Single Leg Deadlifts for Improved Mountain Bike Pedal Power and Body Position

Few exercises boast as much transfer to the trail as the single leg deadlift. While the regular deadlift is one of my favorite mountain bike training exercises, the truth is that on the trail, we pedal with one leg at a time, so the single leg version is more specific to what we actually do on the trail.

Besides helping to build a stronger, more efficient pedal stroke the single leg deadlift also builds the core strength and upper back strength you need for better body position on the trail, leading to better balance and control when the trail gets rough. In short, it is one exercise that any serious rider should have in their program on a regular basis.

In this video I show you how to learn the right way to move when doing a single leg deadlift, ensuring that you are training your core and hips and not just wearing out your knees and low back. I also go over some common mistakes and ways to correct them, helping you get the most out of every rep.

-James Wilson-

The Ultimate MTB Workout Program

The Ultimate MTB Workout ProgramThis workout program is designed with one simple purpose – to be the best mountain bike training program on the planet. When you are ready to take your training program to the highest level possible then you can’t do better than this workout program. Based on my years of working with some of the best riders on the planet, this truly is the Ultimate MTB Workout Program.
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  1. Josh Payne says:

    Live long, and prosper!

    Reply • February 28 at 11:31 am
  2. Cindy says:

    I wish I lived closer. I would hire you as my personal trainer in a heart beat!!
    Great post. I can’t wait to try it. ; )

    Reply • February 28 at 11:16 pm
  3. Joe says:

    Hi James, I’m coming off a semester of weightlifting at school and am figuring out a routine I can use now that I am no longer have access to a gym. So I am starting your “No Gym, No Problem” program. For reference, I already commute by single speed daily and converted my MTB to a 1X9 (now 1X10) and number of years ago.
    I have seen you mention deadlifts and single leg deadlifts a number of times as one of the most important exercises for mtb’rs, but it is not part of the “NGNP” program (because it should be done with a weight to see performance gains, I’m guessing?). I have some dumbbells; if I wanted to include single leg deadlifts in the routine would it replace another lift or would you integrate it into either Day 1 or 2? If I should just add it in, would it be part of the Power, Strength or Metabolic circuit (how many reps)?

    Reply • May 22 at 12:06 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The NGNP program is based on having no equipment but your body and a pull up bar. While weighted exercises are important, for most riders focusing on bodyweight for a while will prove very beneficial. If you wanted to add in weighted exercises like deadlifts, shoulder presses and squats I wouldn’t add them into the NGNP program, I’d add in a 3rd day with an emphasis on 2-4 core lifts. Rotate your reps between 3X3, 2X5 and 1X10 and you’ll be good for a while.

      You can also get my Ultimate MTB Workout Program, which integrates bodyweight with loaded exercises through 6 phases of progressive workouts. Either way and you’ll do good.

      Reply • May 22 at 2:28 pm
  4. Jonas says:


    I have a question. You have probably had it before, but in that case I have not seen the answer yet. In many of your single leg exercises, and also in this one, you suggest holding the weight in the opposite hand as the leading leg. Though on the bike you pull up in the handlebar at the same side as the leading leg. So the question is, why not mimic this pattern in the exercises?

    Reply • March 6 at 5:47 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You have to remember that the ultimate goal in the weight room is not to mimic the same specific movements you use on the bike but to work on the same general movements that you use on the bike. So in this case, I’m worried about working on the single leg hip hinge. When I hold the weight in the opposite hand it challenges the core in a different way than when you hold it on the same side. Specifically, it creates more rotation at the core and forces the core to resist it.

      That ability to resist rotation at the core is extremely important on the bike and so it is another general quality that we can work on simply by how we hold the weight. By knowing how holding one or two weights and which hand you hold them in you can add all sorts of layers to your program and results.

      The point is that in the weight room you want to look at the general patterns being used and not get too caught up in trying to mimic riding via strength training.

      Reply • March 6 at 9:39 am
  5. Fred says:

    James, excellent as always!
    Cheers from Brazil

    Reply • April 18 at 7:30 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks Fred, glad you liked it.

      Reply • April 20 at 10:00 am
  6. rod says:

    Great website.

    i mountain bike about 80-10 hours a week, and in the winter i ski 5 days a week.

    couple of questions

    1. for legs, quads, hamstrings and butt, for skiing i try to use heavy weights, 8-10 reps@600 lbs leg press and 200 lbs hamstring curl. Ido this for 6 weeks in oct-nov. i do another strentgh session in may/june for mountain biking, same weights. Does this make sense, or for mountain biking should i go lower weights/higher reps.

    2. I also use a compex electro stimulation machine for muscle development, typically after the weight work, or instead of. Have you heard of bikers to use those, and does it make sense to you?

    3. in season, i use the compex once a week, for (after warmup) about 8 contractions at about 90% of the intensity i attain during the pre-season strentgh sessions. Does this make sense to you, in order to maintain leg strength?

    i weigh 185, and i do upper body and core, but my questions are for legs.

    thanks a lot.

    btw, i live in Tahoe, but i’m spending a year in the pyrenees now. Mountain biking is incredible here, a lot tougher than in Tahoe, steeperand with really tight switchbacks. All the trais were built for hikers first.

    Reply • October 1 at 5:12 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the questions, hopefully I can help you out with some answers…

      1. I don’t recommend either of those exercises in general and definitely not for mountain biking or skiing. They have little to no movement transfer from the gym to the trail and so they don’t help as much as things like deadlifts, single deadlifts, single leg squats and other exercises that focus on practicing movement instead of just leveraging a lot of weight up. I’d suggest getting one of the free 30 day programs I offer on the site (you can find them on the right sidebar) and trying it to see what see the workout style I would recommend.

      2. I don’t like the electro stim stuff for muscle building but there is something to using is for recovery. I have tried the Marc Pro and so it is the only one I can speak from experience on but I wouldn’t use either one for muscle building.

      3. Leg strength isn’t an arbitrary thing that you can call on however you like. Strength is specific to the movement skill you need to apply it to. If you want to maintain leg strength during the season then the best thing to do is a low volume, high intensity approach to the same exercises I mentioned before. Movement practice is the point of strength training and gains made in the absence of that movement isn’t going to carry over to much in real life.

      Hope this helps. It sounds like you have a lot of dedication to what you are doing but have been led down the wrong path in a few spots. Getting stronger doesn’t improve performance if it isn’t done in the basic context of how you will use it. Exercises like the leg press and leg curl and stuff like electro stim for muscle and strength gains is trying to get stronger without honoring the movement side of things. Try one of the free workouts I’ve got on the site and see if this type of approach works for you.

      Reply • October 1 at 11:29 am
  7. David says:

    ‘Laying fitness on top of confusion’ that’s bloody brilliant mate ! I can see I need to fine tune my technique… YES it helps.. keep it coming and of course.. thanks

    Reply • April 21 at 2:09 pm
  8. David says:

    fitness on top of dysfunction … sheeesh

    Reply • April 22 at 2:45 pm

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