How to Deadlift For Tall Guys (8 Best Technique Tips)

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Written by Zaakir Shakoor
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Key Points

  • Do a self-assessment or consult with a coach in order to determine whether you’re a tall guy for deadlifts.
  • If you do not take nutrition into account, there is a possibility that performance would plateau or even degrade.
  • Tall guys should use a wide deadlift stance because a wider grip will shorten the range of motion.

Everyone usually agrees, the deadlift is awesome!

In fact I would recommend it to almost all lifters from different facets of sport and fitness as it engages so many muscles of the lower and upper extremities. [1]

Do you feel as if anatomy are affecting your deadlift? Maybe you’re a tall guy, how does this affect your deadlift.

It would create a greater load on your muscles. As you would be required to perform the lift with a greater range of motion, thus creating more mechanical workload.[2]

On the other hand, being taller is not a hindrance to all gym goers. It creates more mechanical workload, thereby possibly delivering a more effective workout to some which will make more sense as you get further into the article. 

Are You Tall for Deadlifting?

You cannot just claim to be ‘too tall’ and then never deadlift again! You must either conduct a self-assessment or even better, employ a coach.

Even if it turns out that your height is impacting your deadlift, you are never ‘too tall’.

However, you may want to consider some alterations to your deadlifting technique. These alterations can incorporate some additional strategies to improve your overall deadlift.

Check out the article for Deadlifting with Short Arms: Best Tips

The Self-assessment

Before we get into how to aid the tall lifter with the deadlift, we must highlight the steps to the assessment to determine whether your height will impact the deadlift.  

Step 1: Acquire a measuring tape and measure from the anterior superior iliac crest (top of the hip bone) and down below the medial malicious (ankle). This will estimate the lower limb length. 

Step 2: Now measure from the lilac crest (hip bone) to the top of the head. This is a measurement of your torso.

Step 3: Add the measurements together to get an estimate of your height.

Step 4: Analyse these measurements. If you identify that total height is composed of over >32% torso or limb length of >49% you are considered ‘tall’ in relation to the deadlift.  

Example lifter: A tall lifter could possess a height of 186cm (100%) with a lower limb length of 98cm (55%) and a torso length of 88cm (45%). [3]

Biomechanics of Deadlifts

I find it fascinating how the body works in a kinetic chain with almost every movement from standing up from a seated position to sprinting and jumping. [4]

Deadlifts help Vertical Jump? Yes! Here Are The Reasons Why

Although muscle torque (power) and ground reaction force (the force used to push the foot off the ground) is different. The kinetic chain of flexing/extending from the ankle, knee and hips remain the same. [4]

The deadlift produces almost identical biomechanics which I have highlighted below. 

1. Tripple Flexion While Setting up the Deadlift

In order to draw into the set-up position, you must center yourself perpendicular in front of a loaded bar. This would be just above the mid-foot position and the feet would generally be displaced hip-shoulder width. [4]

The next step would be to grasp the bar with an overhand grip just outside shoulder width. Next, drop the hips back (1st flexion) bend the knees (2nd flexion) and plant your weight on the heel of the foot (3rd flexion). [4]

How to Breathe and Brace During Deadlifts?

The spine would ideally remain in a neutral position (straight) by bracing the core and the shoulder blades would be positioned just ahead of the bar. [4]

The default back and hip angle would entirely depend on the lower limb and torso ratios.

2. Tripple Extension During the Deadlift 

The deadlift starts by transferring force from the muscles of the lower extremities into the ball of the middle/ball of the foot. Known as plantar flexion (1st extension), it activates the muscles of the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus). [4]

This movement chains onto a knee extension (2nd extension) and stimulates the muscles of the quadriceps (vastus lateralis, medialis, inter medialis and rectus femoris). [4]

As the barbell is pulled up the thigh, the movement advances onto a hip extension (3rd extension) triggering the gluteus, hamstring and lower back muscles. [4]

3. Scapula Retraction

The most satisfying point when attempting a new personal record is the final movement. This occurs during the deadlift’s scapula retraction portion, more commonly known for the coaching cue ‘pin your shoulders back’. [4]

This joint action recruits the mid-upper trapezius muscles located in the center of the back. [4] 

How does Height Affect Deadlifting?

Increases the Range of Motion of the Barbell

A tall lifter is just a normal lifter with larger ratios, makes sense, right? But what does this mean for the deadlift? Well, there is a greater range of motion that the bar would need to travel during the biomechanical movements.

The lift becomes considerably more difficult to perform. [3]

Having longer ratios of either lower extremities or torso is another rant altogether.

These will dictate your back angle and the muscles that will be activated to a greater extent by default.  

Deadlift Back Angle? What is it and Why it Matters.

Increased Exercise Energy Output

Moreover, a greater range of motion would produce more mechanical workload, thereby expending more energy [2]. This can be a disadvantage to the powerlifter and weightlifter. But may be advantageous to those recreational gym goers who are just looking to get an effective gym session by burning more calories and activate a lot of muscle tissue.

A study in the year 2000 by Escamilla and colleagues [2] identified that deadlifts with a greater vertical bar distance have 25-40% increase in estimated energy expenditure. 

Can be Very Demotivating, Especially for Beginners

Discovering that your height may prevent you from becoming a powerlifting world champion or even a good lifter can be very demoting.

Around 11 years ago as a ‘tall’ newbie lifter I was discovering different advantages and disadvantages to muscles/strength.

The top 3 variables I used to come across frequently were; muscle genetics, bone density and how height could impact your deadlifts and the way your body ‘fills out’ with muscle.

For this reason, during the first 2 years of resistance training, I had it at the back of my mind, that I would never be good at the deadlift, therefore I would perform it to a very high RIR (reps in reserve) meaning that I did not apply much effort.

The one piece of advice I would offer to my former self would be to train to the best of my ability.

Now in 2023, I can proudly say that I am able to deadlift over 600 pounds for a single. With years of training, gaining muscle and increasing the load on the bar in very small increments. 

To boost your motivation, I have collated a table below where I highlighted some ‘tall’ lifters who have performed world records or considerably heavy deadlifts.   

Name DeadliftHeight
Hafthór Júlíus Björnsson1104lbs 6ft 7”
Eddie Hall 1102lbs6ft 3”
Gerrit Baddenhorst903lbs6ft 1”
Mark Felix925lbs6ft 4”
Johannes Årsjö925lbs6ft 2”

8 Great Tips for Deadlifting for Tall Guys

1. Utilize Block Pulls 

You can acquire some blocks that will elevate the barbell 1-6″ off the ground, which will decrease the range of motion. [5] The block you decide will be individualized to you which you can access for yourself or employ a coach to help.

However, note that the block pull is suited for recreational lifters who are looking to increase muscle, strength and power as competitive powerlifters will not be able to utilize it during a meet. 

2. Alternate the Lift with the Trap Bar  

The trap bar deadlift alters the grip from a pronated to semi pronated. [6] The handles on most hexagon bars are elevated around 9.5” higher than a barbell.

Therefore the taller lifter would not be required to flex as low and would initiate the lift from a higher position, decreasing the range of motion. [6]

Although take into account that this tip is for recreational lifters as powerlifting competitors opt for the Olympic barbell.

Hex Bar Deadlift vs Front Squat: Which is Better?

3. Adopt a Sumo Stance for the Barbell Deadlift

It is clear to the trained eye that the sumo stance decreases the range of motion of the legs by displacing them wide apart and external pointing in around a 10 o’clock 2 o clock angle and this variation can be used in competitive powerlifting setting. [8]

Escamilla et al. [3] conducted a study analyzing 24 powerlifters during a national powerlifting championship with two 60-Hz video cameras. The powerlifters employed either a sumo or conventional deadlift stance.

The researchers found that on average the sumo stance depicted a 20-25% shorter range of motion compared to the conventional deadlift which required more mechanical work and increased energy expenditure.

This study illustrates that the conventional deadlift may be more difficult, but this entirely depends on the individual lifter as biomechanics. So, would we consider using the sumo stance for a ‘tall’ lifter? In most cases yes! But there are individual variables to consider such as limb-torsi ratios and training goal. 

Best Sumo Deadlift Alternatives – How To Perform Them

4. Wear Flat Shoes or Perform the Deadlift Barefoot

Every inch helps and just by simply removing your shoes you can decrease the range of motion by an inch or two, which can also be adopted in the powerlifting setting to promote a more efficient lift. [9]

Personally, I deadlift with long grippy tube socks or canvas shoes.    

Deadlifting Barefoot vs Deadlifting in Shoes – Which is Better?

5. Strengthen the Lockout: Accessory Exercises for Scapular Retraction 

Taller lifters find it more difficult to finalize the lift via the scapula retraction especially during a maximum deadlift due to the Tripple extension phase being so mechanically demanding for the lifter who can become fatigued. [3]

During my first few years of resistance training, I have first-hand experienced that the lift was extremally demanding where I would be so winded by the time I got to the lockout at the top.

20 Great Exercises to Improve Deadlift Strength

To improve the lockout, you must utilize some movement specific to exercises that can strengthen the muscles that would be involved such as the trapezius and rear deltoids.

I have outlined my top 3 ‘go to’ exercises to improve the lockout utilized during my fitness journey.  

Partial Deadlift

With the partial deadlift essentially is the lockout of the deadlift, as the bar would be positioned so that the triple extension phase is neutralized. [7]

To perform this lift you can adjust the bar on the safety for a starting position of around the lower thigh with a slight knee bend to primarily target the upper back muscles, thereby it may improve the lockout phase during the deadlift. [7]

This is a great addition for lifters with longer torso and shorter lower limbs, who would normally flex into a vertical position during the conventional deadlift and may neglect a lot of back retraction.

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift was one of my top picks as it neutralizes the knee extension and primarily focuses on the hip extension and scapula retraction.

For this reason, the Romanian deadlift can translate to a lifter who is looking to strengthen the lockout. To perform this lift you would unrack the loaded bar from low position of the rack grasping it with an overhand grip just outside shoulder width.

Romanian Deadlift Alternatives: The Best Ones to Try!

You would then stand erect with the feet at hip width and pointed at a 12 o’clock angle. Keeping the head in a neutral position, brace the core, retract the shoulders and inflate the chest.

This would be followed by driving the hips back, while bringing the bar where the knees should not flex more than 15 degrees. When the back starts to round extend the hips and retract the scapular with a high velocity of contraction and repeat this movement for around 6-10 reps. [10] 

Romanian Deadlift vs Conventional Deadlift – Which is Best for You?

Barbell Back Rows

The back row will require a lifter to grasp a loaded bar at shoulder width and stabilize their body with a fixed back angle between horizonal-vertical. [11]

The feet would be displaced around shoulder width apart with a slight bend at the knees. [11]

The core would be braced and the spine would need to remain in a neutral position to minimize injury risk. Once this position has been established the lifter would flex the biceps to pull the bar and simultaneously retracting the scapular, which has its similarities to the lockout of the Deadlift.

Best Deadlift Accessory Exercises to Try

6. Adopt a Narrow Grip Width

From my personal experience a narrow grip around hip width with an extended elbow would be much more efficient as you would not need to flex as low as oppose to a wider grip, this decreases the range of motion of the bar path.

7. Keep Nutritional Intake in Check

Generally, the taller lifters may possess more overall body mass, where they would need to eat a considerable number of calories to be at a caloric maintenance or surplus (the number of calories the body needs to maintain or gain weight). [12]

Furthermore, as we have established the deadlift will be a less efficient lift from having to perform the movement from a greater range of motion, which means a lifter will burn more calories during deadlift sessions, especially if the program includes a lot of volume. [12] 

If you do not take nutrition into account, there is a possibility that performance would plateau or even degrade [12], but calories will need to be periodized at times depending on the goal, I.e., if a powerlifter was attempting to some weight to reach a weight division.

I cannot just give the number of calories right off the bat, in order to calculate individualized caloric and protein requirements, you must consult a nutritionist or experienced coach.

The coach would estimate your requirement based on; exercise expenditure, none exercise activity induced thermogenesis (activity outside the gym), thermic effect of food (calories burn from digesting and processing food) and your basal metabolic rate (calories needed to maintain bodyweight at rest). [12] 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a shorter lifter always be better at the deadlift compared to a taller lifter?

Not necessarily! Although taller lifters will have some disadvantages as mentioned, they can be overcome, hence why so many great powerlifters with world record-breaking deadlifts were also considered ‘tall’.   

Should tall lifters use a wide or narrow deadlift stance?

Definitely wider! Just stop and think about it, the narrower your feet would be placed, the more you would have to flex at the knees to set up, whereas a wider grip will shorten the range of motion.

My knees stick out when I deadlift which effect the bar path?

Your knees tend to protrude when you try to force the hips to drop too far back with the shoulder blades. If you are interested in learning about a setup that is more individualized to your body type, please feel free to refer to my previous article “Deadlift back angle”.

Is sumo deadlift better for tall guys?

Yes! The sumo deadlift is easier and fits the anatomy of many tall lifters. Powerlifters and strength athlete’s choose the sumo stance to efficiently move the barbell off the ground.

Final Thoughts 

Height can affect overall deadlifting performance, meaning the ability to lift the bar from point A to point C due to creating more workload which can be an agonist when you are looking to hit impressive PRs or are looking to compete at the powerlifting competition.

Nevertheless, there are alterations that can be made to your deadlift such as changing your stance, removing footwear for competitive lifters or adopting a deadlift variation for more recreational lifters.

On the other hand, if we think about it the ‘taller’ recreational lifter who is looking to get a good workout may be at an advantage as you would expect a greater workload, thereby expending more calories and perhaps engaging more muscle.

Nutrition is always overlooked amongst some lifters; I cannot stress the importance of consuming enough calories for you not to lose weight and/or muscle, in my opinion at least a caloric maintenance needs to be established with a good ratio of protein, and again this number is entirely dependent on the individual who would need to consult a professional. 

References

  1. Clifton, H. Understanding the deadlift and its variations. ACSMs Health and Fitness Journal. 2020; 24 (3):17-23
  1. Escamilla, R.F., Francisco, A.C., Freisig., et al. A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and science in sport and exercise. 2000; 32(7):1265-1275
  1. Hales, M. Improving the Deadlift: Understanding Biomechanical Constraints and Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Exercise. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2010; 32 (4):44-51
  1. Escamilla, R. F., T. M. Lowry, D. C. Osbahr., et al. Speer. Biomechanical analysis of the deadlift during the 1999 Special Olympics World Games. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2001;33 (1): 1345-1353
  1. Wei, S.S., Chen, M.T., Chi, C.P. Deadlift Recognition and Application based on Multiple Modalities using Recurrent Neural Network. 3D Measurement and Data Processing. 2020; 6 (6):21-26
  1. Camar, K., Coburn, J.W., Dunnick, D.D. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
  1. Beeler, M.K., Inglis, S.D., Ammon, R., et al. A Kinematic And Kinetic Analysis Of The Partial And Conventional Deadlift in Resistance-trained Males. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. 2017; 49(5S):390
  1. Escamilla, R.F., Francisco, A.C., Kayes, A.V., et al. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2002; 34(4):682-688
  1. Valanzuela, K.A., Walter, K.A., Avila, E.L., et al. Footwear Affects Conventional and Sumo Deadlift Performance. Sports. 2021; 9(2):27
  1. Frounfelter, G. Teaching the Romanian Deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2000; 22(2): 55
  1. Ronai, P. The Barbell Row Exercise. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 2017; 21(2):25-28
  1.  Dorgan, V., Prodan, D., Nastas, T. FOOD PRINCIPLES PROVIDING MUSCULAR ACTIVITY ENERGY IN THE SPORTS TRAINING OF STUDENTS PRACTICING POWERLIFTING. Physical Education, Sport and Kinetotherapy Journal. 2019. Supplementary Issue of Discobolul

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Zaakir Shakoor

Zaakir has attained a bolus of knowledge regarding biosciences through academia and his career experiences. In terms of his educational background, he has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (Hons.), a Postgraduate diploma in sports nutrition with the International Olympic Committee, and a Master’s of Science in Nutritional Sciences. Zack has been fortunate enough to apply his Exercise Science and Nutrition Knowledge to aid hundreds of patients.

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