hunger signals. In other words, recalling your previous meal as larger and more filling than it was may help you evaluate your present level of hunger or fullness, which can help you avoid mindlessly overeating

This is somewhat in line with research on “mindful eating,” which shows that the more you concentrate on eating rather than distractions like what’s on TV or your phone, the less likely you are to overeat. 

Second, it may be that recalling your previous meal as larger and more filling than it was creates a “sensory shadow.” This means that your body “reactivates” the satiety signals originally associated with the meal, influencing how full you feel at subsequent mealtimes. 

These are interesting theories, but until more research replicates these findings, we won’t fully understand the underlying mechanisms. Nevertheless, this is a low-risk, potentially high-reward strategy worth trying if you struggle with overeating. 

Another interesting finding from this study was that after the cookie tasting, the researchers gave the students 500 g of rice and a plain plastic plate and asked them to recreate the meal they ate at lunch, taking care to make the portion as similar in size as possible.

The researchers thought that the students who reimagined their meals as larger would overestimate how much they ate. However, all the students underestimated how much they’d eaten, especially those who imagined having more food than they did.

This is yet more proof that people are reliably poor at estimating how much food they eat, which is one of the main reasons so many people scupper their weight-loss efforts.

What’s the solution?

Calculate your calories and macros. Plan your meals based on what you find. And track your food intake accurately. 

And if you need help with any of these steps and want an expert to guide you through the process, contact Legion’s VIP one-on-one coaching service to set up a free consultation. Click here to check it out.)

TL;DR: Imaging your previous meal as larger and more filling than it was before eating a subsequent meal helps you eat less, which may help you lose weight.

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