Tall athletes are lucky. You have a gene that gives you an obvious physical advantage in many sports. But when it comes to the weight room, you’re at a disadvantage
Everything is more difficult because you have long limbs. Form is a bit more difficult to master and the weight travels a greater distance on each rep, meaning your muscles have to do more work than someone less vertically inclined.
In particular, the Squat is something that gives tall athletes trouble. They either complain about knee pain, which probably is a form problem if you don’t have an injury. Or they do a Squat that looks more like a Good Morning because their limbs are so long and lanky.
Let me tell you, tall athletes can be strong squatters. You just need to find the correct version for yourself.
I am about 6-4 to 6-5 depending on which convenient store I am walking out of. I have a short torso and long legs, which is great for deadlifting. Squatting? Not so much.
I mainly used the Low Bar Back Squat and sometimes a High Bar Back Squat. The problem wasn’t gaining strength, it was that my butt and hamstrings added muscle, but my quads weren’t gaining as much. They stayed kind of puny, and this saddened me.
So I undertook a study with my own training and looked at the leverage the movements were creating. Being long-legged with a short torso I realized that I must bend over more at the waist to balance the weight at the bottom of the Back Squat. I was working my glutes and hamstrings even more doing Squats in this manner.
So how do we change the leverage? We cannot shorten our legs, so we must move the bar.
In the high bar back squat position, the quads are worked a bit more, but not drastically so. I decided to experiment with Front Squats with the bar across the front of my shoulders.
In the Front Squat a person with long legs must squat down in between his legs, instead of folding over because the weight will fall if he doesn’t. It forces upright torso squatting technique. This will push your knees more forward over your toes and initiate your quads to help move the load and will make your quads grow.
And if your knees are problematic, Front Squats have been shown to put less stress on your knees, which can help reduce pain front squatting motions.
Start your front squat training with a couple of weeks of Goblet Squats. This will “grease the groove” as Pavel Tsatsouline would say and teach your body the movement by actually doing it. I believe the Goblet Squat is one of the best teaching movements of how to squat properly.
Two things to keep in mind with the Front Squat. You need a sound starting position or your form will be garbage. Second, you won’t be able to lift as much weight as the Back Squat, but that’s OK. Unless you’re a powerlifter, the type of Squat you perform and how much you can lift doesn’t really matter. Just make sure you continue to get stronger in the movement.
I wouldn’t be against front squatting 70% of the time and saving 30% of your training year for good ol’ fashioned heavy Back Squats as this will surely add mass to your tall lanky self. To keep it simple you could, for instance, Front Squat from January to September and then Back Squat from October to December.
If you are tall and want to grow stronger quads to balance out your posterior chain strength do Front Squats. Do them the right way. Start with light loads to hone technique and ramp it up from there.