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July 20, 2006 1:00 PM   Subscribe

What sports, exercises, and activites are best suited to tall skinny people?

To turn this question on its head, I am 6'3" and 160 lbs. I like being this shape; I eat well and am very active and flexible. I currently ride my bike 15 miles a day and have powerful lower body strength, but a really pitiful upper body. I'd like to engage in some great strength-building or body-equalizing activities. True to my form, I have to be respectful to the limitations of my knees and my lower back.

I've started doing pull-ups, and I am up to 4 a day. I would love to do push-ups, but the angle works against the shape of my body and they are pure hell. Same effect with yoga workouts that emphasize Downward-facing Dog. I gave shovel-glove a try but the emphasis on shoveling-type motions were too hard on my back, because it wound up doing all the work for my skinny arms. I have an opportunity coming up to join either a gym or a swimming pool, and am not sure which would be best. I live in NYC.

So, fellow gangly types (or former ones), what can I do to capitalize on my particular shape while hopefully drawing more strength higher up where I need it (it sure wouldn't do my appearance any harm either). I like sports and games, I like working out alone, and am willing to try just about anything-- what do people who are my size and shape excel at, and how do they train?
posted by hermitosis to Health & Fitness (32 answers total)
Running. Running. Running.
Seriously, your long legs will really help!
posted by fvox13 at 1:02 PM on July 20, 2006

Having been there (6' 145lbs) and done that, I would recommend that you start with Pilates at the gym to strengthen the middle before you begin to work on the top. Swimming is also a good exercise but on the upper body it will only develop your shoulders and legs, not your arms. Give pilates and running a try for a few months before you move on to the chest arms routines that will bulk you out. Good Luck. I enjoy my workouts a lot more now than when I first started out.
posted by ptm at 1:12 PM on July 20, 2006

Swimming would be great, I think. Tim Duncan, the professional basketball player, was a competitive swimmer before taking up his current sport. He's 6'11, and the sport is a great whole-body workout where legs play an important role.

I do Bikram Yoga. My class does not have a downward dog posture, and it has done wonders for my core and back strength. If you can stand hot temperatures, perhaps give that a try.
posted by jeffmshaw at 1:13 PM on July 20, 2006

Basketball is a classic sport for tall people, of course. Running to a certain point is good... you'll be in the distance camp, not the sprinting camp... and even then, for some reason I don't know many runners over 6'.

In tennis you get a huge advantage with height for serving, if you can combine it with power. Roddick gets most of his serve from his height. You're at a slight disadvantage during other parts of the game, where it usually pays to be closer to the ground, although it lets you get some meanass topspin going.

Personally, I'd join the gym. Most areas have single-day passes for swimming, at a community pool or such, while most gyms seem not to. Swimming will get you in shape for, you guessed it, swimming, & is a great way to lose weight & get generally fit, but you're not really looking to lose any weight at 6'3/160.

You could also go to a bike shop & get properly fitted for a road bike. You're way outside of what most common frames are made for, but a good bike shop shouldn't have any problem setting you up with something that'll fit well. At that point, as long as the bike fits, it doesn't really matter what size you are. Maybe for wind resistance...
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:19 PM on July 20, 2006

I love Bikram Yoga, and spent a summer doing it. After getting pretty good at it, I began to feel a little frustrated that it was always completely the same, no matter what. Plus they put a lot of pressure on doing it every day, or as close to every day as possible, which is out of my price/time range. If I could only afford to do it a couple of times a week, and they considered that counterproductive, it became hard for me to justify the expense.

Really did enjoy it for a couple of months, though!
posted by hermitosis at 1:24 PM on July 20, 2006

For sports, if you're at all co-ordinated and can run, Ultimate Frisbee would be a natural for you.

As well, there are a lot of really really good rock climbers with your build. I'm 6'1", and the height really helps with reaching holds, but the 190 lbs I have to haul up the wall is a detriment. Climbing's all about strength/weight ratio.
posted by sauril at 1:35 PM on July 20, 2006

Swimming for sure. And if you're interested in competitive swimming in NYC, give me a shout.
posted by dame at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2006

Fencing's a fun sport which being tall is good for.
posted by aubilenon at 1:44 PM on July 20, 2006

Seconding Ultimate - it's tons of fun and being tall gives you an advantage when catching high passes.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2006

Swimming is also a good exercise but on the upper body it will only develop your shoulders and legs, not your arms.

Also, this is so not true.
posted by dame at 1:45 PM on July 20, 2006

Swimming for sure and, if you're not scared of heights, rock climbing. A long reach really helps in that sport.
posted by trbrts at 1:46 PM on July 20, 2006

I'm surprised no one has mentioned rowing. If you live near water, you can join a crew club. But rowing machines are also good. Tall folks have a great advantage over smaller people in rowing.
And eventually, if you buy your own single, it can be a wonderfully beautiful and meditative way to get your excercise.

Make sure you get someone who knows what they're doing to show you how at the beginning.
posted by fireflies to stars at 1:53 PM on July 20, 2006

Michael Phelps is 6' 3" and 195 pounds. So if you build a little bit of muscle, and grow size 14 feet, can we please have some credit when you win your first olympic medal? (incidentally, his torso is freakishly long as well... resembling that of a of a 6' 6" man)
posted by |n$eCur3 at 1:58 PM on July 20, 2006

I'm probably your target shape now at age 40, at 6'3" and about 185 lean pounds, but I was a scrawny cyclist through my 20s. (And, yeah, my knees and ankles suck, and Down Dog kills me.)

There's really nothing for upper-body strength and size except lifting weights. I did push-ups and presses and curls at home for years without much result, and finally just decided this past winter to get semi-serious about lifting. In just four months or so I put on a lot of good chest, shoulder, and arm muscle.

The trick is: I aim for the gym every day. I don't have a schedule, I just start each day assuming that I'll be at the gym at some point in the afternoon or evening (Crunch on Lafayette is open 24 hours! and they're the cheapest gym chain in NYC). I don't make it every day, but this gets me there four or five times a week.

As for what to do once you're there: exhaust your triceps and biceps first, then work the big muscles of the chest and back. So: curls and overhead presses, then incline and bench presses, and flys and rows and front lifts. Then shrugs and I don't really know how to handle free weights so I use the circuit machines. Put on as much weight as you can lift ten times, and do three or four sets. I bike single-speed around NYC all spring and fall, so I'm not worrying about my lower body (although Crunch has a cool little shin machine that I haven't seen elsewhere which I hope will keep me in shape for snowboarding heelside).
posted by nicwolff at 2:03 PM on July 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that was supposed to be "Then shrugs and shoulders." in the last para.
posted by nicwolff at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2006

rowing machines are also good

A dedicated program on a Concept 2 Ergometer will do wonders. If you don't want to purchase one ($850), check out local gyms and health clubs for those which have them.
posted by ericb at 2:07 PM on July 20, 2006


seriously. if you're already a good runner you'll slaughter people.

plus its fun.

plus it's about the right time to start putting on base miles for this year's season (September - late December).

if that doesn't sound fun, I'd second/third fencing.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2006

You could always become a tall thick person and play a lock in rugby.

Also, t-nation.com has a few lifting articles that deal with leverage issues in tall lifters. That site, in general, is a nice site if you are looking to build up some muscle mass.
posted by Loto at 2:16 PM on July 20, 2006

Well, I am about a foot shorter than you are, but I vote for rock climbing. It is fantastic for the upper body and core--do that a couple times a week and you'll develop some great arm/shoulder/back muscles.
posted by sLevi at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2006

I'm almost the exact same size.

Bicycling is good. There's less stress on your knees than with running.

Martial Arts is good, though I'd recommend not karate or some of the other common forms, but that's me. Even if there is grappling and throwing, it shouldn't matter, because technique should remove the necessity for brute strength.

Martial Arts (I take Chinese kung fu) improves fitness of the whole body - strength, speed, endurance, etc.

Swimming is good, though I don't (I don't have access to one). Again, less stress on joints than running.

Soccer and Ultimate frisbee are great. I would keep doing exercises to strengthen your back/core, legs, and arms just to make you a little less prone to getting any form of small injury.
posted by Camel of Space at 2:40 PM on July 20, 2006

Thirding ultimate. 6'1" - 6'4", 130-165 lbs is a pretty common body type at the higher levels of the game. Since it's in theory a non-contact sport there isn't as big of a penalty for not having a lot of mass as you get in similar sports. So if you look like this guy you might want to give it a try.
posted by true at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2006

Martial arts. There's a guy in my kung fu school who's 6'4, probably 190. He's a beginner, but he fights above his level because of his amazing reach.

Most styles of martial arts will give you a good overall workout, emphasizing leg flexibility and trunk strength. Your upper body will tone up, especially your back, but you won't get all hulky.
posted by gurple at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2006

As others have said, climbing, fencing, basketball and ultimate are all sports that confer an advantage to height, and are great fun besides. Climbing is the only one that develops your upper body, and would be my first recommendation anyway.

Oddly, in climbing and fencing, being unusually short can occasionaly give you an edge as well.
posted by Manjusri at 4:39 PM on July 20, 2006

I support the cyclocross suggestion for the fall, and see if you can get outside the city for some winter training in cross country skiing. Low impact on the knees, and if you look, you can find snow covered trails that go uphill, forcing you to not only use your upper body to push, but work out your legs to a tremendous amount. Many people who bike a lot tell me they like x-country skiing in the winter since it provides that same sense of speed, to a certain extent.
posted by jldindc at 4:48 PM on July 20, 2006

Fencing is fun - I fenced sabre in high school and college - and long arms and legs give you an advantage - but it won't do anything for your upper body except thicken your dominant wrist. Martial arts are fun too, and your long reach is again an advantage in karate or kickboxing - but not, technique notwithstanding, in a grappling discipline like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Tiger Schulmann's Karate (both popular in NYC), where they just become longer levers and give your opponent the advantage.
posted by nicwolff at 4:51 PM on July 20, 2006

You can't really build muscle mass without any good resistance, so Yoga is kinda pointless for this. You may wanna consider weight training or even high intensity training with an ounce of caution.
posted by freakystyley at 5:29 PM on July 20, 2006

Here's another vote for rowing - tall people rock at rowing and it's mostly lower-body power that's required. It will make your back and arms a lot stronger though.
posted by polyglot at 6:14 PM on July 20, 2006

If you get an adjustable slant bench you can do a lot of abdominal and dumbbell exercises. The one in the link is professional equipment, but I got one for about $40 at Kmart and it works fine.

If you set some kind of seat at the foot of it, you can do preacher curls with dumbbells, which help to isolate your bicep muscle and keep you from "cheating" by using other muscles to swing the weight up.

A set of pushup stands might help in changing the angle in which you have to press; they'll also put your wrists in a more neutral position.
posted by concrete at 6:42 PM on July 20, 2006

Nth recommendation for rock climbing. I started in January and now I can do 12-13 pullups and my arms, back and shoulders have gotten noticeably larger. I'm built similarly to you, 6'2" and 150 pounds.
posted by number9dream at 6:51 PM on July 20, 2006

I gotta add to the Ultimate comments--it's a blast. Running, too, is of course a natural for your body type.

But--Ultimate won't do especially much for your upper body. If your knees can take it, basketball is good for building up the upper body while not *requiring* it to get started.

Martial arts can help immensely with the knees and back. I'd probably look at a combination of sports in your boat. My 65ish year old dad has been taking aikido and noticed amazing improvements in his flexibility and knees.

The kinds of sports you're going to excel at *now* aren't necessarily the sports you want to do if upper body development is a high priority. That's why I suggest a mix.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:46 PM on July 20, 2006

I've started doing pull-ups, and I am up to 4 a day. I would love to do push-ups, but the angle works against the shape of my body and they are pure hell.

Stop. Every other day at most. Exercise stimulate the anaerobic muscular systems, rest permits it. Every day is a big no-no.

Back when I was a strength trainer, it was common to put around 10 lbs or so of muscle a year on men in their 20s.
posted by filmgeek at 11:15 PM on July 20, 2006

All this advice is crap. Sorry, but it is. If you want to balance your body out by adding muscle to the parts of your body you don't use, then you are going to have to do MORE not less, and the less being yoga, pilates, swimming, sports, and "cutting back" on the pull ups.

1. Body builders eat ALOT OF FOOD. A 6'1 guy I train with eats 3200 calories a day in a bulking phase, over 200 grams of protein, and DOES NO CARDIO. While I wouldn't recommend doing no cardio, if you keep up with the biking you'll need to eat ALOT MORE FOOD. When tall people skimp on the protein, they shrink like deflating balloons.

2. Lift EVERY DAY. You aren't going to over train (if you are eating and sleeping right) for MONTHS because you are so under developed. It's EASY to put on 10 pounds of muscle a MONTH in the beginning if you are eating and lifting every day.

3. Experiment. Add 50 grams of protein a day to your diet, increasing each week. When you stop gaining at a higher rate over the prior week, you are getting enough. And I'm not talking about meat or soy or any of that crap. I'm talking about WHEY.

Don't believe what anyone tells you either. Collect hard data on your body mass, size, and strength. Experiment. Bodies are all different. Read read read.

Read Ian King's article on Massive Eating. Stay in touch.
posted by ewkpates at 3:50 AM on July 21, 2006

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