Long arms do provide a mechanical advantage for the deadlift. However, they can make other lifts like the bench press more difficult. Whether or not you have long arms, you can build up your deadlift numbers with a lot of sweat and hard work.
This article will describe the mechanical reasons why long arms can be beneficial for a deadlift, as well as ways that long arms may be a drawback for some of the other major lifts.
The Physics of Strength Training
Strength training is all about moving heavy things, and physics is the study of things in motion, heavy or otherwise. In physics, an object that is balanced, such as a teeter-totter with equal weight on both sides, has less moment than an object that is imbalanced.
If you’ve ever tried carrying a straight ladder, then you know from personal experience that it is relatively easy to transport the ladder as long as it is balanced perfectly upright overhead. Once the far end drifts out of balance, however, the ladder becomes unwieldy and nearly impossible to maneuver.
An object that drifts out of balance, like the carried ladder that fails to stay upright, has a greater moment arm than a perfectly balanced object. The greater the distance from the point of balance, the greater the moment arm and the more energy you have to expend to move the item.
Straight Barbell Paths
What does all of this have to do with deadlifting? Well, since larger moment arms require more energy to correct, the most efficient path for any object to travel is in a straight line. Just like it requires less effort to carry an upright ladder versus one tilted out of balance, so too the most efficient way to lift any weight is in as straight a line as possible.
While a perfect line of travel isn’t possible for every lift—for example, the bench press has to be moved at a somewhat slanted angle between lockout and chest to avoid tweaking your shoulders—it is certainly the goal of a deadlift.
In order to pull the weight off of the floor in an efficient manner, you need to grip the bar over your mid-foot and set your hips just low enough that your shins touch—but don’t move!—the stationary barbell. This posture creates the straightest, most efficient path for the barbell to travel off the floor and up to the lockout at the top of the lift.
Mechanical Advantage of Long Arms
If you have long arms, it will be easier for you to get into this efficient lifting posture. Your long arms will allow you to reach down to the bar without needing to set your hips as low. Thus, you will have the potential to create a better set-up for your hips to hinge than someone with shorter arms would have.
Longer arms also mean that the barbell has to travel less distance overall. If two lifters are the same height and have the same leg length, but Lifter A has arms that are two inches longer than Lifter B’s arms, then Lifter A will have to move the barbell two inches less before he reaches lockout and completes the lift.
Less distance that the bar needs to travel means less effort overall, so the long-armed lifter will have a mechanical advantage in the deadlift.
Mechanical Disadvantages of Long Arms
However, this isn’t to say that long arms are an advantage for every lift. When it comes to arm lifts like the bench and the shoulder press, the same logic of arm length affecting distance traveled works against longer limbs.
Let’s go back to Lifter A and Lifter B. They’re the same height and have the same leg length, but remember that Lifter A’s arms are two inches long. When benching or pressing overhead, Lifter A will need to move the barbell a whole two inches farther (above his chest and head, respectively) in order to reach lockout on each of the lifts.
In this case, long arms prove to be a disadvantage for Lifter A.
Why Long Arms Don’t Guarantee Great Lifts
As described above, people with long arms possess a natural physical advantage in the deadlift over lifters with shorter arms. Does this mean that the greatest deadlift champions must be long-armed lifters? Hardly.
Every lifter has unique bodily proportions that give him or her advantages in some lifts and disadvantages in others. Lifter B’s shorter arms give him a slight edge in benching but are a drawback for the deadlift.
The best lifters are the ones who train hard, train frequently, and, above all, try hard to perfect their form. Long arms or short legs won’t help you deadlift very much if you don’t know the five-step deadlift set up and don’t work on improving your grip.
Whether you have long arms or short limbs, the success of your deadlift—and, frankly, all of your other lifts—will depend, most of all, on your hard work.