Can Limb Length Play a Role in Exercise Selection?

Yes! Exercise selection is the most important training variable. Imagine if you're a patient at the doctor's office and the conversation went like this...

  • Doctor: I'm going to prescribe you 200mg twice a day.
  • Patient: 200mg of what, Doc?
  • Doctor: What do you prefer? Which medication do you feel like taking?

It doesn't make sense, right? Well it's the same with training. Think of sets, reps, and training methods as the dosage and exercises as the medicine.

While everybody will improve their body and performance by gradually becoming stronger on the big basics, simply doing those and nothing else will emphasize certain muscles over others, and might not end up giving you the result you're looking for.

Some people will get great pec development from the bench press while others will only grow their triceps and delts. Some will build tremendous quads from back squatting and others will build bigger glutes.

Limb length relative to torso length helps determine which muscles receive the most stimulation.

Torsos

Here's a general overview:

Body Type 1 – Long Limbs/Short Torso

  • Tend to progress more easily on pulling movements than on pressing ones
  • Have an easier time getting stronger on the hip hinge/deadlift than on the squat

Upper Body Pressing

  • Pecs are the easiest to develop
  • Delts are second
  • Triceps are the hardest to develop

Upper Body Pulling

  • Lats are the easiest to develop
  • Rhomboids, rear delts are second
  • Biceps are third
  • Upper traps are the hardest to develop

Lower Body Training

  • Glutes are the easiest to develop
  • Hamstrings are second
  • Quads are third
  • Calves are the hardest to develop

Body Type 2 – Short Limbs/Long Torso

  • Tend to progress more easily on pressing movements than on pulling ones
  • Have an easier time getting stronger on the squat than on hinging/deadlifting

Upper Body Pressing

  • Triceps are the easiest to develop
  • Delts are second
  • Pecs are the hardest to develop

Upper Body Pulling

  • Upper traps are the easiest to develop
  • Biceps are second
  • Rhomboid, rear delts are third
  • Lats are the hardest to develop

Lower Body Training

  • Quads are the easiest to develop
  • Calves are second
  • Hamstrings are third
  • Glutes are the hardest to develop

All of this is true most of the time, but there will be some exceptions. (Arnold, for example, is long limbed and had huge biceps.)

That info allows you to better select the assistance work you're doing in a program by telling you which muscles will need added direct work. For example, I have short legs, so I don't need any direct assistance work for the quads. They grow just fine by doing squats exclusively and I prefer to invest my training time on exercises that are actually needed to fix a weakness. However, I do need direct glute and hamstring work.

You don't need as much (if any) direct work for the muscles that are the easiest to develop, but you'll need a lot more for those that are the hardest.

Knowing this also helps us better select the big lift variations for our workouts. If I have long legs, the front squat will be better than the back squat for overall development. Why? Because with the back squat I'll get mostly glutes and some hamstrings while with the front squat I'd stimulate the quads. A heels-elevated back squats would also do the trick.

While there's nothing wrong with good, smart programs you find on the internet, you should still give yourself some leeway in exercise selection: you can respect the spirit of a program while choosing better movements.

Related:  Squats and Body Types

Related:  Bench Press Right for Your Body Type