Deadlifts are a popular and enduring exercise for a reason: They’re incredibly functional and effective for targeting a different group of muscles at once, especially the oft-overlooked muscles that run along the back of your body.
It is therefore not surprising that the deadlifts are apparently everywhere these days from articles detailing the staggering amount of weight people have managed to deadlift to an increasing number of viral TikTok videos chronicle correct form.
While most everyone could benefit from doing more deadlifts, cyclists in particular would benefit greatly from prioritizing this classic strength movement.
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Here, with the help of two fitness pros, we look at how deadlifts can improve your performance in the saddle and tips for making them a regular part of your training routine.
The benefits of deadlifts for cyclists
1. Exercise works the specific muscles of cycling
The deadlift is a full-body movement that specifically targets the posterior chain (muscles of the back), including the hamstrings, glutes, and back. It also works your core and can even engage your quads in the action.
When it comes to effective strength moves, there are few substitutes for the deadlift, according to the National Association for Strength and Conditioning. Its simplicity and functionality should make it a priority in any strength training regimen.
There are two main types of deadlifts: the Romanian deadlift and the regular deadlift, Craig SecorPT, DPT, a physical therapist and bike specialist based in Richmond, Virginia, tells Bicycling. A Romanian deadlift, also called a straight leg deadlift, involves maintaining a slight bend in the knees but otherwise keeping the legs fairly straight. This placement, Secor explains, really fires up the hamstrings and glutes and engages more of a hip hinge than the regular deadlift. The latter, in contrast, involves a deeper knee bend, which adds much more emphasis to the quadriceps. Overall, however, both types help strengthen the posterior chain.
The reason this move is so important to cycling: Just think about the position you hold on the bike. You need to hinge at the hips, with a flat back and strong core, for the entire run. The deadlift helps you hold that position while strengthening the lower body, which powers pedaling.
2. Deadlifts balance your body
In general, cyclists tend to have super strong quads and weaker than ideal hamstrings, due to the fact that the cycling motion favors the front of the legs more than the rear, Katya PiersonShe tells Montana-based certified personal trainer and certified spinning instructor Bicycling. Not only does this muscle imbalance increase your risk of injury, it also reduces the amount of power and stability you have while pedaling, Pierson explains.
Additionally, this heavy emphasis that cycling places on your quads can cause your quads and hip flexors to tighten, which can contribute to back pain and discomfort, says Secor.
Again, this is where deadlifts come into play. Deadlifting regularly can build hamstring strength, thereby reducing the muscle imbalance between the front and back of your legs and balancing both sides of your pedal stroke, says Pierson.
3. This move can improve pedaling
Strong hamstrings and glutes translate into more explosiveness when sprinting, more efficient climbing, and the ability to handle higher gear and resistance loads, says Pierson.
The glutes are especially important for the initial push-off phase at the top of the bike ride, says Secor. So the stronger your glutes are, the more powerful your pedal stroke will be. In fact, the authors of an article published in Strength and conditioning journal noted that straight-leg deadlifts in particular can help promote power during a pedal stroke.
4. Deadlifts also target your back and upper body
Another big benefit of deadlifts is that they strengthen your back muscles. In cycling, your lower and upper back muscles play a key role in supporting your position on the bike, says Secor. The stronger your back is, the longer you’ll be able to ride with proper form and without overusing certain muscles, which will reduce your risk of injury and generally make your time in the saddle more comfortable. (A properly fitted bike is also key to reducing the chance of injury and feeling good while riding, adds Secor.)
Deadlifts also target the back extensor muscles, a key muscle group for riders who often swing in and out of the aero position since that movement is essentially a mini back extension activity, says Secor. The aforementioned Strength and conditioning journal The article agrees: The authors note that deadlifts can increase lumbar core strength and help athletes in the aero position fight fatigue and cramps while maintaining control of the bike.
To start, deadlifts work your shoulder stabilizer muscles as you lift up on the bar, says Secor. That translates well to any kind of riding where you get up on the handlebars, like doing wheelies and jumping obstacles while mountain biking, he explains.
5. This strength move can strengthen your bones
Off the bike, deadlifting as part of a regular strength training program can help improve bone mineral density. A study published in Strength Conditioning Research Journal found that healthy young men who completed a 24-week strength program with deadlifts (plus other exercises) significantly improved their bone mineral density. The program didn’t elicit as much effect for female participants, but another meta-analysis looking at moderate-intensity resistance training in postmenopausal women improved bone mineral density.
According to various research cited in a separate article published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Because cyclists are more prone to bone health issues, it’s especially important for us to incorporate strength training into our cycling programs, and deadlifts should have a regular place within these workouts.
How to add more deadlifts to your schedule
There is no fixed recommendation on how often to deadlift and what your deadlift sets should look like, because every cyclist’s training goals are different. That said, the general idea is to work up to a very heavy load, says Secor, as this will help maximize the strength benefits of deadlifts. This might feel like doing low reps (he thinks: four to eight in a set) with heavy weights and long rest breaks. Just be sure to give your muscles enough downtime after each session so they can recover properly; Secor suggests deadlifting once or twice a week with plenty of rest days in between.
Secor advises cyclists to do both regular and Romanian deadlifts, but acknowledges that people may have trouble tolerating the latter because it often puts a lot of strain on the back. Therefore, he considers starting with the regular deadlift. Once you feel comfortable and understand the essence of hip hinging, he tries the Romanian deadlift.
Start with light weights and know that your weights will likely stay lighter with the Romanian deadlift, due to the number of muscles being recruited.
In addition to the two main types of deadlifts, there are tons of other variations you can try to keep your routine fresh and varied, Pierson says. His favorite is a Bulgarian split squat and a single leg Romanian deadlift superset, which is great for really lighting up the hamstrings. For more ideas, check out This article with 12 expert-recommended variations (plus step-by-step instructions on how to do the deadlift correctly).
Last thing: if you plan to train for strength on the same day as a run, be strategic about the order of your workouts. If your top priority is building strength, then plug in your strength work before you get on the saddle, says Pierson. But if you’re focused on pure cardio and endurance running instead, tackle the run before hitting the gym. Once you Do come your strength session, consider lightening your weights a bit as you probably won’t be able to lift weights that heavy, as your muscles will already be fatigued.
Jenny is a health and fitness reporter based in Boulder, Colorado. She has been freelancing for World of runners since 2015 and especially enjoys writing human interest profiles, in-depth features, and stories that explore the intersection of exercise and mental health. Her work has also been published by HIMSELF, Men’s newspaperAND Cond Nast Traveler, among other outlets. When she’s not running or writing, Jenny likes to teach young people to swim, reread Harry Potterand buying too many houseplants.
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