Lifters who are well over 200 pounds and who actually have to look down at dudes who are 6 feet tall have to take a slightly different approach to their training.
Smaller people have distinct leverage advantages, but if you’re a big guy you can use your disadvantages to your advantage.
Because of your weight, size, and leverages, the exercises that a 150-pound pipsqueak may breeze through could be exactly what the doctor ordered for you to break a plateau, enhance your conditioning, or even potentiate muscle development.
1. Flexed-Arm Hang
When I weighed 185 pounds, I did well on the flexed-arm hang test in gym class. I scored somewhere around a one-minute hold before I petered out. Today, I can see the immense benefits in putting this exercise to use in your program.
This is an example of isometric training. There are very few pure back exercises that emphasize isometric strength like this, let alone at end ranges of the lift. Doing these will quickly expose weaknesses in closing strength.
If you struggle with pull-ups, adding this to your routine (especially in conjunction with eccentric or negative-only pull-ups) can be invaluable for building strength and skill. Prepare to be humbled, especially if it’s been a while and your scale weight has escalated.
Start with sets of 10 to 15 seconds and build from there.
2. Bodyweight Bridging
Don’t worry, no one’s trying to get you to train for the circus. This movement helps improve overhead shoulder range, T-spine extension, and helps open up the ribcage and hips. These are huge players for big, muscle-bound lifters.
As you can see in the video, the idea is to get the shoulders to stack properly above the arms. Note how I attempt to work my way into “drifting” forward over the shoulders to help groove myself towards ideal positioning. This is something that a 155-pound lifter can easily master, but is that much more impressive when a 250-pound lifter can pull it off.
Focusing on sets of 10-15 seconds can go a long way in boosting your mobility and prepping your entire posterior chain for your workout. Alternately, you can do them on their own during a dedicated day of bodyweight exercises.
Mobility and flexibility work may seem redundant, but if it’s extremely difficult for you, it’s probably indicative of a link in your chain that needs attention. Bodybuilders and meatheads take note.
3. Ab Sleeve Iron Cross
Considering that 90% of those athletes capable of performing a true iron cross are 5’3″, 135-pound gymnasts with obscene strength-to-weight ratios, most people think they can’t do it. But that changes if you simply adjust the lever arm.
In the video, I’ve used my sleeves and placed them high up on the arms for support (for bigger frames, this is definitely needed). From that point on, the goal is just to free-hang while driving the shoulder blades down as best as possible and squeezing the glutes and core.
This is more difficult than it looks. Don’t let your arms rest against the bars of the squat cage, though, as that would make things much easier.
The lats and abs go crazy in this variation while simultaneously salvaging the shoulder and elbow joints from way too much stress, way too soon. This is another good exercise for big guys to practice in order to really master manipulating their body weight. Start with 15-second holds.
To make it harder, just move the sleeves a couple of inches farther away from your body. Don’t be a fool and add a weight belt with three 45-pound plates attached to it.
4. Nordic Curl Hip Hinge
This is a hamstring killer that can be a pretty solid substitute for traditional GHRs or eccentric Nordic curls, the latter of which tend to inflict some knee discomfort as the knee-joint angle opens when the body descends. I’ve always suspected it’s because of the stress they inflict on the posterior cruciate ligament, but this exercise offers a worthwhile solution.
What you’ll do is change the emphasis to keep an isometric hold at the knee joint while incorporating a hinge movement at the hip joint. This makes the hamstrings work hard while reducing posterior ligament stress.
To really get the most from this, pay attention to detail. An easy default is letting the hips drop back too far when hinging (letting the butt “sit” toward the heels). Don’t let this happen. Start your set by leaning forward 2 or 3 inches to place the tension on the hamstrings throughout.
Your tall position shouldn’t be free of tension. In other words, if there was nothing blocking your feet, you’d likely fall forward.
Squeeze the glutes through the hinge pattern and keep moving slowly. A 25-pound plate (or a couple of them) should be all you need if you weigh over 200. For even bigger guys, bodyweight is just fine. Focus on sets of 10.
Training bilateral leg lift exercises (especially ones that target the lower abs or psoas hip flexors) can be very difficult for heavier lifters simply due to the weight of their legs. To give them a fighting chance, simply go unilateral.
This exercise is painfully simplistic in its “rules” and execution, but it’s unfathomably difficult for a big lifter to pull off. Remember, from a concentric perspective, there are very few traditional exercises that can attack the psoas muscles. Most exercises geared toward hip strengthening end up hitting the iliacus, which flex the hip to lower angles.
This is important because strong hip flexors can give a lifter a much more stable squat, reduce back pain, and create much more balance through the entire pelvis. It’s often said that people have “tight hips,” and that’s a term I dislike. It misdirects us from thinking that a muscle is capable of being both tight AND weak, which, in my experience, is quite common.
Do your best to point the toe and keep a straight leg. This will prove to be a real wake-up for the rectus femoris (the quad muscle that goes up the center of your thigh), the abs, and the hip complex.
Around 10-12 strict reps per leg should be enough to feel the burn for the rest of the week.
6. Heels-Elevated Dumbbell Squat
Consider this one a bonus because it involves using dumbbells instead of just bodyweight. That being said, it should be a staple in lower body training for tall and long-legged lifters for a very important reason.
As you can see, I’ve got my feet on a wedge that exceeds the wedge of a typical Olympic lifting shoe. This allows the knees to travel far forward over the toes, which blasts the quadriceps while keeping the torso vertical. These are a smart choice for lifters who struggle with front squats due to poor rack positioning or kyphosis.
The arms get to stay comfortably by the sides. More importantly, many tall lifters struggle to achieve enough dorsiflexion to make squat patterns a true quad builder (due to insufficient knee flexion and overall range). Using an aggressive heel wedge like this creates a surplus of dorsiflexion, making it easier to achieve the correct geometry. This can be a game changer for your quad growth.
And make no mistake – this isn’t the same as using a couple of thick plates under the heels. This creates more stretching of the plantar fascia and ligaments compared to a wedge, and will end up frustrating you at heavier loads.
As an extra, I went for a duck-footed stance. Keeping the heels close to one another really makes things more quad-intensive. Try doing them after leg presses when you’re nice and tired. Aim for high reps.