Strength Exercise Instruction: Cyclists Deadlift

A cyclist demonstrates the cyclists deadlift with slightly bent legsThe cyclists dead lift is a multi-joint exercise that is intended to strengthen muscles and ligaments and improve flexibility in the lower body — primarily the hamstring and gluteus maximus muscles at the hip and secondarily the quadriceps at the knee. It also strengthens your spinal and abdominal muscles. Note that this is not a classic Olympic deadlift as that includes bending the knees.

Cyclists tend to have underdeveloped hamstrings and overdeveloped quadriceps. This style of deadlift helps to balance those muscle groups. Deadlifts are a particularly good all-around exercise to help you climb better, sprint harder and push bigger gears.

Body position and activating the lower body are the keys for a successful deadlift. Core stabilization is the basis of everything when lifting. More than with many other exercises, posture is essential to safety in this movement. Here are tips and cues to prepare for and successfully complete the lift.

Engage the core! This will protect against injury to your lumbar spine, pelvic girdle, abdomen and hip joint. Always tighten or draw in your abdominal muscles. Think of pulling up from your pelvic floor up to your rib cage (also known as bearing down), while simultaneously drawing your bellybutton to your spine. Imagine someone is about to punch you in the gut—that’s how firm your core should be. 

Deadlift Set-up

  • Use a barbell or Olympic bar plus plates to get the weight suggested on your plan.
  • Start with weight on the floor.
  • The hand grip can be either overhand (palms toward your body) or an alternated grip (one palm toward your body, one away). The alternated grip makes it easier to hold heavier weights.
  • Feet are between hip- and shoulder-distance apart, toes facing forward so knees will track over the toes.
  • Squat down with hips lower than the shoulders to retrieve bar.
  • Hands are shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
  • Position arms outside of the knees with elbows fully extended.
  • Position bar over the balls of the feet.
  • Extend the knees and hips in a slow, controlled manner to lift the bar off the floor.
  • Throughout the rest of the lift keep your knees straight but not locked until it is time to bend the legs to put the weight down again.
Breathe! Don’t hold your breath, especially when bearing down on an exercise. Inhale when you lower with gravity (down) and exhale against gravity (up). Exhale a whole breath through pursed lips to keep the core engaged.

Upper body position of cyclists deadlift exerciseThe Upward Lift

  • Raise your upper body by hinging at the hips.
  • To avoid injury and activate the right muscles, maintain a flat or slightly arched back.
  • Let your fully extended arms hang. Keep your head neutral in relation to your spine. This means you are looking down at the bottom of the lift, and looking forward at the top.
  • Exhale during the upward lift.
  • Keep your weight between your midfoot and heel throughout the lift. Closer to the heel is better.
  • Throughout the lift, puff out your chest by retracting your shoulder blades and draw your chin to your neck just a few degrees to ensure your head is not tilting backward.
  • Continue to extend your hips and keep your knees straight but not locked until you are standing up straight.
  • At the top of the lift, bring your hips forward just enough to relax your gluteus. Stand tall.

Lowering the weight

  • Lowering the bar during the cyclists deadliftBend over by hinging at the hips while maintaining a flat or slightly arched back.
    Keep the knees straight but not locked.
  • Let the weight hang from your fully extended arms. Keep your head neutral in relation to your spine.
  • If you are flexible enough, tap the weight plates to the floor and, without pausing, lift the bar back up for the next repetition. The alternative is to go as low as you can while keeping your back straight.
  • Inhale during the descent.

Pacing for the Cyclists Deadlift

  • Speed of this lift will depend on experience.
  • Beginners should move slowly to focus on form and avoid injury. Ascend using a two count (“one one-thousand, two one-thousand”) and descend with a controlled one count (“one one-thousand”).
  • Experienced lifters who have mastered the form can lift explosively with a quick rhythm in both the lift and the lowering phase.
  • Consult your coach for the appropriate timing for you.

Talk to your coach if the weight, reps or sets doesn’t feel right or if you don’t have full range of motion in your muscles or joints. The number of reps and sets are meant to challenge your muscles as you progress with the plan, but never should you feel pain during this lift. If the weights are chosen correctly, you should be able to finish your sets at a steady rhythm, without pausing or slowing down.
Perfecting the technique for the deadlift takes time. Reread this article to see what you might have missed and keep adjusting your form. Talk to your coach or a certified personal trainer at the gym. Do not rely on the person next to you to give you advice unless you’re confident the person is a trained professional.

Rhonda Morin, EMT, USAC Level 3 Coach, is a Cat 1 cyclocross rider and national bronze medalist for master women. She is also a core and corrective exercise practitioner.

Posted in Strength