Height Training Hacks

Improve your form, performance and results when deadlifting and squatting, no matter what your height.

By Lee Boyce, CPTN-CPT | February 2, 2017

When considering the two biggest lifts — squats and deadlifts — bone and lever length determine your vertical pulling/descending distances. And so your height — a shortage of it or an excess of it — can mean radically different problems with form and function in the gym. Whether you’re short or tall, implement these training tweaks to correct common form problems and fast-forward your results while preventing injury.

Squats

If You’re Tall

Issue: Longer legs mean problems getting low, especially when combined with a short torso. The tendency for this body type is to break at the hips to keep the bar centered over the midfoot, creating insufficient depth and a backbreaking good-morning-style squat that could mean serious problems down the line.

Fix: Develop a stronger trunk to stay more upright, and improve ankle mobility to encourage dorsiflexion. This allows the knee to track farther forward over the toe, keeping your torso more erect. Increase your range of motion with these drills.

  • Do heel walks for three sets, first with your toes angled inward, then with toes forward and finally with toes outward. Do each set for two minutes, unbroken.
  • Do weighted toe raises on a step or box, three sets of 20 reps per leg.
  • Foam roll your calves postworkout for 30 to 60 seconds per leg.

If You’re Short

Issue: Truncated leg length means a shorter distance to travel in order to gain a training effect. The tendency for this athlete will be to pile on the plates to make the most of a foreshortened distance, but form breaks down after adding too much weight.

Fix: Use advanced lifting techniques to increase your time under tension, making a lighter weight feel significantly heavier. Here are two solutions.

  • Do 1.5 reps: Descend to the bottom, explode up to the halfway point, pause for one full second, descend again to the bottom, then complete your rep by explosively standing to the start. Focus on sets of no more than six to eight reps.
  • Try paused reps: Descend to the bottom and freeze for one to three seconds, staying tight. Drive to the top and repeat. Again, six to eight reps are sufficient.

Deadlifts

If You’re Tall

Issue: Tall lifters typically have problems maintaining proper back position, as it is difficult to sit deep while keeping your shins vertical. Taller athletes typically end up rounding forward, which puts the back and shoulders at risk.

Fix: There are several hacking options to preserve your form and save your spine. Choose whichever works best for you.

  • Mount the ends of the bar on platforms, raising the barbell to a height at which you can pull with a flat, neutral spine and no flexion. As you improve in strength and mobility, lower the elevation incrementally.
  • Try a semi-sumo setup: Place your feet shoulder-width apart and grip the bar with your hands inside your legs. Note: This isn’t a full-fledged sumo — you’re just giving yourself a little extra room to lower your hips properly and straighten out your torso and spine.
  • Use a trap bar. Sure, there’s a little more quad emphasis here since there’s nothing to block your knees from traveling forward, but it forces you to find a new center of gravity, making proper deadlifting a possibility again.

If You’re Short

Issue: Your ROM for a deadlift is already shorter since you’re, well, shorter, and a couple 45s slapped onto the barbell ends means that the distance shortens more. If you have a small pair of mitts and a disadvantaged grip, your lifting potential plummets even more.

Fix: Increase your lifting distance and muscle-building probability with these novel ideas.

  • Stand on a platform so the bar is lower in relation to your shins, giving you more distance to pull and therefore a greater ROM.
  • Instead of using big 45-pound rounds, use metal 25s to increase your pulling space by a vital few inches.
  • Find the skinny bar at your gym — use a bar that gives you the best grip advantage. For your home gym, invest in your own competition deadlifting bar.


About the Author

Lee Boyce, CPTN-CPT

Lee Boyce is an internationally recognized strength coach and fitness writer, whose work is regularly published in the largest publications in the world, including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, T NATION, Esquire and Muscle & Fitness. He’s the owner of Boyce Training Systems and works with clients and athletes in Toronto, ON. Follow him on

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