Article by: Beau Bradbury CSCS, CPT, CF-L2
I believe this topic must be addressed because most of the information out there is for shorter or average height people. By nature olympic weightlifting is a short man’s game. With that said there have been many taller athletes put up some impressive numbers in all the lifts. Especially the deadlift. The reason: Leverage.
The point of this topic is squatting and how to adapt your leg training to fit your height. First off, make sure to learn how to squat properly. When someone says squats hurt their knees it just means more likely than not they either have completely destroyed their knees prior to squatting or and more popular what they think they are doing are not actual squats. My best advice is hire a competent trainer for a session or two and hammer out the details. It'll set you back about 100 bucks, quite a bit cheaper than knee surgery I'd say.
I’ve found that squatting has actually helped boost flexibility and strength which makes my knees feel great. Balancing my quad strength with my hamstring strength has virtually eliminated any debilitating knee pain in my experience. This has also been the experience of many of my clients.
The frustration hit when I squatted and squatted and squatted. I am about 6’4” to 6’5” depending on which convenient store I am walking out of. I have a short torso and long legs. Which is great for deadlifting. Squatting not so much. I mainly used the low bar back squat and sometimes a high bar back squat. The problem wasn’t gaining strength, it was that my butt and hamstrings added muscle, but my quads not so much. They stayed kind of puny and this saddened me.
Therefore, I undertook a study with my own training and looked at the leverage the movements were creating. Being long legged with a short torso I realized that I must bend over more at the waist to balance the weight at the bottom of the back squat. Hence working my glutes and hamstrings even more. So how do we change the leverage? We cannot shorten our legs so we move the bar.
In the high bar position, the quads were most likely worked more, but not drastically. Move the bar even further forward into the front rack position where the bar rests on the shoulders in front of the body with the elbows as high as possible. In the front squat a person with long legs must squat down in between his legs, instead of folding over like a good morning, because the weight will fall to the earth rapidly. It forces an upright torso squatting technique. This will push your knees more forward over your toes and initiate your quads to help move the load. In addition, it will make your quads grow! The key is to keep your torso erect and not allow your tall self to tip over.
Start your front squat training with a couple of weeks of goblet squats. This will “grease the groove” as Pavel would say and teach your body the movement by actually doing it. I believe the goblet squat is one of the best teaching movements of how to squat properly. The only con on the front squat has is that it does take some work to establish a sound starting position. Again, hire a good trainer and you will learn this much faster. Another “issue” is that you cannot use as much weight as a back squat. I wouldn't be against you front squatting 70% of the time and saving 30% of your training year for good ole fashioned heavy back squats as this will surely add mass to your tall lanky self. To keep it simple you could for instance front squat from January to September and then back squat from October to December.
Long story short, if you are tall and want to grow stronger quads to balance out your posterior chain strength do front squats. Do them the right way. Start with light loads to hone technique and ramp it up from there.