According to scientific data published in journals like The Lancet, the average height for adult men and women in the United States is 5’8″ and 5’3″, respectively. However, Hadi Choopan, the 2022 Mr. Olympia in Open bodybuilding, is 5’6″.
The same goes for Ed Coan, whose face undeniably belongs on the Mount Rushmore of powerlifting. Naim Süleymanoğlu, the strongest pound-for-pound weightlifter ever, was 4’10”. It sure seems like lifting is a short person’s game.
But the gym is for everyone. Short, tall, large, small, you name it. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone can, or should, train the same way. If significantly above average height, you may have to come at your workouts from a different angle.
These are seven top-of-the-line options for taller individuals to try in the weight room. They cover many of the fundamental movement patterns, but with small adjustments to your technique or the equipment you work with.
Best Exercises for Tall People
- Sumo Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Zercher Squat
- Safety Bar Squat
- Dumbbell Row
- Floor Press
- Weighted Plank
Before you dive in, know that you shouldn’t restrict yourself to certain exercises in the gym by default just because you’re tall. If a lift feels good and you can execute it with proper form, there’s no reason to change what’s working for you.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
Deadlifts are a phenomenal exercise no matter your height. They work nearly every muscle in your body and build tremendous strength in the process. That said, the deadlift also starts on the floor and even getting into position can be challenging for tall folks. If you have trouble reaching the barbell for a standard, close-stance deadlift, you might want to try the sumo pull instead.
Sumo deadlifts work all of the same muscles as conventional deadlifts, but can accommodate long legs a bit more. The ultra-wide stance helps you open up your hips so your thighs aren’t crashing into your torso as you bend over.
Benefits of the Sumo Deadlift
- Provides a more comfortable starting position for those with long legs.
- Shortens the range of motion of the deadlift.
- Should allow you to work with heavier weights.
How to Do the Sumo Deadlift
- Step up to a loaded barbell and take a very wide stance; your toes should point outward and be only a few inches away from the plates.
- Sit your hips straight downward by driving your knees out to the sides until you can reach the bar.
- Flatten your back, brace your core, and deadlift the bar by pushing your feet into the floor.
- Keep your arms relaxed as you come to a standing position by thrusting your hips forward and locking out your knees.
Coach’s Tip: The wider you stand for the sumo deadlift, the more hip flexibility you’ll need to set up comfortably.
Only powerlifters are sworn to the barbell for their deadlifts (powerlifting is a barbell-exclusive strength sport). However, If you lift weights recreationally, you should probably still deadlift in some fashion — looking beyond the barbell might be worth a shot.
The frame of a trap bar is designed to place the load in closer alignment with your own center of gravity, making balance less of an issue. This can help make the movement feel more intuitive and allow you to focus on what matters: working hard.
Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Places the weight closer to your center of gravity, which should help you maintain your balance.
- Has a less-complex technique than the barbell deadlift.
- Works your legs and back equally.
How to Do the Trap Bar Deadlift
- Stand inside of the trap bar frame with your feet under your hips and your toes pointing forward or slightly out. Most trap bars have two pairs of handles; grab the higher ones if you’re inflexible as you set up.
- Crouch down into a high squat position and grab the handles. Your knees should be bent and your back should be flat.
- Push downward into the floor as though you were performing a leg press.
- Keep your arms relaxed and stand up with the frame.
Coach’s Tip: You should feel both your quads and posterior chain working during the trap bar deadlift.
The squat is, bar none, the best bang-for-your-buck exercise you can do for your legs. It also happens to be incredibly customizable; you don’t need to force yourself to do the barbell back squat if the technique doesn’t jive with your body.
Adjusting how you hold the weight can make all the difference, as squatting is as much of a balancing act as it is a test of strength. Tall people tend to do well with anterior, or front-loaded, squats, which act as a counterbalance.
A front-loaded squat variation like the Zercher squat might help you squat deeper and, thus, build your legs bigger and stronger.
Benefits of the Zercher Squat
- The placement of the load helps you maintain an upright torso and sit into a low squat.
- Great for training your core stability.
- Even light weights are incredibly stimulating, so you don’t need to lift heavy.
How to Do the Zercher Squat
- Set an unloaded barbell in a squat rack at around the height of your belly button.
- Hook the bar into your elbows and clasp your hands together, then step out of the rack.
- Assume a comfortable squat stance, brace your core, and sit straight down into a squat.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your upper arms pinned to your sides and don’t shrug your shoulders. Allow the bar to rest motionless in your elbows.
Back squats are one heck of a leg-builder. If you love loading up and squatting heavy but find the barbell awkward to work with, you should give the safety bar a go instead (if your gym has one, that is).
This unique bar adjusts the placement of the load in a way that should help you maintain an upright posture. The safety bar also provides a more ergonomic option for holding on with your arms. Tall folks with long arms may find it awkward to pin the barbell into their upper backs in some cases, and the safety bar offers a workaround.
Benefits of the Safety Bar Squat
- Adjusts the placement of the load so it is closer to your midline, which helps maintain balance.
- The handles provide a more ergonomic way to hold the bar that doesn’t depend on shoulder flexibility.
- You can use the safety bar for just about any barbell-based squat.
How to Do the Safety Bar Squat
- In terms of execution, know that the safety bar squat is no different from a standard barbell squat.
- Unrack the bar by grasping the handles and allowing the frame to rest on your upper back.
- Assume a comfortable stance, take a breath, and slowly sit down as low as you’re able.
Coach’s Tip: Grip the handles tightly but don’t push up onto the bar with your arms.
Rows and other pulling movements are a tall gymgoer’s bread and butter. Long arms pay dividends here by providing ample range of motion to utilize for muscle growth and strength gain.
Barbell rows can stress your back and limit how much weight you can use. This is true for folks of all heights, but tall individuals with long arms spend more time completing each individual rep, and thus more time accumulating lower back fatigue in the process. You can sidestep that fatigue by heading to the dumbbell rack instead.
Benefits of the Dumbbell Row
- Takes your lower back out of the equation so you can focus on training your lats.
- Allows you to train your back unilaterally to address any muscular imbalances.
- The technique is straightforward and easy to learn for beginners.
- Tall people require a more pronounced hip hinge to perform the barbell row, which demands a lot of flexibility and endurance. The dumbbell row lets you focus purely on muscle-building.
How to Do the Dumbbell Row
- Set one dumbbell to the side of a weight bench. The leg on the side of your working arm should be planted on the floor behind you like a kickstand.
- Rest your non-working knee and hand on the bench. Your torso should be roughly parallel to the floor.
- Reach down and grab the weight so it hangs a few inches off the ground.
- Pull your elbow backward until your upper arm is aligned with your torso.
Coach’s Tip: Avoid twisting your torso when you row; keep your trunk at a consistent angle by bracing your core.
Long arms mean a long range of motion and are usually the bane of a big bench press (unless you’re a world-record-holding powerlifter like Jennifer Thompson, who proves you can still build unbelievable strength no matter your body type), but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck on International Chest Day.
If a large range of motion on the bench is inhibiting your performance, causing joint discomfort, or hampering your technique, you might want to ditch the bench altogether. Enter the floor press.
Benefits of the Floor Press
- Artificially “shortens” the length of your arms while still allowing you to lift heavy weights.
- You can do floor presses with a barbell, dumbbells, or on the Smith machine.
- Emphasizes your triceps while still building overall upper-body strength.
How to Do the Floor Press
- If you’re working with a barbell, set it up around knee level in a squat rack and lie on your back on the floor underneath it. You can plant your feet on the floor or extend your legs out straight if you prefer.
- Unrack the barbell and stabilize it directly over your shoulders.
- Lower the bar slowly until your elbows gently touch the ground, and then reverse the motion by straightening your arms.
Coach’s Tip: Lower the bar slowly to avoid bashing your elbows into the ground.
Core stability is important no matter your height. Tall folks should devote even more time to their midline strength, as they have to move weights further from their center of gravity during most forms of weight training.
Planks are all well and good for training your abs to resist unwanted forces, but to become immovably strong, you should add some extra resistance in. Weighted planks are beneficial for anyone, but provide tall individuals with an easy and convenient option for core training that translates well to other exercises in a way that a crunch wouldn’t.
Benefits of the Weighted Plank
- Trains your abs and teaches you how to properly brace your core to resist external forces.
- You can perform the weighted plank basically anywhere, even at home.
- Teaches you how to breathe during compound exercises like squats and deadlifts.
How to Do the Weighted Plank
- Lie on your stomach on the floor. Your best bet is to have a friendly gymgoer or spotter place a weight plate on your lower back.
- Prop yourself up onto your elbows. Your legs should be extended and your spine should be straight; contract your core to avoid any dip in your lower back.
- Hold this position for time or until you lose control of your brace.
Coach’s Tip: You may be able to kneel and hold a plate behind your back to set up for the weighted plank without assistance.
Understanding Your Anatomy
Being tall is good for a whole lot more than reaching the top shelf in the kitchen. However, in the weight room, your height may not work in your favor. If hitting the weights feels more awkward than awesome at first, don’t fret. Your anatomy plays more of a role than you think.
Tallness isn’t an inherently poor trait for lifting weights (although you do have to worry about bonking your head on the squat rack or lat pulldown more often than a shorter person). Tall people, though, tend to have longer limbs relative to their torso.
Height vs. Limb Length
This is the defining characteristic that separates someone with an “ideal” build for weight training from someone who may find resistance training clumsy or cumbersome. Research shows that, while height and limb growth aren’t necessarily the same thing, taller people commonly end up with longer legs and arms as well. (1)
How does this affect you in the gym? Well, almost all exercises involve moving your arms or legs. Your torso must “accommodate” that movement. Long-legged squatters naturally fold over at the waist more than shorter ones. You may have difficulty setting up for your deadlifts since you simply have longer legs that must bend so you can reach the bar in the first place.
Conversely, resistance training often feels quite intuitive for stocky people with short limbs. Short arms or legs mean a smaller range of motion, which means fewer opportunities to lose control of the weight. The resistance will also always be closer to that person’s center of gravity, making it much easier to balance.
This doesn’t mean that weight lifting is a foolish use of your time if you’re tall — the iron is for everyone. It does, however, mean that you may have to be a bit more careful with your exercises and how you perform them, especially if you’re closer to seven feet tall than six.
Training Tips for Tall People
If you habitually get asked, “How’s the weather up there?” certain weight lifting exercises may feel uncomfortable or unnatural to you. That doesn’t mean they’re off the table, but it might mean that you’ll need to modify them a bit. Here’s how you can maximize your time with the weights.
(Slightly) Lower Your Intensity
Long limbs generally mean a longer range of motion. While this is fantastic for stimulating muscle growth, it also means you have more chances to mess up your technique or lose control of the weight.
This is particularly true for free-weight, lower-body exercises like squats. As a tall individual, you have to move the weight further in space than a short person. You might find it difficult to maintain good technique when you’re fatigued and have to move the bar so far or for so many reps.
If you find your squat or deadlift technique deteriorating over the course of a hard set, it might be worth pulling back on the intensity somewhat and leaving another rep or two in the tank. You can make up for the loss in stimulation by performing an additional set instead, which also affords you another opportunity to dial in your form.
Exercising control over the weights you use in the gym is one of the best ways to ensure your workouts are safe and productive. The eccentric phase — that is, the lowering portion — also happens to be where you build a lot of muscle size and strength.
Resisting a weight is also easier than lifting it. If you’re on the tall side, it pays to emphasize your eccentrics. Not only will this help you get stronger and build muscle, but doing so also teaches your body to maintain rock-solid stability and control over whatever load you’re working with.
This quality is important for everyone who hits the gym, but it matters even more for folks who have long arms and legs.
If squats feel awkward, you might need to adjust your stance. Taller individuals tend to have longer thigh bones on average, which will affect how you set up and perform most lower-body movements.
To sit into a deep squat, you need to remain upright enough to support whatever weight you’re using. This can be difficult to achieve if your feet are too close together — you might find that your ankle or hip mobility limits your ability to squat far before you reach your desired depth.
Widening your stance and turning your feet out (think anywhere from 20 to 45 degrees) will artificially “shorten” the length of your legs and help you maintain a more upright posture when you squat. Swapping from conventional to sumo deadlifts can provide similar relief.
Play to Your Strengths
You may not be built to squat or bench like a pro, but that doesn’t mean that your stature provides you with no advantages at all in the weight room. Tall folks tend to excel at pulling exercises.
If you can nail down a deadlift technique that works for you, you may find that you have an exceptionally strong pull. Having long arms means you don’t have to pull the barbell as far off the floor as someone with short arms, for instance.
Upper-body pulling movements like rows or pulldowns also probably feel quite intuitive. A long, sweeping range of motion will engage the musculature of your back and allow you to generate lots of force over a long period of time.
This is true for standard back exercises but also assists you if you like to do explosive exercises like power cleans or high pulls. A longer range of motion means more time to generate momentum, which can help you elevate the barbell a bit higher.
Reach New Heights
The exercises you perform in the weight room should work with you, not against you. This means finding movements that suit your needs and how you’re built in equal measure. For tall individuals, pressing and squatting, in particular, can cause plenty of frustration. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to make those exercises work in your favor.
- Bogin, B., & Varela-Silva, M. I. (2010). Leg length, body proportion, and health: a review with a note on beauty. International journal of environmental research and public health, 7(3), 1047–1075.
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