Kettlebell Sumo High Pull — How To, Variations and Muscles Worked

Kettlebell Sumo High Pull Guide

The kettlebell sumo high pull (or kettlebell sumo deadlift high pull) is a functional exercise that also builds strength and muscle throughout the entire body. It combines a deadlift and upright row, and, therefore isn’t just a simple movement which is why it’s so effective.

Consequently, it’s not the best option for beginners to try right out of the gate but with a little training experience, it can be a powerful choice in helping you to become more fit. 

Check out our guide that explains muscles involved, movement execution, tips, benefits, variations, and how to include this exercise in your workouts.

In This Exercise:

  • Target Muscle Group: Total body
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, and function
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Equipment: Kettlebell
  • Difficulty: Intermediate

How To Do The Kettlebell Sumo High Pull

There are various elements to this movement which means it’s not as simple to do as a biceps curl, for example. It’s also the best exercise for beginners as they should learn to do all of the parts involved before attempting this full-body lift.

We recommend doing a few sets of light shoulder lateral raises and dumbbell presses to warm up the shoulder joints. 

Here are exercise instructions for the sumo high pull.

  1. Choose your kettlebell and place it on the floor so that you can grip it with both hands.
  2. Stand over the kettlebell with feet wider than the shoulders and toes pointed slightly outward. Push your knees forward slightly over the feet toward the toes.
  3. Keeping your back straight and shoulders back, squat down just far enough to where you can grab the kettlebell with both hands.
  4. Press your feet into the ground to get a good grip and imagine you’re turning them outward but don’t actually allow your feet to move.
  5. Keep your shoulders back, core tight, and squeeze your lat muscles before you do the movement.
  6. Triple extend the ankles, knees, and hips, bringing the hips forward as you stand up, and pull the kettlebell up until the handle is about level with your chin. Keep the elbows back and not forward in front of you.
  7. Bring the kettlebell back down to the floor by reversing the motion and repeat the movement at a quick pace as shown in the video below.

Here’s a video example of this exercise… 

Kettlebell sumo high pull tips 

  • It’s okay to bring the knees forward over the feet to help keep your balance and generate enough power to execute the exercise. 
  • The exercise should be performed in a fluid motion at a decent pace. The lift and pull should be as efficient as possible. 
  • Because this exercise involves internal rotation of the shoulders, you should be careful as to not use too much weight or neglect perfect form. 

Kettlebell Sumo High Pull Benefits

There are so many benefits to doing this exercise which we’ve included below.

Strengthen your posterior chain

The sumo high pull is posterior chain focused because it includes a deadlift and pulling component. That means it will work all of the rear muscles including hamstring, glutes, back, and rear deltoids too. But the quads and core muscles also get a great workout. Many focus too much on pushing exercises which causes muscular imbalance and this exercise may be just what you need to ensure you’re well balanced.

Great time saving/one kettlebell one exercise movement

Whether you’re very short on time but still need to get in a workout or you want to do one exercise using a kettlebell, the sumo high pull could certainly fit either role quite well.

It works almost the entire body and is overall very beneficial.

Improve lifting posture

Deadlifts, squats, and other total body lifts are important because they teach and reinforce good lifting posture. This is crucial to lifting heavy and making gains but also preventing injuries.

Not to mention, they strengthen the upper back muscles that help us to maintain a good walking posture in and out of the gym.

Improve functional fitness

While you can stimulate muscle growth and get stronger by doing this movement, it’s actually more of a functional fitness exercise and something you’d see CrossFitters doing.

It’s functional for so many reasons including boosting coordination, learning body awareness, moving how the body is designed to move, strengthening your muscles, improving joint stability, and more.

Read also: Functional Strength Training: What It Is, How to Do It, and How It Will Radicalize Your Workouts

Burn more calories/lose body fat

The sumo high pull is somewhat of a faster-paced movement compared to other exercises. It also involves the entire body and most muscles which means it burns more calories – a key component of weight loss.

Done safely, it can be a great way to improve your physique while also improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Related: 5 Awesome Benefits Of Sumo Deadlift High Pulls

Kettlebell Sumo High Pull Drawbacks

We have a few gripes with the kettlebell sumo high pull. However, we still think it’s a great exercise.

Involves multiple lifts/not ideal for beginners

about the kettlebell sumo high pull it would be that it involves multiple components such as the deadlift and high pull. It’s not the best choice for beginners because they need to understand how to do these specific movements safely and correctly.

Not the best for shoulder health

So the sumo high pull and its variation do involve internal rotation of the shoulder. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will cause an injury but you should pay proper attention to form and not use heavy weights for this exercise relative to your strength ability. 

Kettlebell Sumo High Pull Variations

While the kettlebell sumo high pull is a great exercise no doubt, there are some variations that you can do to vary your training.

Barbell/dumbbell high pull

Don’t have a kettlebell? Maybe you don’t like training with kettlebells, or maybe you want to use more weight for this exercise? You can use a barbell or dumbbells instead. And actually, these are more common training tools anyhow.

Using Kettlebell Sumo High Pull In Your Training

It’s exercises like these that make us excited to train because they are different from a lot of the boring and monotonous movements that we tend to do most of the time.

Involving the whole body, the sumo high pull also includes an explosive and athletic element that makes people look forward to training.

Here are some ways we would incorporate this exercise in our workouts.

CrossFit workouts

People who do CrossFit or similar training will often incorporate similar exercises. After all, it is functional fitness and the kettlebell sumo high pull will only benefit your progress.


Circuit training involves performing several exercises one after the other with little to no rest in between. This is one of the exercises we’d add in because it’s challenging, keeps your heart rate up, and burns calories.

Straight sets

You actually don’t have to do a special workout to do this exercise. You can do the standard 3-4 sets with 30-60 seconds rest in between. This may also be the best option if you’re using heavy kettlebells because it will allow you to take longer rests in between and focus on increasing the poundages.

Sets and reps

There’s no perfect strategy here as you should train according to your goals. Although, we do recommend most people use a moderate to high rep range to protect the shoulder joint. Here are our set and rep recommendations depending on what your focus is. 

  • For strength and hypertrophy – 3 sets x 8-15 reps
  • For muscular endurance/functional fitness – 3 sets x 15-35 reps

Muscles Worked

Kettlebell Sumo High Pull Muscles Worked


The infraspinatus is one of the rotator cuff muscles along with the supraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. These muscles help to aid in the mobility and stability of the shoulder joint. The infraspinatus assists in external rotation of the shoulder joint, scaption, and lateral rotation of the humerus.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi or lats for short is a broad, flat muscle that spans the lower posterior thorax. It works with the teres major and pectoralis major to adduct and medially rotate the humerus, and it helps to extend the humerus with help from the teres major and the sternal head of pectoralis major. The lats are also involved in moving the trunk forward and upward when the arms are positioned overhead.

When developed, these muscles stick out under the armpits and resemble bat wings. 

Teres Major

The teres major is a thick muscle of the shoulder joint that medially rotates and adducts the arm and stabilizes the shoulder joint. Unlike the teres minor, it’s not a rotator cuff muscle.

Teres Minor

The teres minor is a rotator cuff muscle that, along with the other rotator cuff muscles functions to stabilize the glenohumeral joint. Its specific function is lateral, or external, rotation of the arm at the shoulder.

Trapezius Lower Fibers

The trapezius lower fibers are part of the trapezius muscle located on the upper back shaped like a trapezoid. It depresses the scapula and aids the upper fibers in upward rotation of the scapula.

Nice traps give a complete look to the physique when everything else is well developed. 

Trapezius Middle Fibers

The middle fibers of the trapezius muscle, between the upper and lower trap fibers, adduct (retract) the scapula.

Trapezius Upper fibers

The upper trap fibers elevate and upwardly rotate the scapula and also function to extend the neck. Rows and shrugs especially activate these muscles.


The brachialis is located deep to the biceps muscle on the outer portion. It’s a pure elbow flexor that gives width to the upper arm when developed.

While this muscle isn’t visible on most people, when well-developed on a leaner individual, you can see it poking through the outer upper arms between the biceps and triceps.

The brachialis does add some extra size to the upper arms and can help to fill out those sleeves just a little more.


The brachioradialis is a muscle located in the lateral forearm. It’s an elbow flexor and forearm supinator and pronator.Pulling movements and rows work this muscle.

Deltoid Posterior

The deltoid posterior, also known as the rear delts, are one of the three heads that make up the shoulder muscles. With the other two heads, the deltoid posterior assists in abducting the arm past 15 degrees. It also helps the anterior head to stabilize the arm while the lateral head abducts the arms from 15-100 degrees, and works with the latissimus dorsi to extend the arm while walking.

The rear delts are known to be a neglected muscle in the weight room. This could be for a few reasons including that they are not as popular compared to other posterior muscles, many think they get enough work from back exercises, or you cannot see these muscles when looking in the mirror.

But it’s a mistake to not give them some special attention because they do contribute to a balanced physique both functionally and aesthetically. Underdeveloped rear delts can throw off a physique especially since all pressing movements train the front delts that are often overdeveloped.

Leg muscles 

The kettlebell sumo high pull requires use of all leg muscles, including the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. 

The gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial muscle that makes up majority of the size, shape and appearance of the butt and hip muscles. It’s also one of the butt muscles that also include the gluteus medius and minimus.

It’s a very important muscle for function and aesthetics. The butt primarily extends and externally rotates the thighs and it plays an important role in helping us to maintain an upright posture.

The quadriceps or quads for short is the large group of muscles that make up most of your upper leg mass. It has four heads; rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedialis.

These muscles help to flex the hips and extend the knees during movements such as squats. They’re also important for posture, walking, and the function of the spine and pelvis.

The hamstrings is a three-headed muscle group consisting of semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris.

This muscle group is located on the back of the upper leg opposite the quads and functions to extend the hips and flex the knees. It’s important to note that the short head of the biceps femoris only crosses the knee joint and not the hip like the other two muscles.

The hamstrings play an important role in standing but also explosive activities such as sprinting and jumping.

Additionally, this three-headed muscle is active during the gait cycle to resist knee extension, plus it stabilizes the knee joints and has other functions too.


Core muscles like the abs, obliques and lower back are also involved and doing movements like the sumo high pull will strengthen these muscles too. 

The core muscles help to stabilize the trunk, bend it forward and backward and twist and rotate the midsection. 

Wrapping Up

The kettlebell sumo high pull deserves a spot in your current workout routine because it has many benefits that you can read about in this guide.

It’s more of a functional fitness type exercise that trains most muscles and especially the ones on your backside like hamstrings and glutes, core, back, and shoulders too. Whether you do CrossFit, play sports, or want to become more fit, definitely make this movement a regular in your training regime.

If you want to improve your sumo deadlift, check out our complete guide on this total-body strength-focused lift


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