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The Deadlift for Motocross

by Celeste Pinheiro


A while back, Virtual Trainer Facebook fan Celeste Pinheiro asked me why there weren't more "female" training articles on Virtual Trainer. Good question actually. The girls deserve just as much attention as the boys and while the fundamentals of training are the same for both men and women, the girls deserve a section all to themselves. So I proposed that Celeste, who rides and trains in the Great Northwest, take the lead and put some articles together. She did just that and her first article is how the deadlift can benefit the female athlete. - Virtual Trainer.

Celeste not only knows how to write about training.....she's pretty fast on a bike too!

Women do a lot of lifting through their lives--growing children, grocery bags, and hopefully full gas cans and a dirt bike too. If you're looking for an easy introduction into weightlifting that will give you fast results and provide a laundry list of benefits for your whole body that will not only to boost your riding potential but also make you a rockin' old woman (when you get there!), the dead lift is your new best friend!

It's a fact of life that women just don't have the muscle mass that men do. So naturally picking up a 200 plus pound bike can be intimidating for women. When I first got my full sized bike( wr250f) my husband said if I was going to keep it I'd have to be able to pick it up by myself. The first few months it was exhausting and it took me a long time to inch that thing back up. I figured some work with the dead lift would whip me into better shape as well as teach me to lift better without killing my back. Sure enough I can pick my bike up with one hand now. I found a lot of other benefits along the way too, and I could see definite improvement after just a few months work.

So why is the dead lift such a magic pill? Riding a dirt bike on the track or on the trail works your whole body and your whole body works together to ride, plain and simple. The dead lift will work your whole body too--when you lift that "dead" weight off the floor, your whole body works together to get it up. It's a natural effort, as in you use your muscles working together in real life much more often than using one isolated muscle--when was the last time you did a preacher curl in real life (that 20 oz mocha, right?!). You'll hit your legs, your hips, your core (abs AND back), your shoulders, arms, hands -- everything you use on the bike in the same INTEGRATED effort. You'll also find that your balance on the bike will improve, enabling you to relax more.

If you're pushing your limits you WILL be crashing and dumping your bike--and of course "stuff" just happens anyway. The dead lift will teach you how to use your BODY and leverage to lift it easier, safer AND with less energy-sapping effort, protecting your back from the BAD stress of poor form. You'll be strengthening your core so you can ride stronger longer. The dead lift will also strengthen your grip, your joints and their connective tissues in a fairly safe manner as long as you don't try to yank too much weight too soon, again because this is a full body lift (caveat of start light and progress sensibly, but you knew that, right?!). You'll strengthen that arc of hand/arm/shoulders/arm/hand attack position that saves your bacon when you are off on your landing, or your front wheel suddenly gets knocked sideways on a rocky downhill.

You don't have to be afraid of getting stuck under a barbell and falling or getting squashed, like with a squat or a bench press. Because you are working so many muscles at once, you can get a good intense cardio blast by using low weight/high reps--just like when you are hammering whoops or charging a hill climb.

Because the dead lift is performed with a barbell, i.e. free weight, you'll be working your muscles in a stabilizing way as well as keeping your balance and controlling where the weight goes as you lift. Form is everything! Sloppy form will get you hurt, and worse you won't be getting the full strength potential out of your effort. It's ideal if you can have someone knowledgeable observe your form, otherwise try to have a mirror so you can check yourself.

Here is an excellent tutorial video on the form of the dead lift.

Remember to start out with a low weight to get your form down before you choose a more challenging weight. You can even use a broomstick first if you want--proper form is ESSENTIAL, better for you to learn it right with a feather than get sloppy with a brick. Once you learn the form, follow RacerXVT's basic periodization advice for progression, beginning with Anatomical Adaptation.

Wanna good spanking I mean refresher on the goodness of form?

Remember to keep your back flat (never let it round!), keep your head up and looking forward (don't look at the floor) and don't let your knees cave in or bow out as you lift.

Great variation to the deadlift - Stiff Legged Deadlift

Courtney Williams (Western Power Sports/Fly Racing) has been racing off road since she was 8, in WORCCS and hare and hounds in the Pacific Northwest. She now rides a KX250f. She says, "After a shoulder injury a few years back I started with a trainer and he had me doing dead lifts along with a ton of other routines to focus on the parts of my body that had lost weakness during the 4 months I could not ride or use my shoulder. When I first got back to riding my back would kill me. He started me on dead lifts and it was hard for a week or two, but after that I could race a whole 100 miles and would feel great after. It worked to build the muscles I needed to support my back." The dead lift was an important tool for Courtney to rebuild her core strength, overall endurance, and was a safe place to start rehabbing her shoulder, because the shoulder joint doesn't move during the lift.

Two of the stars of the Women's Motocross Association, Tarah Gieger and Sarah Whitmore

I began working with the dead lift by using a broomstick to get the form down (see, I admit it!). I started my barbell weight at 80# and have progressed so far to 125# (currently at 3 sets of 4 reps). I found that my bike became much lighter feeling when was lifting about 100#. I don't use gloves or straps on my hands because I want to work my hand grip to the max. I also find that using bare hands toughens up my palms so I don't get blisters when riding (and no I don't have alligator leather hands either! come on now, priorities!). As I add more weight I find it's harder for my hands to get used to the new weight rather than the rest of me. So if you use bare hands be patient in letting them toughen up, and be sure you have a good grip on the bar--even though you can do more reps, keep the reps low the first few times to get your hand used to the new weight. Take rings off (duh). Remember you can't skimp on building a good foundation!

As you get stronger you can try variations on using what you lift. You can lift stuff like furniture (your couch or bed). A variation that will get your chest and biceps more involved is to lift a heavy rock or other similar heavy thing like a stack of weight plates--when there's no good handholds your chest and biceps will be worked harder holding on to it. To work your grip more, remain standing at the top of the last rep and just hold on to the barbell as long as you can. You'll find you can use your new strength to impress guys (or scare them , which is funner!), like when you bust lug nuts on your truck when you have to change a flat tire.

If you give the dead lift a try, after a month or so you'll see usable, real overall gains in strength and endurance. It's a good place to start with weightlifting, and hopefully the progress you get will inspire you to incorporate more lifting moves--it's addicting to wake up that inner monster! When I saw what a difference just the dead lift made in my riding I was hooked to do more weightlifting. Not to mention you'll ride with more confidence from your new strength and endurance--what's not to love about that?

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Sun June 19, 2010 at 6:35 am


  2. Gravatar
    Vanessa Race June 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I really enjoyed the article and would like to see more about women in motorcycle sports of either riding or racing.

  3. Gravatar
    Christy Van June 24, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    This is a great article. I have noticed that riding my motorcycle is different since I started working out. This article has motivated me to up my weight when I do deadlifts at the gym. It would totally shock my husband if I could pick my bike up without any effort.

  4. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer June 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Christy - There is no reason what-so-ever that you should not be able to pick up your bike. With a little bit of training (proper training that is), even the smallest women can gain the strength and learn how to use leverage to do everything the guys can do!

  5. Gravatar
    Bill Uhl June 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Lets face it. A woman"s body is proportioned differently than a man's. This is not bad. In fact, it's a good thing. When riding, a woman must take into account where the weight is in her body so she can use it to her advantage. If you don"t know, you should. Weight distribution is one of the keys to riding if not the most important one. Be mindful when you are on your bike and when walking or doing anything about the form of your body and what affects what. PS the article on dead lifting has value for all.

  6. Gravatar
    Celeste Pinheiro July 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Hey! glad y'all liked the info! For sure, any effort ANYONE puts into strength training for the bike pays off exponentially! RE Bill's comment, I've found that weight training has really improved my posture and my awareness of my body in space, and of course better balance.

  7. Gravatar
    Celeste Pinheiro July 11, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Sun, you are golden!

    Vanessa and Christy, rock on!

  8. Gravatar
    KarenB July 12, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    So when is the next article? This is a great teaser, and has me drooling for more!

    Thanks for a well written first article... I'm officially a fan. :o)

  9. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    KarenB - More are on their way soon. I promise!

  10. Gravatar
    Luk April 03, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Not to be an ass but the girl in the deadlift tutorial has awfull form!
    Just look at her back for christ's sake!
    You shall under no circumstances what so ever arch your back when deadlifting!

    But perhaps I'm missing something, I just skimmed the article

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 03, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Not sure I would agree that she has awful form. If anything it appears to me that her back is a little too rounded.

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