SDHP: Stupid, Dangerous, Hazardous to Performance

As some of you may have noticed, there is one movement we do not teach or perform at CrossFit Balance: the sumo deadlift high pull. There is a very simple reason for this: it's dumb.

The first and most important priority of any coach is the safety of his or her clients -- at least it should be. Through firsthand experience, knowledge of basic anatomy, and seeing the movement in action, we believe the SDHP is not safe and therefore not worth doing. Instead, we'll resort to more useful exercises such as kettlebell swings and cleans.

But wait, everything is in black & white, except for his shirt.
So SDHP's have to be cool, right?

Now, rather than have you listen to me rant on about this subject, some experts far more intelligent than myself have weighed in already. We'll start with the following quote from Eric Cressey regarding the upright row, a movement nearly identical in its finishing position to the SDHP:

"I don't believe in contraindicated exercises, only contraindicated individuals. But if there's one exercise that'll ever push me over the line, it's going to be the upright row. This is as internally rotated as the humerus will get, and you're elevating the humerus right into the impingement zone on every rep. For that reason, I'll never write upright rows into a program. The dumbbell version is a slightly safer alternative, although I feel that there are still much safer ways to challenge the upper traps and deltoids. To summarize, if you've ever had a shoulder problem or are at risk, you'd be wise to omit upright rows altogether." -Eric Cressey, on T-Nation

Cressey is known in the strength & conditioning world as "the shoulder guy" and rightfully so. He, along with associate physical therapist Mike Reinold, have managed over $1 billion in shoulders. How is that possible? They've worked with countless professional baseball players, particularly pitchers.

Next is this excerpt from a Performance Menu Journal article written by renowned weightlifting coach, Greg Everett:

"I lumped this exercise in with medicine ball cleans as 'silliness' I ostensibly wouldn't allow with my own clients. This is a minor objection, but my view is simply this: Why not just perform a deadlift high-pull? What advantage does a sumo stance provide for this exercise other than making it easier, and why would we want to make it easier? If, for conditioning, we're interested in moving large loads long distances quickly, why would we shorten the distance we can possibly move the weight, and particularly in a manner that reduces the work of the legs and hips but maintains the work of the shoulders and arms?

I actually use kettlebell deadlift high-pulls in our On-Ramp program, but following those few exposures, it never comes up again. Once out of the beginning stages of learning, our clients no longer need such an exercise - they can deadlift, clean, snatch and the like with various implements. I'm not completely averse to ever doing high-pulls, as I do feel they have their place in certain situations, but the reality is that in large and frequent doses, they encourage habits that interfere with clean and snatch technique, which is already difficult enough to teach to generalists. The SDHP is absolutely not an acceptable substitute for the clean, and it should not be considered a part of a teaching progression for the clean. It is strictly a metabolic workout exercise, and, in my opinion, is not one of the better options available."
-Greg Everett, PM Journal Issue 75

This = more powerful than a SDHP.

And lastly, we have this awesome post from Dallas Hartwig, physical therapist and co-owner/operator of Whole9 - check it out, it's a great resource. I don't want to repost his entire article, so instead, it can be read here. Give it a read. It's short, informative, and has pictures!

So, mostly for the reasons mentioned above, you will not see sumo deadlift high pulls in our programming. And also, because it's dumb. Whatever this movement is trying to accomplish, can be done much safer and more effectively through other means. It's not worth the risk.

In any event, in your travels to another CrossFit gym, you may encounter a workout that employs the SDHP. Luckily, Kelly Starrett offered this mobility prescription to make it - at least - mildly safer. Regardless, you should try to avoid this movement and, by default, avoid gyms that program it for high-reps. It's dumb and you're not (I hope).


  1. I'm a PT and a CrossFit Athlete/Level 1 Trainer. I have been telling people about the dangers of improper technique with SDHP for years. And that the "proper technique" in the youtube videos are almost universally impingement makers. I even did a seminar about shoulders for CrossFit Anacortes and CrossFit Unbound in Oak Harbor in which avoiding impingement position with SDHP and other movements was prominent (the third movement of the Burgener Warmup is also almost universally done incorrectly, pushing hard and fast into impingement). So it's nice to see others with the same professional opinion. However, there IS a "proper", non-impingment technique to SDHP. If you separate the hands slightly more apart on the bar than typically recommended, focus on the hip drive bringing the bar above the clavicle (which is the only height standard in CF), slightly lean back in the finish, and ensure that at the very top, the elbows do not go higher than the hands (neutral rotation), there is no impingement except in athletes with severe tendinosis or grade III acromion processes. For those folks, I would definitely put SDHP on the shelf. And it is true that even for those without shoulder problems, getting through the learning curve to the point of perfect form might involve plenty of bed form reps and potential injury.

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