Dead Lifting for the Endurance Athlete

Dead Lift….the Leonidas of strength movements

Dead lift is by far my favorite strength movement to train with and program for my athletes.  It is a fully functional multi-joint movement that will accelerate your fitness and performance whether it be; cycling, running, word processing, accounting and even cooking dinner.

Simply put, if you are time crunched and can only do one exercise, the dead lift is on the top of the list.

Let’s start with answering WHY is it such a great exercise?


  1. Improved grip
    1. This will come in handy on sprints and hill climbs on your bike when your upper body plays a key role in torque production.  Improved bike handling down steep and wet descents and group rides.
  2. Posterior Chain
    1. It provides a solid foundation for cycling and running posture.  Making you more effective and more efficient.  Allowing you to perform at a given effort for a longer duration of time.  It will help delay the onset of back fatigue and pain.  It will also take a large amount of tension off your neck, shoulders and hands.
  3. Glute activation
    1. The glutes can become dormant forcing the hip flexors, quads and hamstrings to work more than they have to.  It is nice when a muscle group that large joins the performance party and pulls its weight in work.  Optimal glute activation also helps reduce the risk of overuse injuries, in particular the hip flexors and over compensation injuries due to tight hip flexors.
  4. Hip extension and power
    1. This is the Holy Grail!  Hip power that allows for explosiveness in cycling and running.  Increased muscular work capacity and endurance. Powerful pedal strokes and run strides.
  5. Safety
    1. Every exercise movement has a risk of injury due to a breakdown of form.  The dead lift is no exception.  However, it does provide a few options that make it easier to master and overall less risky.  The movement is a natural pattern, it can be simplified by using a trap bar instead of a straight bar, and unlike the back squat (which I love) it does not load the spine and force lumbar extension.

This resistance training exercise will MAKE YOU FASTER…GUARANTEED! 

Did I mention how fun it is ripping huge weight off the floor! 

Talk about endorphin's!!
Now before you go crazy and try to deadlift twice your body weight and blow out your back, allow me to explain the progression involved in getting you to that point.  And yes, at least twice your body weight should be your ultimate goal as an endurance athlete.

You MUST use a neutral spine, straight back and be able to generate maximum intra-abdominal pressure by breathing deep into your diaphragm.  This allows you to maximize your strength or force production.  More importantly to protect you’re back from injury.

I highly suggest learning proper Dead Lift technique from a qualified coach or trainer. It is also important to consult your physician to make sure this resistance exercise poses no risk to you if you are concerned at all with Dead Lifting.

First you need to find your One Rep Max (1RM).  Now, that can be dangerous going for a legitimate 1RM to start you off with.  So, with a huge thank you to the “5, 3, 1” protocol they have figured out a way to safely calculate an estimated 1RM for you to work off of.

After dialing in your form for dead-lifting you start with 100% of your body weight. This includes the weight of the bar (commonly 45 pounds).  Once you lift 6 reps stop, recover and add more weight.  Keep progressing up in weight until you find a weight that you can only lift approximately 3 or 4 reps (about 90% of max effort) and are working very hard (yet maintain form) to get the last rep up and locked out in the top position.

Then use the “5, 3, 1 method” calculation.
Weight x Reps x .0333 + Weight = Estimated 1RM

Now that you have that number, here is what I recommend you do with it two or three times a week.  The following protocol will get you on your way to becoming a Dead Lift Beast and yielding the massive benefits of this movement as it pertains to your sport specific goals.

Beginners: 55% of your Estimated 1RM
                6 sets of 3 reps with 2 full minutes of Recovery between each set
EX. EST 1 RM = 200
Dead Lift 110LBS (including bar weight) 3 (perfect form) reps
Recovery walking around and staying loose for 2 Minutes
Repeat this 5 more times
Intermediate to Advance: 60% Estimated 1RM
                8 sets of 3 reps with a full :60 to :90 seconds of recovery between each set
I highly recommend a full 12-15 Minute warm up prior to dead lifting.  Follow up the Dead lift series with Scorpion stretches and a proper cool down set of stretching as well.

Cheers and rubber side down,

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