Lifting weights has the potential to spur some pretty amazing changes in your body.
You'll develop better conditioning, more muscle, less fat (provided your diet is good), and improved athleticism.
But some people, especially young people, worry that lifting weights will stunt their growth and impact their height.
Let's put this to bed.
Will weightlifting make you shorter? No, more than likely not.
But let's dive in and take a closer look at why people are worried about this phenomenon, and what the science says.
Why people are worried about weightlifting and height
This is a huge topic in the lifting and bodybuilding community, especially among young people.
Just check out these results from the Bodybuilding.com forum section.
There are three primary reasons people worry about this:
1. Myth & Rumor
The idea that weightlifting stunts your growth is simply a myth that has persisted for years, and it sounds just true enough to hold on in people's minds for a very long time.
You can kind of see it, right?
Lifting heavy weights puts enormous stress on the body, muscles, and joints. It could kind of make sense that this sort of exercise might hinder your bone growth and development.
So the idea has spread and spread.
You've probably also heard that you need to eat 300 grams of protein a day to build muscle (most science these days suggests .8-1.0g per pound of bodyweight is plenty.)
It's just one of those bro myths that won't go away.
2. Misinterpreted science
There have been many studies over the years that suggest excessive physical labor by young people and children has an adverse effect on their growth and development.
In the 1800s, they studied kids who labored in coal mines. More recently, they've studied child laborers in India and found all kinds of problems with their growth as they age.
It might lead some people to believe that intense exercise is one of the key culprits.
But there are a LOT of other factors in play.
Child laborers work in horrid conditions, breathe toxic air, work inhumane hours, and often have access to only very poor nutrition and sleep.
They also don't have the opportunity to play and socialize, which are absolutely crucial for development.
There is a world of difference between proper weight training a few days per week, eating nutritious food, sleeping well, and living a normal life, versus spending your childhood in a labor camp.
Let's not conflate the two.
There are a handful of things that can legitimately stunt your growth, most of them involving some kind of heavy substance abuse.
But there's also a fear instilled in many of us that we won't grow up to be "big and strong."
Yes, God forbid we don't eek out every last centimeter of height from our genetic predisposition.
For young people, and young men especially, growing up short is probably one of the worst things that can happen to you socially.
There's a deep fear there, so it's no wonder that many young men constantly run every physiological decision they make through the filter of: "Will this make me shorter?"
The answer is almost always No.
How height actually works
So, what determines how tall we get?
For starters, most of it is completely out of your hands.
According to Scientific American, about 60-80% of your final height is genetically predisposed.
The other 20% or so comes from environmental factors, mainly getting enough quality nutrition in your formative years.
Of the majority of your height that's genetically determined before you're even born, most of that is hereditary (around 80%), meaning the more your family has a history of tall/short/medium people, the more likely you are to share that trait.
(Thanks mom and dad!)
But how does our growth actually work once the genetic markers are in place?
- Your body has a number of "long bones" in it, like the bones in your thigh, leg, arm, and forearm. These bones form the majority of your frame and height.
- Each long bone has something called a "growth plate" at each end of it, or the epiphyseal plate. It's an area of soft growing tissue that allows the bone to grow longer and longer as you age.
- The growth plates determine the final length and shape of the long bones.
- When you've reached your full frame growth (around age 16 or so for boys, a little younger for girls), the growth plates close and become solid bone.
Malnutrition can slow or hinder this process, ultimately harming your growth.
Though there is some interesting research that indicates poor nutrition can also slow down the degradation of your growth plates, meaning once the right nutrition is restored, some "catch-up" growth may occur.
OK, so can injuries affect growth? What about weightlifting injuries?
Injuries can definitely harm your bone growth.
The ends of your long bones, where the growth plates lie, are extremely weak in adolescence and are therefore super vulnerable to injuries.
When the long bones are injured during this developmental period, growth of certain limbs can be affected.
So the worry about weightlifting is not completely unfounded.
However, growth plates are FAR more likely to be injured by trauma and collisions during play or sports rather than strain from lifting weights.
It's very unlikely to damage your bones during weightlifting, though straining or tearing a muscle is possible if you're not using proper form and safety.
Tearing a bicep, for example, is not going to impact your height as you grow. Although it certainly wouldn't be a fun injury!
Just be safe when you're lifting and you won't have to worry about stunting your growth.
A few tips:
- Always use a spotter when lifting heavy
- No ego lifting... use weights you know you can handle
- Use safety bars during squats and other heavy rack exercises
- Learn proper form! Watch YouTube videos or consult a strength training coach to make sure you're doing the exercises right
- Film yourself lifting and watch it back. Look at your form and compare it to tutorials.
- If something hurts or doesn't feel right, stop and don't force the issue
Can weightlifting make adults shorter?
But I can see where the question comes from. It's all a matter of visuals.
A lot of us have this image of weightlifters as wide, squatty boulder-like people, which makes them appear short to us.
So there's a chance if you develop an overly wide frame (back, chest, and arms), along with too much "fluff' or bodyfat, you could APPEAR shorter to some people.
(I'm a big fan of staying lean while building strength for this exact reason. You can check out my favorite diet and workout program for getting shredded here.)
Some people also claim that squats and deadlifts can make you shorter due to spinal compression. This is highly unlikely.
Your posture may change as you build strength in your lower back and core, and this could account for some of the anecdotal differences in height from doing these lifts. Better posture may actually make you seem taller. Worse posture (from muscle imbalances) could make you seem shorter.
But the actual size of your bones is extremely unlikely to change from lifting weights.
The evidence is pretty clear that there's no correlation between lifting weights and being shorter as an adult.
Barring some kind of catastrophic injury to one of your long bones during adolescence as a result of heavy lifting, there's just absolutely no reason lifting weights would impact your overall height.
You should be way more worried about collision sports and high-impact activities (though growth plate injuries are pretty rare overall).
The health benefits of lifting weights far, far exceed the potential risks. The strength, confidence, athleticism, and conditioning benefits are out of this world.
Just make sure you're being safe and using proper form.
Hope this helps!
Will weightlifting make me shorter or stunt my growth?
Almost definitely not! There is no evidence of this.
What if I get injured?
High impact injuries to your bones can hurt your growth. Weightlifting is pretty unlikely to cause such an injury.
What age can I start lifting weights safely?
With proper supervision, good form, and light weights to start, there's really no age too young. 7-8 should be fine. But to be safe, it's probably best to wait until your early teens.
What DOES affect height?
Genetics, mostly. 80% of your height comes from your parents and is completely out of your control. Getting the right nutrition as a kid takes care of the other 20% or so.
What about for adults?
It can make you wider, which might make you appear shorter. But it won't alter your height.
Do squats and deadlifts make you shorter?
No. They can alter your posture, however, for better or worse.
Is lifting weights too dangerous?
No! Not if done properly. If you're being safe, using proper form, not ego-lifting, and eating properly, the health benefits far outweigh the risks.