Love ‘em or hate ‘em squats deserve a place in almost everybody’s workout. No exercise works your legs like squats, and in terms of muscle and strength-building potential, they’re hard to beat.
However, while most people’s go-to squat variations are barbell front and back squats, there are plenty of other ways to perform the king of exercises.
In this guide, we lift the lid on kettlebell sumo squats. Add this exercise to your leg workouts to light up your glutes and hammer your inner thighs and quads. It’s super safe and the perfect movement for home lifters.
Kettlebell sumo squats are a compound leg exercise, meaning they work multiple muscles and involve two or more joints. In fact, this move works virtually every muscle from your waist down.
The main muscles trained during sumo kettlebell squats are:
The quadriceps, or quads for short, is a group of four muscles that are responsible for extending your knees. The four quads are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.
Known as the glute max for short, this is the largest and strongest muscle in the human body. Basically your butt, the glute max is responsible for hip extension, but some of its fibers are also involved in hip adduction and abduction, as well as external rotation.
Located on the back of your thighs, the hamstrings are a group of three muscles that are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension. The three hamstring muscles are the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris.
The abductor muscles lift your legs out and away from the midline of your body. Wide-stance sumo squats are very abductor-centric. The main abductor muscles are the gluteus minimus and medius and the tensor fascia latae. These muscles or located on the side of your hip and thigh.
The adductors are located on the inside of your thighs, and there are three of them – longus, brevis, and magnus. The role of the adductors is to draw your legs into the midline of your body. Sumo squats require and develop good adductor flexibility.
Core is the collective name for the muscles of your midsection, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae. These muscles support and stabilize your lumbar spine during sumo squats, preventing unwanted movement, such as leaning sideways or rounding your lower back.
While Kettlebell sumo squats are predominately a leg exercise, there are upper body muscles involved, too. These include:
However, unless you use a VERY heavy dumbbell, none of these muscles work particularly hard and won’t get much of a workout. So, if you want to train your upper body, you should target it directly with pushing and pulling exercises.
Get more from kettlebell sumo squats while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum by following these guidelines:
Not convinced kettlebell sumo squats deserve a place in your workouts? Consider these benefits and then decide!
The sumo kettlebell squat is quite a natural movement. It mimics how most people will stand and bend down to pick a weight off the floor, such as a grocery bag or child. As such, it’s usually easier to learn than the barbell front or back squat, which can feel unnatural and even slightly intimidating at first.
Unlike barbell back squats, kettlebell sumo squats put relatively little pressure on your lower back. Your torso tends to remain more upright, which means less stress for your lumbar spine. As such, this is an excellent exercise for lifters wishing to avoid lower back pain.
With no barbell resting on your back, you can push your muscles to failure without having to worry about getting pinned under a heavy weight. Simply lower or drop the weight to the floor when you’ve reached your limit.
Unless you are proficient in the Steinborn squat, most weighted squat exercises are best done using a squat or power rack. That’s no problem if you train in a gym, but home lifters may not have access to such equipment. With no squat rack required, you can do kettlebell sumo squats at home, or anyplace you can find a kettlebell to train with.
While kettlebell sumo squats are a mostly beneficial exercise, there are also a couple drawbacks to consider:
Kettlebells are available in a range of weights but tend to top out at around 85-100 pounds in most gyms. Heavier kettlebells are available, but they’re a rarity rather than the norm. As such, you may find that your gym doesn’t have big enough kettlebells to challenge you.
If your grip isn’t strong enough, you could find that your hands fail before your legs during kettlebell sumo squats. This is especially true if you use heavy weights. You may need to use lifting straps to overcome this drawback.
Kettlebell sumo squats are a highly effective lower-body exercise, but that doesn’t mean you need to do them all the time. There are several variations and alternatives you can use to keep your workouts productive and interesting:
One of the main drawbacks of regular kettlebell sumo squats is that your grip can stop you from lifting heavy weights or doing the maximum number of reps. Doing sumo squats with your kettlebell in the goblet position eliminates this problem, leaving you free to focus on working your legs to their limit.
If you want to lift the heaviest possible weights, barbell sumo squats are the way to do it. Perform this exercise in a squat rack for safety, as getting stapled under a heavy barbell can cause serious injuries.
Not everyone wants to lift heavy weights. In fact, for some exercisers, it’s unnecessary and may even be dangerous. If you have knee pain, hip pain, are an older exerciser, or are more into fitness than bodybuilding, you don’t need to load up with heavy bars and kettlebells. Plie squats are a bodyweight exercise, so they’re ideal for less hardcore lifters and exercisers.
The barbell sumo deadlift is very similar to kettlebell sumo squats. In fact, if you start your kettlebell sumo squat with the weight resting on the floor, it actually IS a deadlift! Regardless, the barbell sumo deadlift is an excellent hip and glute exercise and is far easier on your lower back than conventional deadlifts.
Read more about the sumo deadlift here.
Related: Sumo vs. Conventional Deadlifts
Lateral or side lunges are a sort of one-legged sumo squat. Moving sideways means you’ll be working your glutes and hips in abduction and adduction, just like kettlebell sumo squats. However, emphasizing one leg at a time means more overload for the target muscles and an opportunity to identify and fix left-to-right strength imbalances.
Primary: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, abductors, adductors.
Unlike kettlebell sumo squats, dumbbell squats are usually done with a narrower stance. This takes some work away from the hip abductors and adductors and puts it on the quadriceps. So, if you want to work your thighs more than your butt, this could be the perfect alternative for you.
While we’re the first to admit that Bulgarian split squats look nothing like kettlebell sumo squats, both exercises work the same muscles. That’s because single-leg exercises like split squats force you to stabilize your hips and knees, firing up the abductors and adductors just like sumo squats.
Read more: Bulgarian split squat guide
Do you have a question about kettlebell sumo squats or leg training in general? That’s okay because we’ve got the answer!
We used to think that you needed to do a certain number of reps to achieve specific fitness goals. For example, 6-12 was for hypertrophy or muscle building, and 15-20 was for endurance.
It turns out that, providing you take your sets to within a couple of reps of failure, your muscles will adapt and grow even if you do 30 reps per set. So, rather than try and hit a specific rep target, just do as many reps as possible before your form breaks down or the burn in your muscles is so bad that you cannot continue.
The only exception to this guideline is when training for brute strength. In this case, low reps with heavy weights are most effective, so aim for 3-5 reps per set. However, this is probably impractical with kettlebell sumo squats.
In terms of the number of sets, 3-5 should be sufficient for most people. If you feel you can do more, you probably aren’t trying hard enough!
Most muscle groups respond best to being trained twice a week, e.g., Monday and Thursday. This provides a good balance between work and rest. You can work your legs more often, but this could impair recovery and hurt your progress.
One workout per week can also be effective, but only if you do a lot of exercises and sets, which may be impractical for some people. Plus, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) tends to be worse when you only train a body part once a week.
Most exercises are safe when performed correctly and with an appropriate weight. That said, kettlebell sumo squats are especially low risk because if you cannot complete a rep, you can just drop the weight on the floor. Compared to barbell sumo squats, kettlebell sumo squats are a little safer and a good choice for injury-conscious exercisers.
Unfortunately, this question is unanswerable because we don’t know how strong you are. For some people, a 12kg/26lb kettlebell will be sufficient, but others will need something heavier, such as 34kg/75lb.
So, use the heaviest weight you can handle with good technique, and that allows you to hit the number of reps you want to do. This could be low reps if you only have access to a heavy weight to train with or higher reps if you’ve only got a light kettlebell.
Your body is super-smart in some ways but as dumb as a potato in others. For example, you can teach your body to perform complex tasks without thinking, yet it can’t tell the difference between barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
Providing an exercise is hard enough, it really doesn’t matter how you overload your muscles. So, use whatever training tools you have available, and don’t get FOMO if you don’t have the “right” equipment, as it really doesn’t matter all that much.
The kettlebell sumo squat is a great way to develop your entire lower body with a useful emphasis on your hips, abductors, and adductors. Most leg exercises are done with a medium-width stance, which is ideal for hitting your quads. However, this can mean your abductors and adductors end up being neglected.
Weak abductors and adductors can lead to hip instability and injuries and will also affect your lower body aesthetics. Because of this, at least some of your leg training should be done using a wider-than-normal stance.
Any wide stance exercise will get the job done, but kettlebell sumo squats are a particularly good choice.
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