Today’s article comes from Tom MacCormick. Take it away Tom …
Ever been called skinny, scrawny, lanky or beanpole?
Struggle for legroom on every flight you’ve ever been on?
Do you tower over people when standing but, look normal height when sitting?
Yep, then you my friend, are not only tall but also, long-limbed.
I am the same. I’m 6 foot 3 with a 6 foot 7 wingspan. Standing I’m taller than 95% of people. Sat down, however, I am actually shorter than my brother in-law who is ‘only’ 6 foot 1.
In so many ways being tall is great. Dunking a basketball is easy. You never have to worry about seeing over the crowd at a gig and girls dig tall guys, right?
Your long limbs suck for gaining muscle!
You’ve probably been struggling for ages to pack some size onto your arms and legs. Despite training hard for months, or even years, people might genuinely ask…”do you even lift, bro?”
The sad reality is that a tall guy can spend years training and he’ll often look pathetic in comparison to a shorter, more compact lifter who has trained for the same time.
I feel your pain. You bust your balls in the gym but, don’t see any results for all your hard work. All the while there are guys growing like weeds without having to put in the superhuman effort you need just to gain a measly pound.
And what is worse is that even if you do gain weight it isn’t really that noticeable. 10 pounds of muscle on a 5 foot 8 guy completely transforms how he looks. The same 10 pounds on a 6 foot 4-inch bloke…barely noticeable.
This article is for all you long-limbed lifters out there who finally want to know how to fill out your shirt sleeves and start looking like you lift. Your body structure is different to all those top level bodybuilders so your training needs to be adjusted to work for you not against you.
Having spent the past decade experimenting and refining what works for me and having trained hundreds of clients over the same period I have identified 6 key strategies (and one Bonus tip) to help you to finally build enough mass to fill out your frame.
This is by far the most important element to transforming your physique.
If you skip this step, then all the cool training and nutrition tips I have for you below will be pointless.
Think you won’t build muscle because you have always been tall and skinny? Guess what you are right!
To quote Henry Ford…
“Whether you think you can, or cannot – you’re right.”
Ditch the self-limiting thoughts which have been holding you back and flip your thinking to a growth mindset.
Look at others who have achieved what you want to for inspiration. Believe you too can achieve it and set about doing what is necessary. You will need a laser like focus on training and nutrition (don’t worry I have everything you need to know on these subjects below) but, IT IS POSSIBLE to be tall and jacked. Now quit settling for being lanky and get in the gym and work your ass off. It will be worth it because a tall AND muscular guy really stands out!
If you’re tall then the bar has to travel further in a squat, bench or deadlift than for a shorter person. If you are tall AND disproportionately long limbed then this issue is magnified. You do a lot more work per rep than shorter guys or more evenly structured tall guys.
Work, in physics is defined as force x distance. So being long limbed means that for every rep you have to apply force over a larger distance. So you actually do more work even when using the same weight as other gym goers.
It stands to reason that a 6 foot 5 guy has further to go than a 5 foot 8 one. Less obvious is the fact that two 6 foot 4 guys might also have different leverages. If the bulk of your height is in your limbs, then squatting below parallel will require you to go further than a shorter limbed tall guy.
Some natural squatters only have to move the bar a foot to hit depth, while us long limbed brethren have to move it for eternity (ok it just feels like eternity) to hit the same depth.
This extra distance causes more work to be done and requires more energy to be expended. As a result, it’s harder to recover from. Working with short rest periods if you are the first guy doesn’t seem so bad but, for the taller lifters out there it will very quickly feel like a cardio challenge rather than a strength workout.
So the simple answer is to take longer rest between sets to allow you to put forth a good effort in subsequent sets.
Almost all training protocols out there prescribe rest intervals without taking this into account. They simply consider the physiological impacts based on the average.
You are not average. So what should you do?
My simple answer is to work at the high end of the standard recommendations. For example, for hypertrophy based training it is generally suggested that you rest 30-120s between sets. For the long limbed amongst us I’d say take the full 120s. The same goes when training for strength using heavier weights and fewer reps. In this case 3-5minutes is often advised. Guess what? If you are a tall long limbed lifter, then take the whole 5-minute rest period.
You should be starting to notice a trend here. Us tall lifters shouldn’t blindly follow the prevailing dogma about training. Instead learn the principles and then fine tune the details to suit your needs. A good example is rep ranges.
Plenty of old-school bodybuilders talk about high rep squats as a sure fire way to build freaky huge legs. For us tall lifters however, it is simply a great way to get out of breath and tax our lower back while giving little stimulation to our quads. All in all, a massive investment of training energy with very little return in leg size.
A better way…
Tall lifters would be better served dropping the reps lower on big moves like squats.
They can still do ‘high’ reps but, what constitutes a high rep set of squats for a long limbed lifter is different to the average bro. 15 reps is still way too high in my opinion. Instead focus on getting strong in the 4-8 rep range. This will provide a tonne of tension (a key stimulator of hypertrophy) and allow you to track progress over time. Then use machine based work (hack squats, leg press or leg extensions) to really smash the quads in higher rep ranges.
The front squat is superior for most tall/long limbed people because it allows you to hit depth easier and maintain a more upright torso position. Because the weight is front loaded, it’s allows you to use the weight as a counterbalance. This allows you to place more emphasis on the quads and really stimulate them.
Back squats, however, often turn into good mornings for lanky guys. All this does is shift more of the load onto your back and make other gym goers cringe at your form.
So when picking your staple squatting movement to gauge progress over time go with the front squat over the back squat.
The trap bar is a great piece of equipment for a long limbed trainee. Often performing deadlifts with a straight bar can get pretty ugly for tall guys due to lack of mobility and the shear distance they have to move it.
Navigating the bar around the shins is often a considerable challenge for you. Get the benefits of deadlifting without the injury risk by using the trap bar.
The trap bar gives you more room to work with. It doesn’t block your shins like a traditional bar. Also because you are in the middle of the bar you can keep your centre of gravity back a little further. This is great because all too often tall guys get forced too far forward with conventional bars. This compromises their form, limits the weight they can safely use and increases the risk of injury at near maximal loads.
By using the trap bar for deadlifts you get the benefits of both squatting and deadlifting. The trap bar deadlift is kind of a hybrid lift. Obviously you deadlift the bar off the floor with it in your hands. However, the movement pattern has is closer to a squat and results in more quad emphasis than a conventional deadlift. This allows you to hit that same deep knee angle as you would in a squat, in a much more comfortable way.
Most trap bars have high and low handles (simply flip it over to use the lower handle). This allows you to progress the range over time. First get comfortable with the high handle start position. Get strong here and then switch to the lower handles. This forces you to work through a greater range of motion. Your quads and glutes will have to work harder but, remember full range equals full development.
Using the trap bar deadlift intelligently will help to boost both your squat and straight bar deadlift while keeping your healthy.
Some people can grow big arms and legs simply by progressing on the basic lifts. Has that worked for you? Hell no!
Almost all the people who promote the big lifts for building a big and balanced physique have T-rex arms and stubby legs. For us long limbed folks’ isolation work is a must if you want to fully maximize the size of your arms and legs.
Incorporating additional arm work into your training –
You could simply add an arm day to your training week. However, for most of us time is at a premium and heading into the gym only to hit arms is not really an efficient use of time. Instead I would train arms more frequently, (2-3 x week) by adding them on to the end of other workouts. A good option would be to follow a 4 x week Upper/Lower split. Hit arms for 2-3 sets of 1-2 exercises at the end of both the upper sessions for 6 weeks and get ready to finally see those arms actually growing.
Adding in direct quad and hamstring work in the form of leg extensions and curls can also work well on a leg day built primarily around exercises like front squats, trap bar deadlifts, legpress and RDLs.
Now the rules of eating for mass gain aren’t really any different for you. They key is to actually do the basics consistently. So many tall guys fear seeing their abs disappear as soon as they start gaining weight. The never fully commit to gaining a significant amount of weight and guess what? They never really look any different.
This is a big mistake!
If you’re 6 foot 3-inch + then you will most likely need to gain at least 20 pounds for it to even be noticeable. This amount of muscle isn’t going to grow out of thin air.
Muscle is a luxury item as far as the body is concerned. Luxuries are usually expensive and muscle is no different. It is expensive in terms of nutrients. So you need to invest some time and effort in the kitchen to make sure you eat enough to support growth.
So here’s the lowdown on what eating for muscle growth entails.
Years of experience tell me you will need to consume at least 16 calories per pound of bodyweight to make good progress. For many this number will need to be in the 18-20 calorie per pound of bodyweight range. I would suggest going higher would be counterproductive for most. You can’t force feed muscle growth and going above this level is likely to result in no extra muscle and the rapid accumulation of fat. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Be your own experiment. Start out with 16 calories per pound. Not gaining weight?…bump it up to 17 (then 18, 19, or 20).
Everyone responds differently to a nutrition plan and we are all unique. With that said the following is a great place to start when it comes to setting up your diet.
1g per pound of bodyweight (there are 2.2lbs per KG). So if you weigh 70kg that is 154lbs. As a result, you should eat about 154g of protein per day.
I have found a good starting point for fat is 0.5g/lbs./BW. So our 70kg/154lbs example guy would eat 77g (154 x 0.5) of fat per day.
So if our 154lbs example was starting at 16 calories per pound his total calories would be 2,464 (154 x 16).
We know he is having 616kcals of protein (1g of protein = 4 calories, so 154×4 = 616) and 693kcals of fat (fat is 9 calories per pound, 77 x 9 = 693). So protein and fat combined re 1,309kcals (616 + 693 = 1309).
So that leaves him with 1,155 calories for carbohydrates (2,464 – 1,309 = 1,155).
Carbs, like protein are 4 calories per gram. So simply divide 1,155 by 4 and hey presto, our 70kg friend is having 289g (288.75 to be exact!) of carbohydrates a day.
70kg guy starting bulking diet is as follows:
Fibre is often forgotten about. Especially with a few of the IIFYM community. Don’t make this mistake! Simply aim for 10-15g of fibre per 1,000 calories eaten. So for our example that equates to roughly 24-40g of fibre a day.
Being tall makes life easier in 90% of situations. Unfortunately, building muscle and looking jacked is not one of them. It is a real challenge but, with the right mindset, some smart training and plenty of commitment in the kitchen, it is possible. So get your exercise selection, rep ranges and rest periods working for you. Eat to grow. Stick to the process with patience and consistency and you will get your rewards. Trust me, it is worth it because your reward is being both tall and jacked and the short guys can never achieve that!
Tom is a former skinny kid who was told he was too small to make it as a rugby player.
Since then he has added over 40 pounds to his frame and helped hundreds of clients to build muscle and drop fat.
More recently he founded Flat Whites Free Weights to provide a hub for his online clients and to share his thoughts on training, nutrition and the ultimate pre-workout supplement…COFFEE!”
While you’re here, why not check out The Intro to DUP as well?
Tags: bulking for skinny guys, ectomorph workouts, help with building muscle, how tall guys can build muscle, muscle for skinny guys
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