Throughout your life, there are many instances in which being tall can help. The basketball court is one of them. Grabbing things off the top shelf or painting the topmost corners of your house is another one.
But the weight room? That’s another story. If you have long limbs or you stand over 6-foot-5 you face challenges that other people don’t. You won’t fit all gym machines naturally. And a lot of traditional free weight exercises simply never took into consideration your long levers.
And when you miss a rep on a heavy exercises, your joints and ligaments could easily pay more of a price than somebody with shorter limbs might. Why? Because those long levers magnify poor joint angles under load.
How do you deal with this? By making subtle adjustments to your training, switching out equipment at times, and tweaking exercises to accommodate your longer levers. Here are five things you should do in your workouts if you’re a tall guy (and in many cases, these hacks will work for shorter people with long limbs, too.
Face Pulls: Double The Rope
The face pull is one of the best exercises for shoulder health, and people frequently do it with a cable machine. In those situations, they grab the traditional pulldown cable rope to do their face pulls.
Our suggestion: attach two ropes to the cable hook, and grasp each rope with one hand. Why? Because if you’re a lifter with a long reach and you’re grasping a small cable rope, you never really get to pull your arms apart.
The face pull has two parts to it: First, you’re pulling the rope apart, and second, you’re external-rotating at the shoulder joint. If you can’t truly pull the rope apart, you miss the rotary aspect of the rear deltoids that helps to bulletproof your body against impingement and shoulder glide. With two ropes attached, you can open your chest more easily.
Your other option: Use a light resistance band. This lets you focus on the movement even better. Just make sure the resistance band is light enough. Learn the basic face pull here.
Presses: Learn the Pin Press
If you want healthy shoulders, you need to avoid something called “shoulder glide.” What is shoulder glide? It’s a fancy way of saying that the shoulder bone has shifted out of optimal position in the socket. When this happens under load, it can easily lead to chronic shoulder pain and shoulder injuries.
And in taller lifters with longer limbs, there’s more chance of it happening. On a bench press, for example, your upper arm has to travel that much further below your torso and the bench to get the bar to your chest, increasing the chance that the head of the humerus (your upper arm bone) “glides” upward. Similar things can also happen when you’re doing shoulder presses.
The easiest way to counter this? Limit the range of motion. Touching your chest on a bench press is a useful competitive standard, but you’re not competing; you’re training. This is where the pin press comes in. When you do the pin press, you’ll lit how far below your torso your upper arms travel when benching. This shorter range of motion protects your shoulders from that potentially vulnerable bottom position. You may not need to do this with lighter weights, but as you start to add resistance and push closer to your max, this is your best tactic. Want to make it harder? Let the bar settle on the pins and come to a dead stop, killing momentum. Then drive it upwards on every rep.
Pullups: Focus On Feeling Your Lats
The pullup is a move that’s often driven by its standards: You must get your chin above the bar or you must get the bar to touch your torso. But as a back exercise for training, it’s not that simple, especially if you have long arms.
If that’s your situation, consider how your arm length affects a lat contraction. The longer your arms, the more likely that your elbow will be farther from the body when your lats are fully contracted. And depending on your build, that may very well mean that your chest or entire head isn’t over the bar.
Could you push that farther? Sure, and if you’re doing the pullup as a competitive move with a standard, you’re probably going to have to. But if you’re here for lats, it’s better to avoid the potential for (once again) shoulder glide. Focus instead on chasing a full lat contraction. Once you feel that, squeeze, and lower to the bottom. Aside from the height to which you pull, you’ll want to maintain strict form to get the most out of this, but long-term, it’ll safeguard your shoulders and help you pack on muscle.
Ab Wheel Rollouts: Do Hand Walkouts Instead
Longer or heavier lifters will run into a major problem when it comes to abdominal training, especially when it comes to moves like the ab-wheel rollout. The ab wheel rollout is an anti-extension move that’s been around for awhile, and it really hammers your whole core.
But if you have long arms, things are instantly much harder—and this goes for anyone with long arms, even if you’re 5-foot-4. Longer arm levers instantly increase the demand that your core must brace against. If your abs aren’t strong enough to handle that, this winds up challenging the lower back more than anything.
For some, dropping to their knees for rollouts is an easy fix, instantly removing some of the load. But the best modification may be ditching equipment altogether and simply performing hand walkouts. In this situation, you step out at your own pace and with more control over your shoulder position, and you also get to own the ending position more, learning to bear load that much more efficiently.
Barbell Deadlifts: Ditch Conventional Deadlifts
Yes, the conventional deadlift, with your feet inside your arms, is a supreme standard. But if you have long legs, it’s not your best option. (Long arms, on the other hand, are great for deadlifting, cutting the distance you have to hinge to grasp the bar.)
The best fix is simple: Simply don’t use the barbell for deadlifts. Opt for the trap bar, which does a better job of mirroring your center of gravity so you can hinge more easily. Or use what’s called a “medium sumo” stance. To do this, you’d simply place your legs just outside your arms, so your legs are no longer blocked by your forearms. This might mean more quad activation and a shallower hinge. But your spine will thank you.
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