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The Advantages of Long Arms in Sports

C.J. McAllister is extremely passionate about his training as a professional MMA fighter and teaching martial arts and physical fitness.

Many different factors contribute to an athlete's success. Arm length is only one of these factors. Understanding how to use arm length properly, though, can make a significant difference in an athlete´s effectiveness in competition.

Having long arms is often convenient in day-to-day life for obvious reasons—being able to reach things on high shelves, for example. However, in some cases, having long arms is considered to be a disadvantage for participating in sports or other physical activities. Most of the time, though, if a person with long arms learns to move slightly differently from a person with short arms, he will gain a significant advantage in athletic or physical performance.

Sports Where Long Arms Are an Advantage

  1. Ball sports
  2. Combat sports: striking and grappling
  3. Weightlifting

The advantages for each are explored below.

Ball Sports

Some of the advantages of long arms for ball sports like football or baseball are obvious—longer arms make it easier to reach the ball, and therefore to catch it. Longer arms can also help throw a ball faster and farther due to the increased centrifugal force they can generate during the throwing motion, according to The Sport Journal. Regardless of the arm length, however, proper warmups and throwing mechanics are critical to reduce the risk of injuries.

The prototypical wide receiver in American Football is tall, with long arms.

The prototypical wide receiver in American Football is tall, with long arms.

Combat Sports: Striking

Boxing, kickboxing, martial arts, and similar striking-focused combat sports are obvious examples of athletic endeavors that lend themselves particularly well to individuals with long arms. After all, if two competitors can throw the same punch with equal speed, technique, and timing, the one with longer arms will generally land it more frequently—simply because he can do so from farther away than his opponent can. Since long-armed boxers and martial artists frequently face individuals who try to fight at a very close range to negate the difference in arm lengths, long-armed competitors should practice moving their feet and controlling range extensively in order to maximize the advantage their long arms give them.

When mixed with good footwork, long arms can be a major advantage for strikers.

When mixed with good footwork, long arms can be a major advantage for strikers.

Combat Sports: Grappling

The short, squat, powerful wrestler has long been the prototype for the successful competitor in virtually any type of wrestling or grappling. This is due in large part to the fact that the wrestler who is able to change levels, drop his hips and get under his opponent more easily will have the advantage. However, tall, long-armed wrestlers can also be very effective if they learn to use their body type correctly. For example, for offensive moves, they are able to use their reach to secure grips and control positions more easily than short-armed wrestlers; and for defensive moves, they are able to force their opponent to travel a longer distance for the same move, giving them time to react, defend, and counter.

Long arms can be useful for wrestlers and grapplers when used properly.

Long arms can be useful for wrestlers and grapplers when used properly.

Weightlifting Sports

Many in the powerlifting and fitness communities know that long arms can make it more difficult to lift weights, especially in certain motions like the bench press due to factors like the longer distance the weight must travel. However, even though longer arms may be a disadvantage in certain situations, such as weightlifting competitions, the fact that they must work harder to perform the same motion, as well as the fact that longer arms create more leverage than shorter arms, means that individuals with long arms are often able to generate more functional power than individuals with short arms.

For example, a person with arms 31 inches long would find it more difficult to lift a particular weight than a person with 28 inch arms, all else being equal. However, if those two individual can lift the same amount of weight, the one with the longer arms would likely feel stronger in a practical situation like an athletic event. This, of course, can give that individual an advantage in many different sports.

Competitive powerlifters tend to have shorter, broader builds.

Competitive powerlifters tend to have shorter, broader builds.

References

Bellar, David M. "Relationship of Arm Span to the Effects of Prefatigue on Performance in the Bench Press." The Sport Journal.

Gorskin, Chris. "Why Olympic Rowers and Runners Have Different Physiques." Inside Science. July 31, 2012.

Keogh, JW, PA Hume, SN Pearson, P Mellow. "Anthropometric dimensions of male powerlifters of varying body mass." Journal of Sports Sciences. October 25, 2007.

"Levers." Exercise Prescription.