How to Do Sumo Squats to Strengthen Your Inner Thighs

Add the sumo squat to your lower-body fitness routine, and your legs, hips, and knees are sure to thank you.

Photo: Jenna Brillhart

Squats are the bread and butter of lower-body exercises. And for good reason: The staple exercise is relatively simple to learn, hits multiple muscle groups, and doesn't require equipment. But if you're leaving certain squat variations — particularly the sumo squat — on the table, you could be missing out on valuable perks for your legs, hips, and knees.

Here, fitness experts break down the key reasons why the sumo squat should be a staple in your fitness routine and share the muscles the exercise works. Plus, they explain how to do the classic sumo squat and share modification and progression ideas worth putting to the test.

How to Do Sumo Squats

A sumo squat is pretty darn similar to a traditional squat — you'll sit back into your hips and bend your knees to lower your butt to the floor. The key difference, however, is your stance. Specifically, your feet will be a few inches wider than shoulder-width — not hip-width — apart, and your toes will be turned out to 45-degree angles rather than pointing straight forward, says Edith Partida, C.PT., C.E.S., P.P.S.C., an NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. "If someone came and tried to push you over, you should be able to stay grounded," she says.

Need help visualizing the lower-body exercise? Watch Rachel Mariotti, an NCSF-certified personal trainer in New York City, demonstrate the sumo squat below.

A. Stand with feet slightly three to four inches wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out to a 45-degree angle. Clasp hands in front of chest.

B. On an inhale, sit back into hips and bend knees to lower until thighs are parallel or almost parallel with floor, keeping chest up and preventing back from rounding.

C. On an exhale, press through feet to straighten legs and return to standing.

The Key Sumo Squat Benefits

The sumo squat may look simple, but it packs a punch of benefits for your lower-body strength and joints. Here's what to know.

Strengthens Inner Thighs

Thanks to the wide stance involved, a sumo squat helps target your inner thigh muscles, known as the hip adductors, says Partida. ICYDK, the hip adductors include the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, obturator externus, and gracilis. The muscle group's main function? To provide lower-body stability. And if they're not strong enough to provide that support, you may develop lower back pain, Leigha VandenToorn, C.S.C.S., P.P.S.C., an NASM-certified personal trainer, previously told Shape.

While you can use the hip adductor machine at the gym or perform reverse clamshells on the floor to get those inner thigh muscles working, those moves are isolation exercises, meaning they call on just one muscle group and one joint, says Partida. A sumo squat, on the other hand, is a compound exercise that utilizes multiple muscle groups (including your glutes, hamstrings, and quads) and joints. The result: You'll get much more bang for your buck by mixing sumo squats into your routine, says Partida.

Relieves Hip Flexor Tightness

If you sit at a desk from 9 to 5 every single day, there's a good chance your hip flexors feel seriously tight, says Partida. The discomfort may seem like NBD, but when muscles are tight in any area of your body, another muscle group (in the case of tight hip flexors, the lower back) may overcompensate for that lack of mobility, resulting in additional strain to the healthy muscles, Amanda Butler, an NASM-certified trainer and instructor on fitness app Onyx, previously told Shape. The good news: Doing a few sets of sumo squats can help ease that tightness, says Partida. "This is a great movement just to open those hips up," she explains. "Doing a bodyweight sumo squat and holding it at the bottom, just to get that nice, good stretch, for anywhere between 12 to 15 reps will be a great variation for that person who sits at their desk all day."

Puts Less Pressure On Knees

Compared to traditional squats, sumo squats place less stress on the knee joint, says Partida. "You're getting so many more muscle groups working, especially those inner thighs, so that helps put less pressure on the knee itself," she explains. "That's why I like to use this movement for people who have knee pain." It's also easier to limit your range of motion in a sumo squat than in a traditional squat, says Partida, so folks with knee issues don't have to worry about dropping too low into the movement for comfort.

Sumo Squat Muscles Worked

Along with your hip adductors and hip flexors, a sumo squat also targets your glutes, particularly the glute medius and glute minimus — muscles that are responsible for moving your leg away from the center of the body and rotating it inward, says Partida. (FTR, a traditional squat will primarily activate your glute maximus, she adds.) "You're also going to get a little bit more calf work compared to your normal-stance squat because your toes are flared out," says Partida. As with a traditional squat, the exercise will also challenge your quads, hamstrings, and core, adds Mariotti.

Sumo Squat Variations

If you give the classic sumo squat a try and realize it's not your cup of tea, you've got options.

Modification: Sumo Squat with Isometric Hold

If you're not yet ready to repeatedly practice the sumo squat's full range of motion, try adding an isometric hold, suggests Mariotti. Instead of dropping down into a squat, pressing back up to standing, and repeating the process a dozen or so times, you'll lower down into the squat and hold that position for about 30 seconds, she explains. This modification will help you become comfortable with the proper technique before adding in dynamic movement, she says.

Progression: Sumo Squat with Overhead Press

Ready to level up the bodyweight sumo squat? Try slowing down your reps or adding a brief pause at the bottom to increase the time under tension or jumping as you rise back up to standing to test your power, suggests Partida. If you have a dumbbell handy, you can hold the weight in front of your chest in a goblet position to build strength, she says. Or, you can follow Mariotti's lead and do an overhead press while in the squat position. "You'll use your core and abdominal strength to press from that position, and it's going to put a little bit more resistance on your hips, so there's [an added] stability [challenge] when you're pressing the weight overhead," says Mariotti.

Common Sumo Squat Mistakes

As you lower down into your squat, remember to keep your kneecaps in line with your big toes and prevent the knees from caving inward, which helps prevent irritation in the joint, says Partida. You'll also want to avoid rounding your lower back or leaning your torso forward, which could be signs you're experiencing tightness or mobility issues in your hip flexors or are lacking core strength, she adds. In that case, try mixing hip flexor stretches and core-focused exercises into your routine to help resolve those issues and perfect your sumo squat form.

How to Add Sumo Squats to Your Routine

While anyone can benefit from tackling sumo squats, folks who have lower back issues may find the move particularly valuable, says Mariotti; the exercise doesn't involve as much of a hip hinge as a traditional squat, so it puts less strain on the lower back, she explains. Runners may also want to mix sumo squats into their routine, as the leg-dominant sport may cause tight hip flexors and hip adductors, adds Partida. "Runners would benefit greatly from sumo squats just to help open up those hips," she adds. Finally, pregnant folks may find the sumo squat to be more comfortable than the traditional squat, as there's more space for their growing bellies, says Partida.

Generally speaking, the sumo squat doesn't come with any major red flags, and it's typically safe for most individuals to practice, says Partida. However, if you recently had an injury or surgery on your hips or knees, make sure you get the all-clear from your physical therapist or health-care provider before giving the exercise a shot, she says.

Thanks to the exercise's perks for your joints and lower-body strength, Partida recommends incorporating sumo squats into your workout routine at least once a week, either using just your bodyweight or dumbbells, barbells, and other tools. While the exact amount of reps and sets you should perform depends on your goals, experience level, and other factors, a good rule of thumb is to start with three sets of 10 to 15 reps and adjust from there, says Partida. Trust, your legs will be glad you did.

Photography and art: Jenna Brillhart
Model and fitness expert: Rachel Mariotti
Wardrobe: SET Active

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