What has strength got to do with your height?
Most people ask this question and find contradictory answers. Some people believe that taller people have more strength because of the higher muscle mass in their body. Some people believe that shorter people have more strength because whatever muscle mass they have is concentrated around shorter bones.
Let’s move on to check the facts and see whether it is the short people or the tall people who have an advantage when it comes to strength.
The ratio of muscle belly to tendons
It does make sense to think that someone who is taller would potentially pack in more muscle on his frame before he runs out of ‘space’. So, it is true to some extent that taller people are stronger, especially when it comes to facing a challenge that involves their size.
But, this is just one of the factors that play a role in determining your strength based on your height.
The fact is that the size or mass of the muscle belly would not be determined only by the length of your bones, which influence your height. The muscle ‘belly’, here, means the length of the muscle between the tendons. Every person has a different ‘muscle to tendon’ ratio.
We are focusing on muscles now because your strength is dependent on your muscle mass. The higher the muscle mass, the stronger would be the person. Also, it is the muscles that play a vital part while determining how strong you are. The healthy and bulky muscles can exert more force, and hence, are stronger. So, when we talk about the strength of a person, we have to take into consideration the mass of muscles in the body.
But, to assume that since taller people have longer bones, they would have more muscle belly would be wrong.
Also, the mass of the muscle belly is also dependant on the length of the tendons connecting the muscles to the bones.
In other words, if you have long arms but a lower muscle to tendon ratio, then, your muscles might have smaller biceps and triceps than a person who is shorter with shorter arms but a higher ratio.
So, being taller would make you stronger only when you have a higher muscle belly to tendon ratio. The longer length of your bones would have to convert into a stronger muscle mass and a higher muscle belly to tendon ratio for you to derive the benefits of having long bones.
Bone length and leverage
To understand strength, we have to discuss a bit about physics.
When you lift weights, you have to use your arms as a lever or a hinge of some sort. This is more apparent while you are curling a dumbbell with the forearm acting like a lever allowing you to lift the heavy weights with ease.
Now, think that you are trying to lift a huge rock placed at the end of a long plank of wood. When you are holding the plank with one hand at its end and then, exerting force to lift the stone, will you be able to lift the heavy rock with the plank? The answer depends on whether the plank is shorter or longer.
In this case, the stone is like your dumbbell and the plank of wood would be your forearm. Your hand at the end of the plank is where the bicep ligament gets attached to the forearm bone.
In other words, you might be able to lift heavy weights even with a shorter forearm if the weight is closer to the force you are applying. So, while trying to lift the heavy rock, if the plank is shorter, you would be able to lift it more easily than if the plank is longer.
Similarly, if you have longer arms, due to being taller, it might mean you will need to apply a greater force to lift heavy objects compared to a shorter person if both of you have the same amount of muscle mass.
This happens because the shorter person would have the leverage of having shorter arms and so, would have to exert less force to perform the same task.
However, this concept would be applicable only if the arms of the person are proportional to the height. We can say this only based on the belief that shorter people have shorter arms and longer people have longer arms.
Other than this, having taller arms, when not in proportion to your height, may create a specific influence on your strength based on the ratio of the lengths of your forearms and arms. In this case, if you have longer upper arms and shorter forearms, the leverage would be more. So, it is not just the height, but also the ratios of the lengths of your arm and forearm that play a role in deciding how strong you are.
Likewise, deadlifting would be easier for some people than others depending on the length of their legs and their torso. Deadlifting can become also easier for people who have shorter arms. So, if you consider the body’s ideal proportions and the fact that shorter people have shorter arms, you can say that deadlifting would be easier for them and so, they would have comparatively higher strength.
So, the ideal powerlifter would have shorter torsos and shorter legs with wider hips to give them more power and stability.
The role of tendon insertion
Finally, here’s one more factor you need to consider while assessing how height affects your strength. Your tendon insertion, or to be more precise, the point at which the tendons attach to the bones determine how strong you are. Ideally, the farther the tendon insertion is from the pivot point, the more powerful your limbs would be.
In simple words, if you have long forearms and if the attachment of the tendon is at the wrist, then you would have no lever acting on the joint at all. So, you would be able to exert more force and power directly making you stronger.
However, if the tendon insertion is right near your elbow, then for all purposes and extents of movements, the lever arm would be much longer causing you to have less effective strength. This means even if you have bulky muscles, it won’t convert into higher strength because the effective action created by the force of these muscles would be lower.
Well… This is just an example to help you understand the role of tendons insertion. No one actually has the tendon insertions in the wrists. Also, the site of insertion is slightly different in all. However, some people are luckier to be born stronger, even without any active training, simply because they have the most suitable tendon insertions and muscle belly-to-tendon ratios.
Some people may not be as lucky. For example; people suffering from a condition that causes shorter tendons and having attachment sites too close to the joints may have difficulties in moving about. It is possible for patients with these abnormalities to suffer from extreme weakness and have lesser strength to perform simple tasks. This genetic factor would limit their strength.
So, though height plays a vital role in determining how strong you are, its effect on your power and strength would be modified by other factors as well.