4 Challenges For The Tall Bodybuilder

Tall BodybuilderEvery day of the week I have guys ask me for a workout program.

They want to know the best training routine out there for their goals.

The truth is that there is not one training routine that is best for everyone.

There are many factors affecting the best training routine for you, and one of these is height.

I’m a tall 6’2″ guy myself with very long arms and legs and for years I compared myself to my shorter friends who always seemed to progress faster than me.

They started at more pull ups than me and added reps much faster.

They started with a higher squat than me and progressed to +220lbs. in a matter of 3-5 months while it took me almost a year.

And most importantly, they seemed to fill out their frames much faster.

If you’re over 6 feet tall with long arms and legs you probably know what I’m talking about.

You’ve been through this yourself and you wonder why this is the case?

This article will explain why…

Let’s get started:

1) Tall Men Have To Push and Pull The Weights Through A Longer Range-of-Motion

Imagine the bench press, barbell row and squat.

In all 3 exercises the tall guy has to go through a longer range-of-motion because of his long limbs.

The same goes for pretty much any other exercises out there.

The only exception is the deadlift where tall guys often have an advantage because of their long arms. Long arms combined with a short torso shorten the distance of a deadlift.

So what does this mean for us tall guys?

It means that we do more work on each rep compared to the shorter guy since we lift it through a longer range-of-motion.

And that’s why you rarely see guys who are over 6 ft with long arms do bench presses with over 300lbs. while you see a good amount of shorter guys do it.

A tall guy doing bench presses with 240lbs. may be doing the same amount of work as the shorter guy doing 300lbs. because of his longer arms.

Solution to challenge:

Stop comparing yourself with shorter guys who can lift more weight than you.

Accept that you’re tall with long arms and legs, and that you do more work on each rep.

If you want to boost your ego on a lift, get good at deadlifts since that might be the only lift where you have a great advantage.

Also, if you’re into strength training, consider using very low reps (1-3 reps per set), and do a lot of sets with 1-2 minute rest between sets.

I saw amazing strength gains doing 10 sets of 2-3 reps per set and resting 1 minute between sets on the shoulder press.

I gained something crazy like 25 pounds in a month on the press after years of being stuck on the same weight.

I believe that the lower reps work well for tall guys who wanna add strength because we already do more work on each rep, so we don’t need 5 reps to get a good set in.

2) Tall Guys Have A Harder Time With Calisthenics

Calisthenic exercises such as push ups, pull ups, muscle ups and levers are no different than weight exercises.

Just like weight exercises, they’re also more difficult for tall guys.

Consider the following examples:

  • Push up and handstand push up: The tall guy has to push a longer distance.
  • Pull up: The tall guy has to pull a longer distance.
  • Muscle up: The tall guy has to both pull and push a longer distance.
  • Front lever: The tall guy is usually heavier because of a bigger bone structure and has a harder time getting his body centered to maintain balance.

To give you an extreme example, consider insects. Pound-for-pound they’re stronger than pretty much anything and can lift several times their own bodyweight, but the reasoning is their size.

The smaller you are, the stronger you can get pound-for-pound. 

If you still don’t believe me, take a look at all world class gymnasts. None of them are over 6 ft. tall. They are all around 5’5″-5’7″, because gymnastics are based on relative strength and not absolute strength.

A gymnast might not be able to deadlift as much as the 6’5″ and 300 pound gorilla strength athlete, but he can do relative strength feats such as the iron cross.

Solution to challenge:

Take it easy with the calisthenics and start with a simple workout.

If needed, train at home and start doing push ups from your knees and negative pull ups to build up your first rep.

It’s all about baby steps and eventually you will get there.

I started at 0 pull ups and 0 push ups and it took me SIX months to get my first pull up.

Now, 5 years later I do sets of 15 pull ups for warm up.

If I can get to this level in calisthenics with my skinny-fat and lanky genetics, I believe you can too.

3) Tall Guys Should Consider Alternative Exercises

My body never liked squats and deadlifts.

Despite devoting a year of my life to master the basic barbell lifts, I still struggled hitting the right muscles with the lifts.

When I did squats I felt a lot of the weight on my lower back, because I had to bend far forward to compensate for my long femurs.

Also, I would often get joint pain from bench presses and deadlifts and I didn’t feel like I worked my muscles.

Then one day I decided to remove these exercises from my workout and only use exercises that I’m comfortable with.

Since then, the following things have improved:

  • I have a more balanced and aesthetic physique.
  • I have more muscle mass, especially in the shoulders, upper chest and arms.
  • I very rarely feel any kind of pain during or after my workouts. I’ve been training for +5 years now and I have zero injuries, joint pain or anything like that. I believe that’s largely because I don’t lift heavy.
  • I look forward to every training session because I don’t have to do exercises that don’t work for my body.

Tips for replacing exercises:

Here are the exercises that I replaced and why:

  • Squats replaced by leg presses, leg curls and leg extensions > I feel the muscles working now and have 0 discomfort in my lower back, hips and knees.
  • Bench presses replaced by cable flyes and pec deck flyes > I feel the chest working now and have 0 discomfort in my shoulders, lower back and wrists.
  • Deadlifts replaced by pull ups, rows and hyper extensions > I feel the different parts of my back working now without feeling any back pain and overdeveloping my traps.

Besides replacing these exercises, I have added a lot of isolation work for my shoulders, arms and abs.

4) Tall Guys Have a Harder Time With Filling Out Their Frame

Most of the “big tall guys” you see are just big-framed guys with a lot of chub and thereby they look big in clothes.

However, seeing a real lean +6’2″ guy with lean and muscular arms and a good shoulder to waist ratio is a rarity.

The reason to why it’s so rare to see a tall guy who’s lean and muscular at the same time is that it requires many years of correct training and eating.

When you have a tall frame, it takes a longer time to fill out and look impressive.

Just imagine a 15 pound muscle gain on a 5’7″ 125 lbs. guy. For him, that gain will be very visible.

On a tall guy who’s 6’5″ and 220lbs., a 15 pound muscle gain won’t be very noticeable.

Solution to challenge:

Most tall guys will give up right before they reap the rewards. I know, because I was close to doing that.

In 2012 I had trained for 2 years and 2 months and I still looked the same, however, in the next 1 year I made more progress than I had made in the previous 2:

1 huge year progress

I progressed so fast because I had already built a bit of muscle mass in the November 2012 picture. In that “starved” picture, I was training my ass off 4-6 days a week doing cheerleading partner stunts and basic bodyweight training.

I dieted all the way down to 175 pounds and was doing shoulder presses with my partner who weighed around 110 pounds.

And here’s the thing… Once you pass a certain point in your muscular development, any additional size you gain becomes VERY visible.

In my case, the first inches I gained on my shoulders and arms didn’t make me look any different, but now-a-days I see a difference in my arms when I gain just 1/10 inch on them.

The reasoning is that the first many pounds of muscle you gain just make you go from “lanky” to “average”.

Once you have an average build, any additional size makes you stand out and that’s what happened to me from November 2012 to April 2013.

Summing It Up:

I won’t lie, being tall has more advantages than disadvantages, but when it comes to training, being tall and lanky is a big disadvantage.

Tall guys will most often be weaker than shorter guys pound-for-pound and take a longer time to progress in strength and muscle gains.

However, the few os us who can stick it out and stay consistent for years will build an impressive physique that stands out.

Being a tall guy with a great shoulder to waist ratio is like being a short woman with big breasts. It get’s you noticed.

Be proud but stay hungry,

Oskar Faarkrog

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  1. ian roberts says:

    hey oskar very accurate points on leverages etc seems like i can bench the world my deadlifting is appauling i liked your noobs gains explained article as well im 5 : 11 and a half with a 8 wrist and 10.5 ankle quite short arms would you say i would suit well to strength ? i do gain muscle in a blink as well im naturally over 200lbs any ideas for routines? i know ill be competitive in benching and squats but deadlifts no matter how much i try to perform a proper rep my back rounds over but i guess thats just short t rex arms trouble there like you said on a article you cant be good at everything and your right

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Hey Ian, since muscle generally comes easily to you, I would focus the beginning of every workout on building up the muscles that are lacking and then do a bit of maintenance work for the rest at the end.

  2. Great points Oskar. I’m a tall guy as well and can tell you that it can be a challenge to fill out a big frame!

    It takes more time and energy for us tall guys to build muscle but the extra effort is worth it.

    Being tall and having a great physique definitely has its advantages!


  3. Sangmin Lee says:

    Hey Oskar! I’m a 6’3″ 18 year old, and I’m more on the big side, but not fat. Any exercise tips when I hit a plateau?

  4. Hey Oskar,
    I’m looking to get a Barbell for Deadlifts – is it necessary that I get an olympic one or is any okay?
    I’m short on money and space, and if the difference isn’t too big, I’d very much prefere buying a standard one.
    Thanks and keep up the good work!

  5. Christine says:

    Hi Oskar
    I’m 5’10,67 kg and a woman and I am starting to find it harder when it comes to lifting weights. Up to 65kg deadlift, 12.5 kg db chest press and 10 kg shoulder press. What alternative exercises do you suggest I try. I want to keep lifting and making gains. Thanks

  6. Dear Oskar,

    Firstly, I thank you for writing such a needed post for the Tall guys.
    I am, 6’1″, very bony and under-weighed. I decided and have started with my Weight Training a week ago. What you say is right, I guess..as I too felt the same while workout. Anything I do, I am needing to stretch longer(and pain!).
    Hope things will go fine with well planned progressions from now on. I will for sure update my experience and any tips after 6 months of my Training(w/pics) for the benefit of the rest of the TALL guys out there.

  7. Hey Oskar,

    While certainly the points you presented above are very true, there is one advantage tall people have over shorter lifters: taller people can have more muscle mass than shorter ones. For every inch, a person can have about 6 more lbs of lean muscle mass. So while number 4 is still true, in the long run, provided the effort, bigger lifters can be more muscular. Great article!

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      You’re partly right about that Oscar,

      The amount of muscle mass you can carry depends on how much bone mass you have.

      Tall people generally have more bone mass than shorter people, but the larger amount of bone mass isn’t always proportional to the increased height. This is especially true for skinny-fat guys who have very skinny bone structures.

      With that said, to look good with a skinny frame, you don’t need as much muscle mass since the skinny bones create the illusion of your muscles appearing bigger so in the end that “evens” out.

      In conclusion, I believe that guys of all heights and bone structures can look good provided they train and eat properly, but for some people it will just take longer to achieve that full and aesthetic look.

  8. Nicolás says:

    Hey Oskar, nice article! Although not as tall as other posters here (I’m 6’0), I also seem to have similar struggles to those described.

    As to exercise selection, there’s plenty of trial and error to be had to find what works for you. In my case, I simplified my routine and base it mainly around pull ups, dips, leg raises & back levers, and pistol squats + other bw exercises for legs (I’m going to invest on a weighted vest after my cut), because those just work for me – a bit of iso in arms works as well, but it’s absolutely secondary. Plenty of barbell & dumbbell iso exercises didn’t work for me as successfully, even if they gave me a good pump.

    I have a question, and it’s unrelated to this article: what are your thoughts on rest weeks? Do you take them periodically? What if one trains for a while without having one? Thanks in advance!

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thank you Nicolas, I only take them when I need them, 2 X 4-5 days per year.

      I love training and prefer to do a light week than take an entire week off.

      In the end, it’s all about listening to your body. Take time off when you need it.

      Also, If you start losing drive to train and get bored with it, take 3-5 days off and get back to it or switch up your routine.

  9. Great article Oskar!

    Interesting to find that at 6ft3 210lbs I also eliminated the same exercises as you, bar the bench press. I literally used to dread squats, but now I enjoy the leg presses and would say my legs/glutes are now in even better shape. I also find hyper-extensions to be so much better for me than deadlifts.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thank you Gavin, it’s a huge relief to have a program with exercises that work for you. You look forward to hitting the gym instead of being anxious about getting an injury.

  10. Excellent post, as usual Oskar. Once again, you point out issues that are unique to guys with builds like my own.
    I’ve spent the past two years trying to lift heavy and always stopping before I can make real progress because of injuries. It has been so frustrating! Your posts have convinced me that it is past time to quit and focus on body weight work.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thank you Jason. I’ve been doing bodyweight training and pump training with machines, dumbbells and other isolation exercises for the past 2-3 years and it works very well for me. Adding size and definition each year while staying pain free and enjoying my workouts.

  11. Hey Oskar,

    Great article :) I have two questions

    1. Do you think squats are actually over rated to grow your legs?
    2. Do you think there could be any differences when it comes to comparing short and tall guys’ diets?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thank you Jeff.

      1) Squats are a good exercise that helped me grow my legs. I did heavy squats 3 days a week in my first 1 year of training and added like 160lbs. to my squat back then. However, squats are just one exercise out of many and if it feels uncomfortable to do barbell squats, there’s no reason to continue when you have so many alternatives. The truth is that your leg muscles don’t know whether you’re squatting, leg pressing or hack squatting. They just know that there is resistance that must be overcome. You can create resistance with dozens of other exercises so squatting is definitely overrated in the bodybuilding community.

      2) No. Height doesn’t affect diet directly, although tall guys are generally heavier because of a bigger frame and the heavier you are, the more calories you burn, so your dietary needs increase. In other words, there will be a difference in caloric needs but it’s not directly caused by height, but by the overall frame of the person.

  12. Oskar,

    Thank you for this post.

    I am 6 ft. 1 in. and wondered why my rep numbers in pull ups and push ups weren’t up there with numbers of seen posted on other sites. The leverages involved that you brought out totally make sense and I really appreciate the alternatives you suggest for squats and deadlifts.

    I am a big fan of your blog – Keep up the good work! Your background and progress have served as an inspiration for me.

    Thanks again,
    Rich R.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thanks for the kind words Rich, I felt the same way years ago until I learned about the leverages.

  13. Michael says:

    I’m also 6’2 and have some nice wide hips to go with it. I’m also not a fan of weights so only train calisthenics. I’ve found you get better aesthetics from focussing on a basic routine with a push, pull and a squat. Currently training chin ups, dips and Bulgarian split squats, and I’ve also included hanging knee raises. If you couple this with a good diet and consistent training (I normally do 3-6 sessions a week but always stop 1 short of maximum) then you will start to fill out.

    Dropping sugar completely from my diet has helped as well.

  14. Very interesting post oskar! I have never thought that tall guys have to do longer distance reps!

    I think that the routine doesn’t matter much. Just like you said there is no perfect routine. A general strategy that works for all, tall or short, is focusing on key lifts and progressive overload. Then add some variaton in rep range and you will be ok.

    You mentioned that you don’t lift heavy anymore and don’t have injuries which is great. But at your stage of development how do you progress in strength if you don’t leavy heavy? Or you don’t progress?


    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Good questions. I lower rest time, train longer, train more often, do high reps, Dropsets, giant sets and supersets. The weights I lift now are pretty much the same as years ago, I just used the techniques above to progress. I believe that after a certain point adding weight increases risk of injury too much since you’re lifting more than your frame is designed for.

      • Totally agree. There is no need to lift extremely heavy after a certain point except you want to become a powerlifter.

      • I’m 6.4″ 21 in age and fat boy watery fat in body I’m exercising since 2 years but just lost little bit fat and didn’t get shape I don’t feel muscles contract between exercise I wanna be in good athlete shape please anyone help me on [email protected]

  15. Excellent post Oskar!

    I am 6ft 6 and have been skinny up until the last 5 years or so like yourself. You are totally correct about the longer distance the weight is travelling. Luckily this works to our advantage because of the time spent under tension.

    Anyway, great post and great site. I only recently came across it and I have read nearly every word.

    Thank you,

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      6ft6, that must have been so difficult to fill out. I’m 6ft2 and struggled.

      Thank you, I’m glad you like the content

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