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Squats are often called the king of all exercises and are a tremendous exercise for building strength and muscle.
There is an old belief that strength training, or more specifically squats can make you shorter.
If we're talking about kids or young adolescents who are still developing, even stunt your growth.
But where does this myth come from? What is the logic behind it and what science and experts say about squatting?
Do squats make you shorter? The bottom line is squatting does not make your shorter or stunt growth. Studies show squats do cause temporary shrinkage of the spine by 3.59 mm. However, your spine comes back to normal in the morning and this shrinkage is comparable to regular everyday activities. Your height also varies throughout the day due to the structure of your spine.
If you are looking for the answer to whether squats make you shorter or even stunt your growth, look no further.
We are covering all of these in this evidence-based article. So, continue to read and let's get started.
Where Did The Squats Make You Shorter Myth Come From?
I have to admit, at first the logic behind the squats make you shorter myth doesn't sound so stupid.
If we constantly put the heavy weight on ourselves that pushes us down and we have to act against it to stay upright and lift it up, it doesn't sound so illogical.
It could have a possible negative effect on our height since compressive forces push us down and give our body potentially a harder time to grow contrary to those forces.
A few studies from the 1960s linked height and heavy labor but many researchers believe that was a case of correlation not causation.
How Does Growth Occur?
If we want an answer to the question whether squats make you shorter, we must understand how growth occurs first.
Two things are responsible to make you taller and grow: growth hormone and growth plates in our bones.
The Role Of Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone, or shortly HGH, is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland, the pea-sized gland located at the base of our brain, and it is responsible for the growth and development of children and adolescents.
Although HGH is responsible for kids to grow taller, it does a lot more than that. It can play a role during strength training and when you're lifting weights.
It is responsible for the growth of the whole body, including organs and bones. Essentially, HGH can make you taller before puberty.
HGH has an important role after puberty too. This hormone helps to maintain tissues and organs throughout adult life and it helps the body’s metabolic processes, such as fat utilization, and rising levels of blood sugar.
To answer the question of do squats make you shorter, HGH in fact helps you grow your muscles.
What Are Growth Plates?
On the other hand, growth plates are the areas of new bone growth in children and teenagers. They are located near the end of long bones (thigh and lower leg bones, forearm bones, bones in our hands and feet, etc.) and they add length and width to the bone.
If growth plates get injured, it can negatively affect your bone growth and development, and overall, your height. In other words, it can make you shorter.
As children grow, these growth plates form into the solid bone and bone plates close are no longer growing.
Growth plates usually close and stop growing at the end of puberty, for boys around the age of 18-19 years, and for girls even earlier, around 14-16 years. Even if you're lifting heavy after these ages, your growth plate will not change.
What Factors Determine Our Height?
The maximum height the person reaches in adulthood is primarily determined by the genes they inherit from their parents.
For example, children whose parents are short are more likely to be short themselves. The same goes the other way around. Children whose parents were tall are more likely to be tall.
However, many other factors can influence height, including nutrition, hormones, activity levels, and medical conditions. A big role in growth and height has whether all the child's health and nutritional need were met during their developing years.
Children who were small or premature at birth, ill or had their nutritional needs poorly met during their developing years, have much less chance of meeting their full growth and height potential.
The average height of the population gradually has increased in the last few centuries due to better living conditions and the fact that children had better nourishment and fewer illnesses.
Squats And Growth Plates
Could heavy squats cause fractures in a growth plate?
They could in theory, but that's not likely the chance.
There is less chance of getting injured while lifting weights than while doing other sports or physical activities. Also, most of these injuries won't be bone fractures, but muscular sprains and strains.
So it's not very likely you will injure your growth plates while doing squats and that way screw up your chance of getting tall (Hamill, 1994).
Effects Of Squats On Children And Adolescents
We have to understand that being able to squat is a movement first, and the exercise second. Squats still provide an excellent benefit to fitness enthusiasts.
Humans are designed to be able to lift heavy weights. Squatting is a natural movement. If we look at babies and little children, we can see that they can get into a deep squat effortlessly and stay in that position comfortably.
There are numerous researches that show that squatting and lifting weights aren't harmful to children and young adolescents.
Squats With Supervision
The research done by Takai et al. (2013) shows the relationship between lifting weights and proper technique.
As long as the resistance training, such as squatting, are done with proper supervision and the execution of the exercise, there is no evidence that it could negatively affect the vertical growth of the children and adolescents.
Squatting And Growth Plates
Another research done by Milone et al. (2013) shows that the thesis that resistance training and weight training exercises for children and adolescents should be avoided until the closure of the growth plates is likely false and that it is not associated with increased risk of acute injury.
However, that implies only if done with correct form and moderate intensity. The reckless use of weights and exercises could cause a potential injury of the growth plates which could negatively affect the potential for vertical growth of the kids.
So, just like proper exercise technique and intensity should be emphasized with adults, it is even more important to adhere to these principles with children, especially during squatting.
What Does The Science Say About Squats And Stunting Growth
In a study made by Bournet and Reilly in 1991, they discovered that squats can cause a spinal shrinkage of 3.59 mm.
On the other hand, spinal shrinkage was slightly less if a weightlifting belt was used during the lifting and it was 2.87 mm.
But don't worry, that loss of height is only temporary. Just like we get a slight shrinkage throughout the day due to being upright all day, this is no different.
Spine And Walking
In the study that compared walking and running to weight training, results showed that the spinal shrinkage from walking and running is not significantly different than from weightlifting (Leatt et al., 1986).
Your Height During The Day
Just like your weight fluctuates throughout the day, so does your height. You're tallest in the morning and by the end of the day, your height can change up to a few centimeters.
But why does it happen?
The spine is designed for strength and to provide support to our body. It is critical in your posture and benefits of overall health.
However, despite being designed for strength and support, the spine is a very flexible structure that allows us to move freely.
Lack of movement in the spine can lead to other problems and other movement limitations in our body.
The spine is made of 33 individual bones known as vertebrae. Vertebrae are stacked one on top of the other and they provide support to the body, while also protecting the spinal cord from injury.
Each vertebra is separated with an intervertebral disc that keeps the spine safe and mobile. Intervertebral discs serve as the shock absorbers to the spine and stop the vertebrae from rubbing one on another and allow our spine to move and be flexible.
The intervertebral disc is an elastic structure that has the ability to compress under load. It functions like a coiled spring and it allows us to lift heavy loads without getting injured.
Intervertebral discs are made of two parts. The outside portion of each disc is made of a strong protective structure, and in the center of this protective covering is a gel-like elastic substance.
As the spine receives pressure, the gel-like part of the disc absorbs the impact and keeps the spine safe.
This gel-like center of the disc mostly consists of fluid. This fluid constantly gets pushed out of the disc due to the pressure as we stand upright or we put load on our spine.
A Good Night Rest Does A Whole Lot Of Good
However, during the night, when we are lying on our bed, our spine is not affected by the pressure of our body weight, so consequently, our discs relax and stretch and the fluid that got pushed out during the day gets absorbed during the night.
As a consequence, in the morning we can measure an increase in our height by a few centimeters compared to our average height.
On the contrary, at the end of the day, because our discs were compressed all day by our body weight.
Also, as we age, our discs lose the ability to reabsorb fluid and they become brittle and flatter. That is the reason why we get shorter as we age.
Understanding the cause and the effect
Just because some of the best weightlifters and bodybuilders are shorter, doesn't mean they are like that because of weight lifting.
Many people mistakenly conclude that their height is related to lifting heavy weights, instead of concluding that maybe their height is responsible for their success in the sport.
When it comes to lifting weights and strength training, due to more favorable biomechanics for certain exercises, short guys often have the advantage over taller lifters.
For example, gymnastics. Most good gymnasts are short. It's not they are short due to the gymnastics, but rather that being short in the first place made them physically advantageous and superior over the tall gymnasts and made them dominate the sport.
Therefore, squatting (and weight lifting in general) cannot be directly linked to having a negative impact on your height or causing growth stunt.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Barbell Squats Necessary?
Barbell squats are a great exercise, but no exercise is really necessary and irreplaceable in your training regime. It all depends on your goals, your prior injuries, your movement limitations, or even equipment limitations.
People often believe squats make you shorter.
However, it's more likely the real reason for injury is improper form of lifting, unaddressed movement limitations, overtraining, or putting too much weight on the bar before we are ready for it.
If done properly, squatting is a great exercise for strength and overall fitness, and it won't negatively impact your height, at least not permanently.
Temporary spinal shrinkage is normal and it will occur whether you squat or not. It's a part of being a human and being designed to move upright.
So get under that barbell without fear and squat, it won't make you shorter.
Bourne ND, Reilly T. Effect of a weightlifting belt on spinal shrinkage. Br J Sports Med. 1991;25(4):209-212.
Hamill B. 1994. Relative safety of weightlifting and weight training. J Strength Cond Research. 8:53–7
Leatt, P., Reilly, T., Troup, G. 1986. Spinal Loading During Circuit Weight Training And Running. 1986. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 119-134.
Milone MT, Bernstein J, Freedman KB, Tjoumakaris F. There is no need to avoid resistance training (weight lifting) until physeal closure. Phys Sportsmed. 2013 Nov;41(4):101-5.
Takai Y, Fukunaga Y, Fujita E, et al. Effects of body mass-based squat training in adolescent boys. J Sports Sci Med. 2013;12(1):60-65. Published 2013 Mar 1.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.