For the most part it sucks to be tall when it comes to lifting weights.
If you are tall then the bar has to travel further in a squat, bench or deadlift than for a shorter person. You do a lot more work per rep than shorter guys.
Work, in physics is defined as force x distance. So being tall means that for every rep you have to apply force over a greater distance. So you actually do more work even when using the same weight as other gym goers.
So for us tall guys lifting weights takes a lot more time, energy, effort and coordination compared to our vertically challenged friends. I say friends, but, when it comes to the gym you may very well come to dislike your shorter buddies.
Well short guys tend to be natural squatters and pressers. They only have to move the bar a foot to hit depth in the squat and the bar barely has to travel to hit their barrel chest with their T-rex arms when they bench. Meanwhile, the lanky among us long have to move it for eternity (ok it just feels like eternity) to hit the same depth.
What is worse is that even after we have busted our balls in the gym and kept our nutrition on point for months to gain 20lbs. many people won’t even notice. That same 20lbs. on your 5 foot 8-inch friend, however, dramatically changes their physique. Their arms might only be 15 inches but, they look huge on their shorter frame.
Long story short… even a significant weight gain can translate to the appearance of little size gain for tall guys.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. We can put our long levers to use if we think a little outside the box and keep our eyes on the muscle gain prize. Doing so has helped me to add 18kg to my frame over the years. These same strategies have also helped countless clients to pack on slabs of muscle.
So what exercises and training strategies allow us tall guys to maximise our potential to bulk up?
Glad you asked. Here are 6 training principles to optimise training for tall guys – The Super Six…
Use Your Height to Your Advantage
You aren’t a powerlifter, right? You just wanna look big & jacked?
If you’re tall like me and you are aiming to pack on some noticeable size, then being mechanically disadvantaged in certain movements because of your long limbs can actually allow you to place a tonne of tension on the muscle and really exhaust the fibres to force them to grow.
Rather than looking to optimise leverages to move the most weight from A to B you should be aiming to place the most tension possible on the target muscle by using your poor leverages to your advantage.
I picked this tip up from Lee Boyce…Fly Patterns Don’t Get Enough Love
“The amount of additional time, space, and force it takes for us to perform an exercise like a chest fly, reverse fly, or lateral raise can mean more potential muscle.
The lever arm created by a weight held much farther away from the torso will be larger than that of a short-armed individual, so it makes sense to train these movements. As such, cable variations of chest flies work well due to the constant tension.”
Isolation Exercises Can Help You Get Huge
Some people can grow big arms and legs simply by progressing on the basic lifts. Has that worked for you? Hell no!
Almost all the people who promote the big lifts for building a big and balanced physique have T-rex arms and stubby legs. For us long limbed folks’ isolation work is a must if you want to fully maximize the size of your arms and legs.
Now both the leg extension and leg curl machines have taken a lot of hate over the years. They aren’t hardcore and often people consider them inferior exercises. Others say they are injuries waiting to happen.
It is true that the leg extension, in particular, creates shear forces on the knees which can cause flare ups. This is especially the case if you have existing injuries or muscle imbalances around the knee. If, however, you are a pain free tall lifter then these exercises could be your ticket to Gainzville.
Given these exercises are easy to execute it is simple to master the technique. Because they are machine based you can really get after it and smash the target muscle without fear of form breakdown.
Unlike compound machine based movements (e.g., hack squats) leg extensions and curls don’t create much overall fatigue. As a result, you won’t find you reach failure because of you are out of breath instead of muscular failure. It also means you can add in a decent amount of training volume without taxing your recovery-abilty too much.
One of the reasons leg extensions and curls are so effective for tall guys is because of the massive lever arms created. As Lee Boyce points out…
… “The distance between the fulcrum and resistance (in this case, the knee joint and shin pad) means more time under tension, more lactate production, and more distance travelled. That translates to serious growth of long muscle bellies of the quads and hamstrings.”
When it comes to adding additional arm work into your training it is pretty easy.
Here is how I would go about incorporating additional arm work into your training –
You could simply add an arm day to your training week. However, for most of us time is at a premium and heading into the gym only to hit arms is not really an efficient use of time. Instead I would train arms more frequently, (2-3 x week) by adding them on to the end of other workouts. A good option would be to follow a 4 x week Upper/Lower split. Hit arms for 2-3 sets of 1-2 exercises at the end of both the upper sessions for 6 weeks and get ready to finally see those arms actually growing.
Use a Neutral Grip and Press on a Slight Incline
We all love to bench press but, for many of us this exercise simply ends up with beat up shoulders and achy elbows. This is especially true for tall guys who have to take the bar through a larger range of motion (ROM).
Using DBs or a Football Bar for your pressing work is a great way to keep your elbows and shoulders healthy.
A neutral grip forces you to externally rotate the shoulders throughout the movement. Using a neutral grip allows for greater shoulder centration and leads to less elbow ‘flare’ away from the body. As John Rusin says…
…” the more centrally positioned we can place the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, the better those joints are going to naturally function.”
So pressing with a neutral grip is superior for shoulder health than straight bar benching.
What else can you do to keep hitting the chest, shoulders and triceps heavy and often while staying injury free?
Flat or decline benching tends to close down the space at the front of the shoulder. Given a large number of structures need to fit through this space (e.g., rotator cuff muscles, biceps tendon and nerves) this can lead to impingement issues. Because pressing at these angels creates less room for the structures to glide through you are more likely to aggravate them, cause pain and get injured. To stay healthy your goal should be to open up this space as much as possible. One way to do this is to use an incline when benching.
Use a slight incline. Doing this causes less strain on the joints and surrounding soft tissues because it allows you to position the ball & socket shoulder joint in a more stable position.
Now don’t go getting too aggressive and using really steep inclines. I have found the first setting up on most adjustable benches to work great (usually about 10-20o). This really targets the clavicular head (upper portion) of the pecs and will help you to fill the upper chest out.
To maximise your shoulder health I would suggest you use DBs, with a neutral grip on a low incline. The use of DBs adds to the above benefits by allowing you a greater degree of freedom to move in a pattern fitting your structure as opposed to having your hands fixed on a barbell.
Front Squat for Quad Development
The front squat is superior to the back squat for most tall/long limbed people because it allows you to hit depth easier and maintain a more upright torso position. Because the weight is front loaded, it’s allows you to use the weight as a counterbalance. This allows you to place more emphasis on the quads and really stimulate them.
Back squats, however, often turn into good mornings for tall guys. All this does is shift more of the load onto your back and make other gym goers cringe at your form. So when picking your staple squatting movement to gauge progress over time go with the front squat over the back squat.
Use a Full Range Most of the Time But Not All The Time
Using a full ROM is a good idea 90% of the time but, in some cases you’ll just end up fatiguing yourself unnecessarily with no added benefit.
A good example of this is chin-ups and pull-ups for tall guys. For years I thought you were a wimp if you didn’t get your chest all the way to the bar on these exercises. I was wrong!
A shorter lifter might well have pull all the way up until their chest hits the bar to reach maximum lat contraction. That’s because they have short arms and can keep driving them into their sides while the lats do the bulk of the work.
Taller lifters, however, have longer limbs. Their elbows will be further from the body. As a result, they will fully contract the lats before they reach the bar. Trying to pull further will just lead them to round their shoulders and work their arms and traps harder. All this results in less lat activation. Turning a potentially awesome lat exercise into a shitty biceps one.
So don’t blindly follow generic exercise execution. Take your own body structure into account and focus on feeling the target muscle working. Stopping before your chest meets the bar isn’t anything to be ashamed of. In fact, you will likely get more from less. Now that is training efficiency at its best!
Don’t Violate the S.A.I.D Principle
S.A.I.D. = Specific Adaptation To Imposed Demand.
If you spend enough time picking heavy stuff up your body will adapt by adding bigger stronger muscles.
Yet, so often, tall guys looking to get huge do a bunch of cardio. Why? Honestly, I have no idea. Perhaps they want to keep their abs in “check” or maybe, they are just sick twisted, sadistic, self saboteurs.
Anyway, the moral of the story is don’t do anything that takes away from your primary goal. In this case don’t engage in training which limits your true growth potential.
So in reverse order here is a reminder of those 6 tips:
- Focus on your goal. Train specifically to achieve it.
- Use a full ROM most of the time but not all the time.
- Choose front squats over back squats.
- Press with DBs, using a neutral grip on a low incline.
- Isolation exercises are your friend.
- Use your long levers to your advantage with movements like flyes, leg extensions and leg curls.
You are now armed with everything you need to know to modify your training to actually start seeing some progress. Put them to use and watch the scale start climbing steadily up as you pack on muscle.
Not a tall lifter? If you know someone who is that could benefit from the article then please share it with them. Tall lifters need all the help they can get!
If you have any questions about the article and how you can tweak exercises to suit your frame then drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Flatwhitesfreeweights
I will be only to happy to help out.