Tall & Long People: A Guide To Lifting And Gaining Muscle

Tall & Long people: A guide to lifting & gaining muscle

Welcome to my comprehensive guide on how to make gains in both strength and aesthetics. Throughout this article, I cover the following:

  1. BODY PROPORTIONS & COMPARATIVE SCALE
  2. BIOMECHANICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR TALL LIFTERS
  3. MUST DO’S FOR GAINING SIZE AND STRENGTH
  4. SQUAT TIPS
  5. BENCH TIPS
  6. DEADLIFT TIPS

Are you: 

  • Team Tall?
  • Lanky?
  • Limbs for days?

Or ALL of the above like me? Yes? Keep reading ☟

I have been competing in powerlifting since 2015 and started lifting weights approximately 1.5 years before that.

tall squatter at worlds

Along my journey, I quickly discovered that being tall and lanky had its disadvantages when it came to lifting heavy weights. But it was too late, I already fell in love with Powerlifting, so I wanted to persist.

Of course, there are also advantages to being tall and long (which I will touch upon later)..

..but I lost count of the amount of times people said “keep your chest up high” or “don’t let your knees pass your toes” whilst I was squatting.

These cues are not helpful or any good for us lanky folk, so I’m going to talk about better ones.

Tall & long people definitely require slight tweaks in strategy and approach to realise the gains and build noticeable size. Most of the big compound exercises and movements such as: Squats, Clean & Jerk, Bench Press and Deadlift cater more to shorter, stockier people. This is due to body proportions and basic biomechanics.

Putting in the tall work

Short people have a smaller range of motion/movement, as they are closer to the object and closer to the ground. For a tall person, completing a repetition will take that much longer, due to the larger distance the weight has to travel. Meaning that there’s increased time under tension during full range of motion and much more force is produced over the distance.

This means a tall person has to work a bit harder for their reps.

BODY PROPORTIONS & COMPARATIVE SCALE

Body proportions are used in context of human height and shape. Shorter people are typically 5.5” and below. Taller people are typically 5”9 and above (a tall male pushes it to 6″0 and above).

Both tall and short people, can be in proportion to their height or have longer/shorter levers, relative to their body. A short person can still be a long person!

What makes me qualified?

I am a 5’9/175cms woman, this makes me 6 inches above the UK national average height for a woman. I have long limbs, particularly my leg length at 108cms, with my femur (thigh) length absolutely taking the biscuit being 56cms long! This means that my whole leg length makes up for 62% of my total height and my leg-to-body ratio is 1:611. 

In summary, I am a tall, leggy human, and I bet if you’re reading this you probably are too!

Leg-to-body ratio

The leg-to-body ratio is the upper and lower proportion split of your body. The average woman has a leg-to-body ratio of 1.124 and the average man 1.123. Women tend to have longer legs and have a higher leg to body ratio than men.

Vitruvian Man & The Golden Ratio

Indulge me briefly, I’m going to give you a fun mini history lesson.

“The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius” is a drawing made by the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci in about 1490. 

Wikipedia: Vitruvian ManThe drawing represents da Vinci’s concept of the ideal human body proportions, using a blend of maths and art.

I have outlined some of the text (about the standards of the human body) that was published along with the picture of the Vitruvian Man.

  • The head is 1/8 the total height.
  • With arms outstretched, a man is as wide as he is tall, with the genitals as the midpoint.
  • The chest is halfway between the genitals and the top of the head.
  • The chest is the same width as a 1/4 of the height.
  • The hand is 1/10 the total height.
  • The knees are halfway between the genitals and the feet.
  • The foot is 1/6 the total height.

The Golden Ratio

The ancient greeks formulated their own ideals too called the ’The Golden Ratio’. It is number ratio that shows up all over the human body, such as the length of legs compared to the torso, and it seems to define what proportions look best or are visually most attractive.

The golden ratio is 1:1.618. It is is a ratio frequently found in nature, fashion, art and beauty, hence the popularity of high-waisted clothing! So, I suppose you could say that I should be happy that my upper to lower body ratio is surprisingly very very close to the golden rule..

..BUT unfortunately for me I’m not a catwalk fashion model. I’m a girl who enjoys shifting as much weight as possible. As well as being tall, my body proportions also mean I’m long!

The important takeaway from this, is to remember is that your body proportions are always good for something and ‘ideals’ are always relative! You’re probably reading this thinking: “Please help me get better at squats” (*I will help you with that*) but I bet you don’t need a stool to reach the top shelf in your kitchen … every cloud!

What is your ratio?

You’ve seen my ratios. Check out your ratios with my calculator (for a bit of fun)

Feel free to screenshot the results and share!

Anyway, back to lifting ☟

BIOMECHANICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR TALL LIFTERS

1️⃣ Tall people are obviously tall vertically, but are also typically tall horizontally too, with a wide arm span.

2️⃣ Whilst exercising, you will work a bit harder for your reps (due to the extra distance – as mentioned previously), this means that more calories are burned as a by-product. A shorter person may do 15 reps and burn less calories, compared to a taller person doing the exact same 15 reps. Just to add that, it’s not necessarily that straight-forward to make a comparison like that, as taller people may require way more calories to maintain size.

3️⃣ You are probably naturally stronger when it comes to pushing exercises and events that allow you to involve your whole body. 

4️⃣ Tall people definitely have a harder time trying to gain size. A big muscle, will be a stronger muscle. The issue tall and long people have, is that any muscle that is gained has to be spread across a larger area due to the longer muscle bellies. This can also be an advantage, you can get away with gaining more size whether it’s fat or muscle and it barely shows. In the same breath – it can be frustrating when you really want to grow your quads the size of tree trunks (take it from me).

5️⃣ There are instant training and workout benefits to being tall. You have a greater work capacity (ability to execute, recover and adapt). 

6️⃣ Being long also means having longer nerves, which means you have slower reflexes (reaction speeds).

7️⃣ And last consideration is, tall people have an increased risk of injury, such as back pain from bending and positioning your body correctly to move weights over a greater distance.

OK, so how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?

MUST DO’S FOR GAINING SIZE AND STRENGTH
- PUTTING IN THE TALL WORK!

Being a powerlifter and a coach, I naturally focus on the 3 compound exercises performed in a powerlifting competition: Squat, Bench and Deadlift. The following tips will have these lifts in mind, especially the squat, as this is the lift that tall lifters tend to struggle with the most, however…

…these tips are applicable to any tall and long person chasing muscles and strength.

✅ Firstly, do stability and isolation work to help boost how you control loads when lifting heavy. The areas of the body to focus on are shoulders, core and pelvic stability. When you are long, the further away the weight is, the more difficult it becomes to control that end range. 

Examples of some stability and isolation work you could do: Lateral raises with holds at the top, Scapula Press Ups and Pallof Press.

✅ Upper and mid back mobility, for both the squat and the bench press is very important.

Why for the squat? Having mobile shoulders enables you to squeeze and engage the lats and pull the bar into your back. This will also make it so much easier to keep your chest upright.

Why for the bench? As already mentioned, longer lifters have a wider arm span (long arms). Therefore having good back mobility, allows you to squeeze the shoulder blades together and drive the torso up towards the bar. This creates a ‘bigger chest’ and reduces the range of movement. I discuss this point more detail later on.

My favourite sequence to open up the upper body muscles is:

  1. Release with T-Spine and Lats Foam Roll
  2. Lengthen with Pec Stretch Forward Step
  3. Activate with Scapula Press-Ups
  4. Strengthen with Cable Face Pulls
  5. Combine with Lying Prone Overhead Press

✅ Work on your hip mobility for squats! You have more leg to flex, so at the bottom of a squat your pelvis tends to tilt posteriorly (backwards); which is fine to a certain degree, but with us tall people it can get extreme, this looks like what is commonly known as a ‘butt wink’.

To correct this, it is important to drive your knees out in the hole and sit into your hips. Mobile hips and adductors will allow you to do this! Check out my article: Physical Health: Mobility & Flexibility for some hip and adductor mobility stretches you could try!

✅ Do exercises you find challenging (with focus on technique NOT weight). It is vital that you leave your ego at the door and work on lifts/exercises that test you.

I have heard many say “I can’t do that exercise because it’s difficult or awkward” – this is why you should do it!

Keep the weights very light and work on technical execution. Only increase weight when you are ready.

Some of the exercises I recommend for the tall are:

  • Any front loaded squat such as Front Squats, Goblet Squats and Zercher Squats. Having the weight at the front of your body, acts as an auto-correct of what tall lifters instinctively do when squatting, which is leaning too far forward. The weight at the front acts as a counterbalance and shifts the weight back to mid point with a more upright torso.
  • Exercises like Pause Squats are great as they enable you to spend more time at the bottom of squat and this is where we tend to lose tightness.
  • I also recommend doing exercises that INCREASE your range of motion (ROM), yep, I did say increase! Some examples are:

Be aware:

There is a big BUT when it comes to doing exercises that further increase your range of motion. HIGH VOLUME IS TOUGH WORK, so I would highly recommend that you break down your volume when doing exercises that increase in your ROM. For example: instead of doing 2 sets of 16 = 32 reps, opt for 4 sets of 8 = 32 reps with a shorter rest in-between sets (remember we recover quickly).

✅ Lastly, my tip for gaining size relates to my first tip. Include a larger amount of ‘accessory’ work with higher volume. This includes throwing in a lot more isolated exercises. As I have already mentioned, tall lifters have a greater ability to execute, recover and adapt, so hit isolated movements with greater intensity.

Consider doing post-exhaust agonist supersets. This involves doing 2 exercises back to back that work the same muscle group. The 1st exercise is a compound and 2nd is isolation (example: doing high bar squats, followed by leg extensions to hit the quads).

SQUAT TIPS

🅢 Leggy people can have knee tracking issues, therefore a wider stance is optimal. This enables your shins to stay a bit more perpendicular to the floor and allows your hips to open up more and maintain an upright chest.

Assess your foot placement too. I find that having my feet pointed out at about 45 degrees works, this is a guideline, and I advise that you play around to find your optimal foot position. Once you have your stance, the position of your knees and chest are important:

– Even though you will have a forward leaning position, it is your job at the start of the squat to ensure you stand up as tall as you can! No hunching over and definitely make sure that your knees are locked out straight. Make yourself as tall as you can.

🅢 Take your wide arm span into account. mr tickle tall long arms

When doing a heavy squat, the optimal position for bar back placement is low bar (sitting on the posterior deltoid), with hands placed as close to the shoulders as possible. The issue with this for long-armed lifters is the lower the bar sits on the back, the less space your arms have.

Mobility

Personally I don’t have the best mobility in my shoulders, in fact it is quite poor (I am always a work in progress).

This poor mobility increases the difficulty and puts more strain on the shoulder joint. So, simply holding the bar can cause a bit of instability, this is felt as ‘loss of upper back tightness’ and you definitely require a lot of tightness in the squat! Additionally it could lead to shoulder injury. I will share a cue that may be a game-changer for maintaining back tightness:

Once the bar is on your back “Squeeze your elbows towards your hips”

My advice is to play around with back positioning and don’t just assume low bar will work best for you. I personally have a bar placement of between low and high (somewhere in-between my upper traps and posterior delts). Low-bar feels nice for tall lifters as it allows you to push your hips back more. 

🅢 Ankle mobility is important. Long legged lifters need more dorsiflexion (pulling the foot up towards the shin) to achieve depth. tall squatter

Restricted dorsiflexion could be caused by tight calves, so I would advise self-myofascial release and some dynamic warm-up stretches such as Calf Raises on a box.

It is beneficial for tall lifters to wear heeled shoes, this will help create more range of movement for your ankle WITHOUT your heels coming off the floor! shoes for tall liftersMy favourite squat shoes are: These Sabo Powerlift Shoes, available from 9for9uk. They are a great heel height (not too high), super light and allow you to plant your whole foot into the floor.

However, I would highly recommend warming up in flat shoes or barefoot, to allow the foot to naturally dorsiflex. Shoes have the potential to restrict the toes and ankles. So, a few warm-up sets flat-footed with just the bar will suffice.

🅢 Pick accessory lifts that will boost your squat. Being tall with long legs and shorter torso will mean that you have a forward lean, where the chest ends up facing slightly towards the ground. With this in mind, you need to ensure your back and glutes can take the load, no doubt they’re already strong (lets be honest, a lot of you tall lifters squat with your back anyway – right?!) but please strengthen them even more!

My favourite exercises for bulletproof back & glutes are:

Both the hack & belt squat are excellent for the glutes (and hit quads hard too) without massively loading your back.

Squat tips sheet

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BENCH TIPS

If you have long arms, there are two words that will make you shudder: BENCH PRESS. Pressing from your chest to infinity to beyond can be daunting, as I’ve previously said; the further the weight is from your body the harder it comes to control.

So, what can you to make this lift more bearable and make some gains?

🅑 Work on your tricep strength, I cannot stress this one enough. Long armed lifters need a strong lockout, as the bar will naturally slow down near the top. You need to use your triceps earlier on in the upwards pressing stage, compared to a lifter with short arms and range of motion.

I will explain using pictures of a long armed lifter (me) and a picture of a shorter armed lifter: Holly Bryans – U72 Powerlifting Raw & Equipped Champ (IG: @hollzzyyx). In these pictures, we both have our hands placed in the same position, which is the index finger on the rings, this is the max grip allowed in powerlifting.

I have a narrower grip in relation to my shoulder width. This also means, I have to tuck my elbows more just to keep my arms under the bar. This is why us long armed lifters end up using our triceps more earlier in the pressing stage.

Holly’s grip is a lot wider in relation to her shoulders, this enables her to reduce her range of motion just by the ability to keep her arms straighter under the bar. Also, it’s important to note that Holly has an incredible arch; along with having an average-long torso to leg ratio, she has good mobility in her upper body.

🅑 Stretch your pecs, stabilise and mobilise your upper back (thoracic region). As you can see in the picture my elbows pass the bench. This means my pec muscles are lengthening under the weight in comparison to Holly, so my pecs need to be both mobile and strong.

As your pecs lengthen, the opposing side also needs to be strong to assist in the movement off the chest, so think lats, lats, lats!

🅑 Get those lats super strong, this will enable you keep those shoulder blades retracted too. My absolute favourite for lat strength that is transferable over to bench are Inverted Rows with feet on a bench. The reason these are so great is, they force you to use your lats to pull your body up towards the bar with that long range of motion. Tip: Use the same grip as your bench press and don’t arch your lower back whilst doing them.

🅑 Find your comfortable grip. The only way to do this is to experiment with where you hold the bar.

A good bench press requires you to press up and back, so we have two ranges of motion to consider; vertical and horizontal. I advise trying the following:

  • Try to keep your forearms as vertical as you can, whilst at the same time…
  • Ensuring the bar doesn’t land too low on your chest and lands at the optimal position on your chest – see both images ‘grip on lockout’ and ‘grip on chest’ 

A few years ago, I brought in my grip. I used to grip with my index finger on the ring, but now I find it more efficient to have my middle finger on the rings. This enables me to achieve a good balance of my shortest possible vertical range (pressing up) and shortest possible horizontal range (pressing back), find out what works for you.

🅑 Look at your foot positioning. Long lifters with long femurs need to find a way to drive as much power as possible with their legs WITHOUT your bum lifting. This can be challenging, so two things are important:

  1. When setting up, place your feet within a ‘range’ with your pelvis high. The range should be ‘feet under/behind knees’ (see picture below) this will allow you to plant your heels down. Within this range you can widen your feet out to the side if desired, with toes facing about 45 degrees. I personally have my feet as close to the bench as possible and drive my knees out.
  2. Once your bum is on the bench, squeeze quads hard and push heels into the floor to create maximum tightness.

tall bencher

Bench tips sheet

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DEADLIFT TIPS

My tips are based on pulling using the conventional stance. There’s 2 reasons for this:

  1. I am a conventional puller
  2. Conventional seems to favour taller leverages (people who are both tall and long), however there are variants in body ratios as I have already discussed, which may mean that a shorter person with longer limbs or a tall person with a medium-long torso would be more suited to sumo.

🅓 Consider your starting position. Most tall people will have long legs, you may also have disproportionally long femurs like me! This forces your hips further back away from the bar, which forces you to lean forward more to reach the bar (even with long arms). This means your back won’t be very upright on commencement of the pull.

Remember, anyone of any height can have disproportionally long femurs which have an impact on deadlift positioning, but it is important to know what your starting position should look like.

tall deadlifterIn the correct position, you will be able to use your legs NOT your back.

Now you’re in the know about what your starting positioning should look like! Next time you hear people advising you to sit back more and to get your butt down more … you can tell them (kindly) that they’re wrong, it’s the optimal position for you and not all bodies are made equal.

🅓 Focus on areas of strength and weakness. This means doing exercises that develop the muscles required to deadlift. Such as mid-to-lower back exercises, back extension or hip hinge exercises and incorporate lifts that highlight weak points, such as lockout points.

My top exercises to develop the back and posterior chain muscles are: 

  • Bent-over rows, these hit the mid back and lats so well. The great thing about bent over rows is the front leaning position being similar to the deadlift.
  • Romanian Deadlifts, excellent exercise to hit and strengthen the whole posterior chain in the same position as a conventional deadlift.

My favourite ‘weak point’ lifts for the tall are:

  • Deficit deadlifts because it increases how far the bar has to travel to lockout by exaggerating the bottom position.
  • Snatch-grip deadlifts, again similar principle to deficits with increasing range of motion but by ‘shortening’ your arm length. The additional challenge is the wider grip, which will really help increase your gripping power.

🅓 Look at the position of your feet and hands. Firstly place your feet in a stance that allows you to reach the bar with your arms brushing the side of your legs, this is normally about shoulder-width apart. Then, keep your hand placement as close to your shins as possible. I like to think of this as ‘keeping compact’.

If you don’t keep your arms and legs compact and your grip is slightly wider, this will place more stress on your upper back muscles and can potentially cause your body to shift in an even more bend over position and excessive rounding of your back.

🅓 My last deadlift tip is a simple one: Look at your footwear. I have spoken a lot about taller lifters having a more visibly bent over torso at start of the deadlift, so imagine wearing shoes with a small elevated heel, it will make this even worse.

Wear super flat shoes, you will be able to feel the ground better with your whole foot and apply the ‘push-the-ground-away’ cue and it will be less likely that you will tip forward at the start of the pull. Tipping forward is a big no-no, because the force will be generated from your back, we want the force to be generated from multiple large muscles; glutes, hamstrings, erectors, quads and lats.

I have a few favourite deadlift shoes, they’re all super flat and grippy:

Deadlift tips sheet

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So there you have it, all of my tips and advice to become the ultimate stacked tall and/or long lifter!

I have many years of experience in strength training and I can tell you that taking time to improve your technique based on your body type will enable you to lift safely and effectively for many years.

Technique isn’t the same across the board, it is highly individual and it is down to you to find out what works best for your body type.

There is no such thing has perfect technique but there is such a thing as perfect technique for you!

It is not useful and constructive to compare yourself to others, so use what your mama and dad gave you and train to the best of your abilities. 

Did you find this useful? Will you be saving any of the tip sheets? Feel free to share them with your buddies to your instagram stories and tag @powerandpoleYou can also leave me a comment below.

Article references:

  • Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology article: ‘THE EFFECT OF LEG LENGTH ON PERCEIVED ATTRACTIVENESS OF SIMPLIFIED STIMULI’ -Marco Bertamini & Kate M. Bennett, School of Psychology, University of Liverpool
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – Vitruvian Man

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