What if I told you that there was an exercise that could increase your technical skills, make you sprint faster, explode out of the gate, bunny hop higher and get more ladies? Well, the deadlift may not be able to get you more ladies (washing your pads every once in a while might, though) it can do all of the other things I mentioned and more. In fact, if there was one exercise that I would say every serious mountain biker MUST be doing, it is the deadlift.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you can not deadlift properly then you can not ride your bike properly.
Just as a quick refresher the deadlift is that exercise where you walk up to a bar, or other implement, squat down, grab it and stand up with it. The deadlift is a rare exercise (in fact it is banned in some commercial gyms) and I know that the squat and leg press are more popular lower body exercises. However, when you look at the mountain bike specific advantages unique to the deadlift you’ll see why I think it is a far better option for us.
For starters, the deadlift will work your grip strength, something the squat and leg press do not. In fact, the deadlift is one of the best ways to build MTB specific grip strength (sorry, but wrist curls just don’t cut it). A stronger grip will equal less forearm pump, better control through the rough and stronger braking.
Another unique advantage the deadlift offers is the specific position you are in at the bottom. A good MTB specific deadlift has you push your butt back behind your heels as you come down, resulting in your chest lowering down to the floor. This butt back-chest down position is almost a mirror image of the “attack position” you want on your bike when railing down the trail. Talk to any skills coach and they will tell you that the better you know this position the better you can do just about anything on your bike.
The squat actually teaches you to drop your butt down which leaves your chest more upright. While this is proper squat form it is not what you want to have happen on your bike. While squats definitely need to be in your program, by emphasizing the deadlift you ingrain the proper attack position with every rep.
Another unique advantage is that performing a rep works full hip extension which is required for out of the saddle pedaling efforts. If you are weak with full hip extension then you can not pedal as well standing up as you can while sitting down. For the DH and 4X rider this is extremely vital – you NEVER want to sit down during a race so the need to be strong with the action needed to pedal while standing can not be overstated.
Add it all up and you have the best mountain bike specific exercise on the planet. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you can not deadlift properly then you can not ride your bike properly. You may be able to ride your bike, and ride it well, but you are doing so with a lot of compensations that are robbing you of performance.
So, how do you get the most out of this exercise? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here is a breakdown of this lift and how to properly execute it:
The most important thing to remember with the deadlift is to start light, ingrain your form and then start to get strong on the lift. Going too heavy too fast will result in breakdowns in your core which can lead to injuries down the road. Remember that simply lifting a lot of weight off the ground will not make you a better mountain biker; using the deadlift to practice the positions and movements you need on your mountain bike will.
Few exercises can promise as much as the deadlift can. For too many years mountain bikers have been told that the leg press (which sucks) and the squat (which is good but not great) are the way to train your lower body in the weight room. Learning and incorporating the deadlift into your program will open a whole new world of performance gains that simply are not possible with any other exercise.