In Part One of The 5 Best Exercises for Sumo Wrestlers, I discussed the importance of training a lot of key lifts that carryover into sumo and improve one or more fitness quantities sumo requires. This is a continuation of part one, and I suggest reading the first article to review some of the basic needs of sumo and what traits are most important for you to develop. The following exercises are focused mainly on power development.
6. The Barbell Hang Clean
Power development and overall training to be explosive cannot be overlooked or overemphasized when lifting for sumo. It’s incredibly important to be able to express both your speed and strength in one or multiple successive swifts motions. You also need to express these qualities in multiple directions given the sheer number of angles you should be proficient in moving in. Training squats and deadlifts for speed in addition to strength is one way to increase your explosiveness. It can be quite valuable to do so, and also valuable to train a few key Olympic lifts.
From my perspective, the hang clean is one of the easier Olympic lifts to learn that also has a big carryover to sumo. It requires you to drive your hips forward into the barbell to bring it up, and shrugging your shoulders, then dropping your hips into a deep squat very quickly, and finally drive the weight back up with your lower body while your upper body is fully engaged to maintain control of the barbell. In a lot of kimarite, it’s essential to drop your center of gravity below your opponents before driving them up and back out of the ring. To do this whole movement faster than your opponent can respond to it is key and by training the barbell hang clean, you’re training yourself to be able to execute a lot of winning techniques with greater speed.
As it is a power movement, it should be trained for very few reps in each set. No more than 4-6 reps at a time with as few as just one per set.
This movement is one of the few exercises in which you shouldn’t force a wide stance. Both during the beginning and end stance, allow your feet to be either directly under your shoulders or slightly outside of shoulder-width. If your feet naturally separate a little wider once you drive down into the squat, then go with it.
7. Push Press
This is probably one of the easiest power movements you can learn and become proficient in quickly. For sumo, a ton of your strength, if not most of it, will come from your lower body. I find this to be true to the extent that I’d rather have a massively strong lower body and decently strong upper body than vice versa. A sumo with a weak upper body can still have a fighting chance in the dohyo but one with weak legs is largely fighting an uphill battle. The push press is a movement that can be drilled over and over again, and no matter if you’re a novice or advanced lifter, you will still derive more power from it. It is most valuable in establishing and strengthening the connection of power between your lower body (where it originates) and the upper body (where it most likely must go to either defend or offend against your opponent rikishi). The grip width can also be altered based on the size of your opponent (lightweight vs. heavyweight which have broader shoulders) or to strengthen the specific placement of your power points on your opponents in the tachi-ai.
The barbell version of the push press is best for developing these attributes, but you can also use one arm variations with a dumbbell or even a kettlebell if you’d like to work more on the side of the body you have the most trouble with power transfer with (most likely your non-dominant side).
8. One Arm Snatch
Since we’re talking about the importance of having a close balance between power transfer of both sides of your body, lets bring this one up. The one arm clean and snatch is one of my favorites, not only because it resembles a brutally simple gold-standard of the oldtime strongman competitions/circus’, but because you start it in a hugely sumo-specific stance. Your hips are high with your legs pretty much already in your starting stance, with your eyes forward, chin-tucked, ready to drive yourself forward. This movement is absolutely superb for developing hip drive from the ground all the way up into only one of your hands. As long as your lifting this with weight that’s heavy for 4-6 reps, you can’t complete this movement properly without some serious hip drive. This forces you to drive your hips forward fast which resembles exactly what a sumo needs to do when working the dohyo’s edge and driving their opponent outside with quick successive or non-successive hip thrusts.
9. Stationary Slideboard Lunge and its Variations
Before I began sumo and even now, I trained in the martial art of So Bahk Do, which is similar to Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do in that it includes forms, grabs, sparring, etc. Training in the art has been incredibly helpful in developing physical and mental traits needed for sumo, including helping me to train my body to drive at the hips first with everything else following. This has benefited my sumo tremendously and I wholeheartedly recommend trying to supplement your sumo practice with another form of martial arts like So Bahk Do. Nonetheless, the art involves many techniques where your feet leave the ground, either one or both at a time. After a few months in the art, I competed in my first US Open in LA, California and during a few of the matches I realized I had developed the habit of “staying high” by not keeping my feet close to the ground. My heels weren’t in full contact with the dohyo much of the time. It was a big weakness that needed correction and one very helpful tool I used for it were slideboards.
Slideboards are usually used for lunge or push up variations. The lunge variations are fantastic for strengthening your lunge in any direction while training you to keep your heels down. The easiest variation you can use to keep your heels down is the side slideboard lunge. Trying to drive your hips back and low to the ground in this exercise will not only increase one’s strength out of the bottom of a lunge but also improves hip mobility, along with training you to keep your hips back since at the deepest part of this movement, you can only get lower by driving your hips farther back.
Many times in sumo, you may find yourself in a lockup where you need to drop your weight quick into a deep lunge with your front leg bent greatly at the knee while your back leg is completely straight. Trying to get comfortable in this position for an extended period of time (more than 6 seconds) isn’t easy and staying in this position can easily wear a sumo out. Holding the bottom of a slideboard lunge, no matter if it’s the forward, side or rear version, for at least a 4 second count can improve your endurance in this stance.
I find the lateral lunge to be the most helpful to train as lateral strength training is usually neglected yet still very important in a ton of kimarite. The front and rear variation are still helpful nonetheless.
10. Med ball floor slams
When I was in Tokyo training with the Nihon University Sumo Team, I heard one phrase more than anything else. I didn’t speak Japanese at the time so I couldn’t interpret or even understand most of their suggestions, but there was one word that was shouted at me over and over again:
To this day, it’s a brutally simple suggestion that just works. In most instances, if you push hard and harder than the other rikishi, you tend to win. Yet, I believe a lot of rikishi struggle with when to do the opposite; specifically, when should they push and when they should pull. Consistent practice in the dohyo will clearly improve your ability to know when to pull, but in terms of strength training, med ball slams are pretty damn good at helping you pull hard and fast. Using the heaviest med ball you can find, adopt a wide stance squatting position and start with it directly over head with your arms straight. Slam the ball down directly in front of you but by initiating the movement with a fast backwards hip drive. Your arms are an extension of your hips, so make sure you begin this brutally explosive movement with your hips. I recommend completing it for 4-8 reps. Using a med ball that will bounce back up to hip height will help keep you in motion throughout the entire set and even improve your reactive ability.
This movement will largely improve your ability to drive your opponent down to the ground with a fast hip retraction while your upper body pulls them down either behind their head, shoulders or mawashi. Executing this quickly will strengthen your body’s ability to respond to your opponent if they over-commit to a pushing technique.