5 More Fantastic Lifts for Sumo Wrestlers – Part Two

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:

PUSH!!!

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.

 

The 5 Best Exercises for Sumo Wrestlers – Part One

 

vintage sumo photo newspaper

There are a ton of ways athletes can train for sumo. Like many other martial arts, most of the conventional training tends to consist of centuries-old bodyweight drills that are practiced in an almost universal order, most days of the week, and without fail. These include shiko, suriashi, butsukari, matches, koshiwari squats, and matawari stretches. These training methods have worked for the vast majority of sumo wrestlers to develop fantastic power, strength and endurance needed to compete in high-level sumo. I believe these are called the basics for a reason. They help in developing the necessary attributes of successful sumo wrestlers.

For those of you who have trouble practicing with other sumos on a regular basis, using the following weightlifting equivalents will help to improve your sumo.

A Brief Reasoning for All Basics and Their Lift Equivalent:

1. On Stretching and Shiko

shiko

Mobilizing the hips is incredibly important in sumo, and if you lack adequate hip mobility, you will most likely not be able to get into a lower starting position than your opponent. In a sport where having the lowest center of gravity is incredibly important to achieving success, it is imperative to have mobile hips. One of the best ways to develop greater hip mobility does not necessarily even involve direct stretching. Most people tend to assume that hamstring stretches are the best way to deepen your hips in the starting stance (increase hip mobility), and that may loosen up the hamstrings somewhat to lessen the pull on the hips, but there’s an even better option than focusing on stretching…and it’s called, yes, you guessed it, shiko.

How to Shiko

Besides increasing balance, body awareness, placement of two major power points, endurance, and other physical qualities, shiko increases hip mobility and with more specificity than any other drill/exercise can (with a possible exception to the barbell back squat or some deadlifting variations). The reason why shiko works the best is simple. It puts you in the most sports-specific position, the starting position, AND it requires you to produce force in four different directions (up, down, left, right). Also, when you’re training your hips to get deeper in the starting stance, shiko adds load (your upper bodyweight) to it and therefore helps you get deeper. When training, I recommend aiming for at least 100 shiko for the beginner and 200 for the intermediate sumo every time you practice. I find it best to complete this first in each practice as building mobilized hips leads to higher-functioning hips for the successive drills.

 

The Weightlifting Equivalent: Barbell Back Squat

Peary raders barbell back squat

There are numerous exercises that, with simply adding weight, can resemble shiko and can increase may attributes that shiko increases. For example, slideboard side lunges can help in power point placement of the feet along with keeping your feet on the ground at all times. Even barbell sumo deadlifts can help your starting stance in not only getting you deeper, but also in exerting a lot of forward hip drive in the tachi-ai. I like this one particularly because it somewhat isolates your hips to be the main source of force production in the whole range of motion of the exercise, which is key in a whole host of winning techniques in sumo. Regardless, I believe nothing can beat the barbell back squat. The main reason I say that is because you can load the bar up with a ton of weight (much more than any other squatting variation) and exert force in a position where your hips are kept back at the highest point in the range of motion. This motion is training your hips to stay back in the tachi-ai and explode forward at your opponent while keeping you mawashi back and hopefully out of their reach. If your style of winning relies heavily on a fast tachi-ai, then barbell back squats can contribute even more to your performance in the dohyo.

 

2. Power Point Placement, Staying low, and Suriashi

suriashi

Suriashi is, in my opinion, about preparing the body to transfer power from the hips into the extremities and specifically to the power points of the body. When executing this drill I believe it’s key to focus most on where the five power points end up with each and every step. The hip drive you produce in each step means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t transfer into the feet and hands where it would be most effective against the opponent. Suriashi also drills the body to stay low to the dohyo no matter the direction you’re moving in.

 

The weight training equivalent: Med ball wall ball variations

med ball lateral throw with step

Most med ball throwing variations are applicable to sumo and specifically help improve the traits that suriashi improves. If you place yourself relatively far away from a wall and cannot hit the wall using a heavy med ball with only the force your arms produce, then the hips must generate force to ultimately help you hit your target. Training with this exercise can help improve one’s tachi-ai if the ball is heavy enough (and it should be very heavy) and/or if the execution of the throw is difficult enough. Also, if you’re executing multiple reps, the rebound requires you to learn how to accept force and ultimately throw that force back. Being able to turn your opponent’s force against them is key in numerous winning sumo techniques. You can also modify this exercise to keep your hips (and therefore mawashi) back and generate most of the force from your leg movements. Some may argue this is even somewhat akin to a very brief butsukari.

 

The Best Four Med Ball Variations for sumo (in order of carryover to sumo):

  • Deep-squatting med ball wall balls
  • Med ball lateral throws with step
  • Med ball lateral throws without step
  • Med ball sprinter throws

 

 

3. Butsukari and the Driving Force

butsukari

It can be argued that nothing will help improve one’s pushing ability quite like butsukari. I see this drill as a very raw movement pattern that isn’t complicated for the perfect reason: it’s all about the push. There’s no turning involved. It’s a simple upwards and forward linear movement pattern. In sumo, the majority of winning techniques involve some sort of push at one time or another. This drill can also increase the power of your tachi-ai.

 

The weight training equivalent: Prowler pushes

prowler push

Pushing a weighted prowler approximately the distance (or even double the distance) of a dohyo can emulate and even enhance the regular attributes a normal butsukari improves. Notably the largest improvement will most likely be your rate of force production. Your power point placement will also be improved if you aim for specific spots on the prowler handles. In addition, it can help grip agility, which will improve the speed at which you can get a hold of your opponent’s mawashi and your pure grip strength once you’ve gotten there.

The best type of prowler to use is one that has a solid, but somewhat soft surface to hit if you want to come up from the starting position on the ground. If all you’re concerned about is improving your pushing power, then a prowler with only two handles is fine.

 

4. Hip Drive and Barbell Sumo Deadlifts

hip drive and sumo

Hip drive is paramount in sumo. A lot of kimarite (winning techniques) require proper execution of a forward hip drive. For example, if you’re working your opponent to the edge of the dohyo, you may need to exert a lot of force forward to ultimately push them out. At times this must be done by extending your hips forward. If you have a weak thrust, then the strength of your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back may be the issue. A great way to strengthen most of these is by training your sumo deadlifts. Rather than using a kettlebell or dumbbells, opt for the regular barbell version to be able to load on as much weight as possible.

Much like the sumo barbell squat, this exercise can be even more valuable if you adopt the EXACT stance of your starting stance in the ring. You’ll get greater hip mobility out of it in addition to getting more comfortable exerting force from that low starting position. Both speed and force are key in this movement, so I recommend training at both moderate weights at a high speed and heavy weights at a moderate speed. Be as explosive as possible at every weight. Make sure to lock out the hips at the very top in each and every rep.

sumo deadlifts vintage

5. The Big Push and the Incline Barbell Bench Press

I’d like to see a sumo easily dominate in a match without pushing. It can be done, but the vast majority of kimarite involves some sort of push. There are a ton of directions in a match that you’re going to be pushing in. Some may think the conventional flat bench press is the best for developing your ability to push hard and fast. In reality, most of the time you’re going to be exerting force with your upper body forwards but at an upwards angle, where your shoulders (and sometimes only forearms) are at about 120 degrees from the ground. This essentially means that the strength of your incline barbell bench press can be a great strength test to figure out how much force you can exert with your upper body alone. Not only that, but because of its impact on your pushing ability, it’s a lift that I believe should be routinely trained and also consistently trained throughout the full range of motion.

push

The position of your grip on the bar is also a big point of emphasis. You want to train this lift with a grip that’s similar to where your hands ultimately end up on your opponent when going in for a butsukari. A grip that is right outside shoulder width or slightly wider tends to feel best for most people’s shoulders.

incline barbell bench press

 

Check back soon for the follow-up post on more sumo-specific lifts. This is only part one!

Note: This article is based heavily on how I was taught in Japan to train for sumo wrestling. Your sumo knowledge may come from a completely different background than me, so feel free to constructively criticize anything I say in the comments below. If you are from another country than the USA, and would like to share your training philosophy, you are more than welcome to.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Traditional Sumo Practice Compatible With Strength Training?

Before the 1950’s, American coaches and also somewhat worldwide, shunned weight training because they feared it would make their athletes tight with no substantial benefit above slightly improved performance. That belief changed over time. Now its near impossible to find an American sports team that doesn’t supplement their sports practice with strength and conditioning.

Sumo wrestling, as a sport soaked in tradition and cultural influences from Japan, is still full of practitioners (coaches, athletic trainers, and those who assist rikishi) who are completely against weight training. Yet times are changing and the Japanese are slowly realizing that the immense benefits of strength training outweigh the drawbacks. They are realizing there are ways to self-mobilize the hip joint that are nontraditional just as they are seeing the options for expanding training variability without diminishing the gains made from the sumo practice itself. Variability that allows the soft tissues to rest/heal while promoting enhanced blood flow to the areas that are constantly starving for oxygen which can cause pain leading to movement disorders and ultimately hip labrum injuries, etc. There are other ways people!

Listen. The pillar of tradition that supports sumo wrestling is what drew me into the sport in the very beginning. Tradition is the sport. I believe that the tradition is what sets us apart from other sports like football, soccer, baseball, or any one that involves exalting oneself more than the sport. To further the sport on the world stage, and especially America, people should be encouraging and helping other rikishi to become better athletes by any means possible. And this is how I contribute to the sport; to give back to the sport for providing me with more opportunities than could be offered by any other sport. Join me in building up this community of sumo’s who want more out of their training. They have the potential and now they can have our help.

This site is about supplementing sumo wrestling practice with strength training that uses external weight AND bodyweight methods among other apparatus’ like bands, boxes, slide-boards. Adding those training protocols to the siriashi, butscarri, sheiko, and other superb movements found in the sports practice can have a dramatic effect on a rikishi’s performance in the dohyo.

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