The Advantages of a Long Arm Span in Athletics

Different body types are better suited to certain sports and physical activity. For example, the requirements of basketball tend to exclude extremely short players from advancing to the professional leagues. Likewise, if you have extremely long arms, your frame will prepare you well for some pursuits and far less successfully for others.

Two women giving a high-five after a cross fit competition. (Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Levers and Forearms

When you do a bicep curl or when you lift something by bending at your elbows, you're essentially using you arm as a lever. The longer a lever is, the greater force it exerts through the same effort. You can test this by swinging a hammer, first gripping it very close to its head and then gripping it at the far end of its handle. On the other hand, if you are practicing bicep curls to develop large, defined muscles, it may take longer for you to build up sizable biceps than it would if you had shorter arms.

Winning Reach

Many sports and games require you to strike or catch a ball. In most cases, the ball shuttles toward you along a trajectory that varies according to your opponent or teammate. When playing sports such as tennis, baseball, basketball, football, volleyball or badminton, longer arms allow you to reach balls that are further away. While you still need to develop your reflexes and agility in moving toward the ball, the longer limbs make it easier to reach the ball. In basketball or tennis, longer arms are an advantage for scoring as well as passing the ball. In both sports, a longer arm span makes a shot over the net or into the basket possible across a more generous range of angles.

The Short and Long of Weightlifting

Whether longer or shorter arms are ideal for weightlifting is a hotly-contested question. The most accurate answer is that it depends on your weightlifting goals. For dead lifts, longer arms offer a distinct advantage. For example, champion dead lifter Lamar Gant, the first man to lift five time his body weight, has extremely long arms. On the other hand, shorter arms offer a greater advantage for the bench press, another common weightlifting event.

General Advantages to Longer Arms

Outside of athletics and exercise, long arms make it easier to reach for all sorts of items. On the other hand, operating in confined spaces, such as cars or airplanes, can be more challenging. American biologist Joel Allen has hypothesized that humans with longer limbs and torsos are best-suited to warmer climates, as they have relatively more surface area than shorter, stouter individuals. Allen's research cites examples such as the Masai people of eastern Africa as an example of a people with long limbs that is indigenous to a hot climate region.

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