Whether it’s because you have long limbs relative to your torso, or you’re just a lot taller than most people, sorry to say it but having long arms puts you at a disadvantage. Therefore, choosing the right training strategy is imperative to your platform success.
The 5 bench pressing tricks for people with long arms are:
- Do top end work
- Do speed work off the chest
- Practice your bar bath
- Work on your shoulder mobility
- Pay attention to your rest intervals
In this post, we will go over some basic biomechanical principals to explain 1) why you’re at such a disadvantage, 2) how this impacts how hard your muscles must work, and 3) some training tricks and exercise selection tips to include in your workouts.
If you’re not interested in the biomechanics and science part of the article, then you can simply skip to the 5 tricks where we’ll discuss the practical training recommendations in more detail.
Breaking Down The Muscles Used in Bench Press
First, let’s start off with a quick breakdown of how muscles typically contribute during the pressing concentric (up) phase of the bench press:
The first few inches off the chest has the largest chest muscle contributions
This is because during this portion of the lift we are predominately performing shoulder adduction and flexion (when the arms move both away from the body and overhead).
When the bar is on the chest the upper arm is parallel to the ground (from the elbow to shoulder).
This position creates a lot of torque at the level of the shoulder and forces the chest muscles to work harder to rotate it upwards to be perpendicular to the ground at lockout.
Also, if you flare your elbows more, you’re loading the chest muscles up more.
The lockout requires greater tricep muscle contributions
As we move the bar further up towards lockout, muscle contributions work like a sliding scale.
The triceps start contributing more and more until they are the major contributor at lockout where we are performing primarily elbow extension.
In turn, if you tuck your elbows more, you’re loading up your triceps earlier on in the lift.
If you want to learn more about the muscles used in different bench press variations, then you can read our article on muscles used for bench press. There’s some research that might surprise you.
Why Are People With Long Arms Disadvantaged During The Bench Press
How do we apply our knowledge of the muscles used in the bench press to understand why long-armed lifters are at a disadvantage during the bench press?
There are greater torque requirements
What is torque?
Torque is the effect of force when it is applied a certain distance from the axis (the point of rotation).
The further the load is from the point of rotation (i.e. shoulder or elbow), the greater the force of contraction the muscle must produce to rotate the upper arm from chest to lockout.
We can easily apply this to our long-limbed lifter then because they will have both relatively longer upper arm and lower arms segments in comparison to a short-limbed lifter, which means both chest and triceps need to work harder.
A longer way to move bar means more WORK is performed
From an energy perspective, mechanical work is a product of muscle force and the distance that this force needs to be applied over.
We can look at this from a linear perspective (the distance the bar travels when touching chest vs. at lockout), and a rotational perspective (the joint rotation required at the elbow and shoulder to bring the bar down to the chest and then back up to achieve lockout).
Therefore, if we have to displace the bar over longer distances, the long-armed lifter is also at an energetic disadvantage!
This means that the long-armed lifters will be more susceptible to the negative effects of fatigue accumulated during a workout.
Muscle length is increased with a greater range of motion
According to length-tension relationships, the muscles will have more difficulty creating tension where we need the greatest force to get the bar off the chest.
This also means that the long-limbed lifter may be more susceptible to muscle injury, so having not only mobile but strong shoulders in these range of motion at greater muscle lengths is important.
The legal max width grip in powerlifting is relative to a person’s limb lengths
In a powerlifting competition, you can only grab the bar a max width of 81cm apart.
Because of these grip width restrictions in powerlifting, the long-armed bench presser cannot simply widen their grip to reduce the range of motion and energy costs.
This means that they will have a narrower grip width with respect to shoulder width. You can see a visual comparison of what the “average” limb proportions are with respect to height and shoulder width are according to Dempter’s anthropometric equations.
Tall People Will Be Using Their Triceps More When Bench Pressing
When commencing the eccentric (lowering) phase, you can visualize that the longer armed lifter will have a narrower grip in relation to their shoulder width compared with the short-armed lifter with the same grip width, but narrower shoulders.
This means that the long-armed lifter will have a more adducted shoulder position. In other words, they will have their elbows tucking more underneath the bar to achieve the same position as the shorter-armed lifter.
If you’ve ever performed a close-grip bench press, you know how much this exercise loads up the triceps.
Translating this to the long-armed lifter; they will require a lot more triceps contributions off the chest than the average lifter to achieve lockout.
The 5 Tricks For People Who Bench Press With Long Arms (Training Recommendations)
All of this information may be getting you down, and you may be thinking your bench press is a just lost cause at this point, but don’t worry! Here are some training recommendations that are specific to your long-limbed needs.
1. Do top end work
Remember, you’ll need to make sure your triceps are strong to lock the bar out to a greater extent in comparison to your shorter-limbed counterparts. Include a partial range of motion accessory exercises such as board press or pin presses. The key, however, will be to make sure you’re using your triceps so err of the side of tucking your elbows more if you notice that you’re flaring your elbows more than usual during these exercises.
2. Do speed training off chest
Because of the greater distance you need to move the bar, it is important to generate momentum quickly off your chest in order to help you through your sticking point. Include accessory exercises such as bands and chains that load up the top end range of motion to challenge your sticking point, while focusing on rate of force development off your chest without the additional loading – speed training to improve rate of force development is optimal at lower percentages of your 1RMs between 40-70%, for the neurological adaptations you need.
If you’re interested in implementing speed training with bands, then read our article on “Does Banded Bench Really Work“. The answer is ‘yes’, but you need to do specific protocols.
3. Practice your bar path
Efficiency is also key due to your greater energetic costs to lock the bar out. Practicing a “back and then up” bar path is key to prevent the bar from drifting forward towards your feet. By pushing back initially, you will rapidly reduce the torque requirements of the smaller shoulder flexors (anterior deltoids) and put triceps in a mechanically advantageous position to lock out the bar where their contributions are the greatest.
4. Work on your shoulder Mobility
Ensuring that your chest muscles are strong and mobile under lengthening loads is especially important to prevent injury. Specifically, improving range of motion for shoulder extension and internal/external rotation is key as powerlifters typically have to reduce ranges of motion in comparison to the average individual.
Here are three exercise you should add to your routine:
In addition to stretching, make sure to keep up on your chest flies and rotator cuff work, focusing on the controlled lengthening of the muscles under tension.
5. Pay attention to your rest intervals
Again, due to your greater energetic costs make sure to allow enough rest intervals between sets and workouts to prevent unwanted compensatory actions that may put you at risk of injury. If your goal is to increase max strength on bench press, then moving heavy loads and keeping fatigue at bay is key, not endurance. For high volume sessions, consider implementing brief intra-set rest periods. For example; if your program calls for 3 sets of 10 reps at a given load, do 3 sets of 5+5 reps (after the first 5 reps, include a brief pause by racking and then un-racking the bar before performing the last 5 reps). You will still get the muscle GAINZ (if not more) with this recovery strategy.
In summary, the overall goal will be to improve the strength of the triceps because of the additional demands required of them, as well as improving efficiency in your bench press technique. This does not mean to completely neglect your chest work though, as strength and flexibility are imperative to your shoulder health. Finally, just remember, although you’re at a disadvantage don’t let this be your scapegoat. You will just need to work a little harder than the average bench presser, but luckily with the tricks in this article, you will now be able to optimize your training to take your strength performance to the next level!
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About The Author
Dr. Megan Bryanton is a “Human Performance Scientist”, specializing in biomechanics of human movement as applied to strength and conditioning practices. Megan received her PhD in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa (2016), a MSc in Physical Education and Recreation from the University of Alberta (2011), and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Her previous research has identified how muscles contribute during exercise, as well as limiting muscles (i.e. weaknesses) that should be addressed in training. She is the owner of Kinetic Advantage Consulting, a first of its kind consulting service for lifters and coaches, providing biomechanical lifting assessments to optimize training efficacy and treat/prevent injuries. Her own previous experience as a nationally/internationally competitive powerlifter has further added to Megan’s practical understanding of strength training methodologies.