Being tall is often an advantage. But the sad truth is, it can be a disadvantage in the weight room if you don't know what you're doing.
All skeletons are not created equal. The positions and motions that are best for you depend on your bone structure, muscle attachments, levers and the like.
As a 6-foot-4 lifter, I have four workout tips for tall athletes, which should help you get the most out of your training. Proper form will not only ensure your safety in the gym, it will also promote real strength gains that carry over to your sport.
1. Work on Ankle Mobility
If you're tall with long legs for your body, there's no chance you'll be able to squat to full depth with proper form without your knees passing far beyond your toes. This needs to happen or else full depth won't be achieved.
Long femurs are a recipe for squatting problems, so take advantage of the opportunity to train the flexibility of your calves and the strength of your dorsiflexors like the tibialis muscles. Here's a look at my back squat to show you what I mean.
2. Don't Worry about "Full ROM" During Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups
Full Range of Motion (ROM) applies variously to different body types, especially in the case of Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups. Any textbook will tell you to pull until your chest touches the bar, or at least until your entire head clears the bar. Again, we need to consider the body's anatomy.
A short lifter reaches maximum lat contraction with the bar fully in contact with his sternum. That's because his short arms make their way to his body with his lats doing most of the work. For a taller lifter with long arms, even if his lats attach in exactly the same spot on his upper arms (which they probably won't), his elbows will be farther away from his body simply because his humerus is longer. That translates to a bar position farther away from his chest upon full contraction of the lats.
Unless you want your arms to kick in like crazy during your Pull-Ups, just pull until you feel your lats shorten as much as they can. Chances are your head won't be entirely over the bar. Again, to get the idea, check out a video of my lanky self doing Pull-Ups.
3. Use High Hip Position When Deadlifting
To execute a proper vertical pull, you need the bar to travel in a straight line up and down, and your shins need to stay relatively close to vertical. If you're a tall guy, the only way to do this is to shift your hips up. This will also encourage your scapulae (shoulder blades) to position themselves above the bar for a complete force transfer. If you feel the bar "traveling around your knees" on the way up or down, chances are your hips are too low for your leg length. View my PR lift, below, and check out the setup I need to pull heavy.
4. Pulling Matters Even More for Shoulder Stability
We know that upper-back exercises have a positive impact on shoulder stability. They can fix the scapulae and avoid chronic pain to the rotator cuff. In exercises like the Flat Bench Overhead Press and Incline Bench, this is even more important. Simply put, long arms equal a terrible bottom position for the Bench Press. Lots of stress forces come down on the shoulder in a compromised position when the bar is lying on the chest.
Using a 2:1 ratio of pulls to pushes in your workout is a good first step to ensure that your back is properly taken care of when setting up for pressing work. In the case of overhead pressing, the same thing applies. That's a huge distance to press overhead, and it largely depends on the stability of your shoulders. Get 'em right with lots of pulls!
- Pull-Up or Chin-Up: Which is Better?
- Five Steps to Perfect Push-Up Form
- Why You Should Ditch the Bench Press
- The Do's and Don'ts of the Deadlift and Back Squat
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