The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 2 Short vs. Tall

Businessman and Author, Stephen Covey, once said, “ Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Stephen Covey is best known for his authorship of the widely popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His above quote was probably meant for themes of relationship building, leadership qualities, and diversity training. We are going to use the quote to frame a completely different conversation based around one of the most basic of all strength exercises, the deadlift.

As a strength coach, I teach very few exercises. In fact, the amount of exercises I use when training others could pretty much be counted on one hand. That’s because human beings are all pretty similar when it comes to what our bodies look like. Where the strength part comes in, is your strength as a trainer to identify the small differences in mechanics from person to person. What I am trying to say, is the deadlift is a valuable exercises for everyone, but how it actually looks from individual to individual may be very different.

For the sake of time, we will keep it simple. Let’s talk about tall people vs. short people in the deadlift… Hence the pic of Arnold and Danny from the movie “Twins”.  A great 80s movie I might add… Anyway, this is a topic near and dear to my heart because I am very tall, and at 6’6” my deadlift looks vastly different than someone who is 5’7”. The main difference you can expect is the height at which the hips start.

DL Tall Set Up


A tall person (Arnold) is going to have a more horizontal spine angle and higher hips.





Deadlift Short Set Up


Conversely, a short person (Danny) is going to have a more vertical spine angle, maybe around 45 degrees, and a lower hip angle.




Keep in mind, some absolutes are still in play, such as, a neutral spine throughout the exercise execution, a barbell that remains over the mid-foot, and a starting position that places the shoulder blades directly over the bar.  Here are the basics that hold true for everyone in their deadlift set-up.

Watch the video here

There really is more to this whole idea of identifying individual anthropometrics. Both tall and short people may have a very short femur and a long spine. They both could have short torso and a very long tibia. All of these differences may make things look different, even within the categories of tall and short. As your journey as a trainer continues, and as you work with more and more people, you will begin to take notice of these subtle differences. You will come up with ways to identify movement issues and create visuals in your mind for what the movement should look like based individual differences. This is where your strength and value lies as a trainer.

Here’s a more in depth explanation of the differences in set up.

Watch the video here

We will continue to post tips for helping coach the deadlift and other barbell exercises. We are also excited to announce the launch of our barbell certification in 2016. The Certified Barbell Coach will launch in March and will be held in Malvern, PA. This certification will focus on the performance, evaluation, and coaching of the Barbell Big Three (Deadlift, Front Squat, and Overhead Press). More details will be released by the end of the year.

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