Training the TALL Athlete

It’s funny how things happen sometimes.

This past weekend, my good friend Joe Dowdell came in for the Midwest Seminar, with plans of flying out on Sunday afternoon.

Evidently, mother nature had other ideas with regards to his travel schedule!

As a result, Joe stuck around an extra day and his client, Indiana Pacers starting center Roy Hibbert, made an appearance at IFAST.

Now when I was at Ball State, we had some pretty tall guys on our hoops team. While most of the guys were 6’6″ or shorter, we did have one tree-top named Lonnie that was 6’10”.

And as you can imagine, training someone that tall can lead to some challenges, but I want to highlight one key concept that anyone who trains tall athletes can implement now for immediately better results…

Improve their stability.

Think about your own body and how difficult it can be to control it sometimes – whether that’s in a squat, a push-up, or a single-leg exercise, stability and control can be one of the most challenging aspects of our programming.

And that’s with our relatively short bodies in a controlled environment like the weight room. You’re probably not a 7’2″ human being on a basketball court where people are constantly trying to push you around!

Charlie Weingroff always comments on how strong and stable a giraffe must be to stabilize and control their neck. NBA basketball players, while not on par with a giraffee, still have long body segments to control!

If you work with tall athletes, here are some things you can try to implement into your programming to get better results.

Body Weight Core Exercises and Progressions

This is something I’m going to highlight in my upcoming Complete Core Fitness program. Think about how long the spine of a 7′ guy is – it’s huge!

With that being said, don’t be afraid to use regressions early on to make sure they can get into the appropriate positions and use the appropriate muscles. It doesn’t make any sense to pick the most exotic and challenging core stability exercise only to watch the guy falling all over himself.

Over time, use their body weight and leverages to advance or progress them. Sure you can load them up, but the name of the game here is body control and stability, not setting PR’s in the suitcase deadlift in the weight room!

Single-Leg Work

This will be featured in an upcoming T-Nation article as well, but probably the single-most important thing you can get from single-leg training is improved stability.

Improving stability and motor control around the hips can not only decrease the likelihood of hip injuries, but injuries to the lower back, knee and lower extremity as well. I cite all the pertinent research in my Single-Leg Solution training package, in case you’re interested 🙂

Slower tempos

When working with explosive athletes, it’s not uncommon to see them blasting through exercises at a rapid pace. After all, these guys may not be super strong in the weight-room sense of the term, but their tendons are incredibly efficient and allow them to store a lot of energy.

While efficient stretch-shortening performance is awesome on the court, we need to seek to minimize it in the weight room. Slowing down the tempos (especially the eccentric) can not only put more stress on the muscles, but will help the athlete develop greater stability and motor control as well.

A true win-win, as we know many tall athletes also struggle to put (and keep) weight on.

A Final Note on Training Ballers in the Gym

I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but here goes…

Just because an athlete is tall and may not have ideal leverages in the weight room doesn’t mean they can’t see massive progress and change.

If you just assume that basketball players hate lifting weights, or that they aren’t going to be good at it, both you and that athlete are going to be miserable.

Some of my favorite athletes of all time to work with have been tall basketball players that other strength coaches had cast off, assuming they were unwilling or unable to get results.

Look, these guys may not be winning powerlifting competitions, but last time I checked, that wasn’t their goal.

By implementing some of the strategies above, you can absolutely see positive changes in your tall athletes. And whether that’s reducing injuries, improving their on-court performance, or a little bit of both, I think everyone will enjoy the benefits!

Stay strong


BTW – To learn more about Joe Dowdell, here are links to his Facebook and Twitter. He’s a good looking bro, if I do say so myself!

Joe Dowdell on Twitter

Joe Dowdell on Facebook


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  1. Great article!
    As a chiropractor, a “giraffe” (6’2), and a provider for many basketball players, thank you – recognizing that there is a difference in the demands on a taller body can make all the difference in an athlete’s career, and well-being.

  2. Great article as usual! Just a (possibly dumb) question; when you say we need to seek to minimize the use of the stretch-shortening cycle in the weight room, do you mean completely eliminate explosive style training? I agree that training with slower tempo’s and emphasizing the eccentric portion of a lift will elicit great results in both muscle stability, control and even muscle size but shouldn’t some plyo/power training be used as well?

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