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Squats won't make you shorter. But there is a prevailing idea that strength training, specifically squats, will stunt your growth.
I've heard this idea floating around the strength training community and didn't give it much thought until one of my athletes asked me if it was true. As a result, I dug into the research to find out exactly what the science says.
Do squats make you shorter? Squatting does not make you shorter or stunt your growth. However, squatting has been shown to cause up to 3.59mm of temporary spinal shrinkage. But this is no different than the shrinkage that occurs while walking; any height effect is restored to normal after a night's sleep.
If you’re serious about your health and strength training, you’ll want to read to the end to stay safe.
Let's dive into the research to understand the science around squats and their impact on your growth potential to answer the question, ‘Can squats make you shorter?’
Where Did The “Squats Make You Shorter” Myth Come From?
In the 1960s in Japan, a team of researchers noticed that children who perform heavy labor tended to be short in stature.
They hypothesized that the hours these children spent lifting heavier weights were responsible for their stunt in growth. The mechanism proposed was that excessive external loading would cause damage to the growth plates at the ends of the long bones.
What Are Growth Plates?
Growth plates are the areas in which new bone growth takes place at the ends of the bone. They're made up of cartilage, and when kids are done growing, these growth plates harden into solid bone.
Is the myth true that lifting heavy weights and doing squats make you shorter or stunt growth?
So, do squats make you shorter? No, the myth is not true. The scientists studying the Japanese children found correlating factors to why they were short in stature.
In any scientific study, there is a difference between ‘correlation' and ‘causation.'
- Correlation implies that one event is related to another event or variable but not directly responsible.
- Causation implies that one event directly results from another event or variable.
In the case of the Japanese children, it was found that children who were forced to do heavy labor were also underfed. This means that heavy labor didn’t directly cause damage to the spinal column, but was only a correlating factor in why these children grew up to be shorter in stature.
Unfortunately, the myth that heavy external loading negatively impacted height was popularized before it was debunked.
It took several decades before the international community reached a consensus that squatting and heavy lifting don't affect growth plates or growth potential.
Want to improve your squat technique?
Does Squatting Make You Shorter? Here’s What The Science Says
While researchers in the 1960s may have thought heavy loading impacted growth potential, the current scientific community now believes that squatting and heavy lifting does not negatively impact height.
Lifting Weights Has An Osteogenic Effect
Lifting weights with proper form has been shown to have an osteogenic effect (Quatman et al., 2009).
What is an Osteogenic Effect?
An osteogenic effect assists the normal development of any tissue related to bone growth or repair.
Therefore, so long as squats are performed safely, such as breathing correctly, implementing an effective warm-up, and picking the right stance width, then it can actually contribute to your overall growth potential and won’t stunt growth.
Benefits of Squatting and Heavy Weight Training
In 2014, an international consensus was reached among the Strength and Conditioning Association that so long as weight training, such as the squat and other strength-based movements, were performed under the supervision of a qualified professional, that it can have significant benefits.
The broad benefits of heavy strength training, including axial loading, range from:
- Improved body composition
- Improved cardiac functions
- Improved muscular strength and power
- Muscle hypertrophy (for example, squats can make your quads and butt bigger)
- Improved motor performance
- Enhanced bone mineral density and skeletal health
Heavy squatting can also help you jump higher and may improve overall functional fitness.
What Are The Effects On Bone Health?
Several major organizations, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, have answered, ‘can squatting make you shorter?’ and have denounced the idea that heavy weight lifting causes negative height implications.
Fears that resistance training injure growth plates…are not supported by scientific reports or clinical observations, which indicate that the mechanical stress placed on growth plates from weightlifting may be benficial for bone formation and growth.Lloyd RS, Fiagenbaum AD, Stone MH et al. (2014)
So not only are squats safe, they can actually have a positive impact on allowing someone to reach their bone growth potential.
What Are The Effects Of Squatting & Strength Training On Youth?
The same organizations above suggest that it's even more critical to be lifting weights as a youth in order to maximize your growth potential.
A study on children showed that physical activity prior to the pubertal growth spurt stimulates greater bone growth than compared with non-physically active children.
It was specifically recommended that children engage in high-load weight-bearing activities like gymnastics, football, and weightlifting so long as they are supervised by qualified trainers and coaches.
Your Growth Plates Are Only Affected If…
Your growth potential is at risk if you fracture or damage growth plates in your spine. This risk is amplified as a teenager going through pubertal growth spurts.
According to the article on OrthoInfo, because growth plates determine the future length of the mature bone, then fracturing your growth plate requires prompt attention. As a teenager, approximately 15-30% of all fractures are growth plate fractures.
However, just because you fracture your growth plates doesn't necessarily mean your height will be affected. If treated properly, most growth plate fractures heal without complications. Serious problems where growth potential is affected is rare.
Can Squatting Cause Growth Plate Fractures?
According to research by Hamill (1994), the injury rate of weightlifters is lower than other forms of physical activity and sports in general.
Furthermore, the types of injuries seen while squatting and lifting weights are muscular sprains and strains caused by overuse, not bone fractures.
The incidence of bone fractures while squatting is very low, and it's been said that most injuries in the weight room are related to not being surprised by qualified individuals (Lloyd RS, Faigenbaum AD, Stone MH, et al., 2014).
Therefore, as long as you have a training program designed by a qualified professional and you understand the proper lifting technique, there is a very low risk of fracturing a growth plate or damaging intervertebral disks while squatting, overhead pressing, and weight training in general.
In fact, it's been shown that people who lift weights will have fewer injuries overall in other activities, and if these people do get injured, they spend less time spent in rehabilitation.
If you're wondering whether other exercises cause spinal shrinkage, check out my article on: Does Overhead Press Make You Shorter?
Is Spinal Compression from Squats Permanent?
If you’re worried about squats stunting growth and making you shorter, you’ll be happy to hear that the spinal compression caused by squats is not permanent. Although your spine may get shorter temporarily, squats won’t stunt growth or result in compressed or damaged disks, even if you’re using heavy weights.
So, the answer to, ‘Do squats stunt growth?’ is no. However, you may experience transient compression of your spine.
How to Stop Squats From Making You Shorter: Prevent and Reverse Spinal Shrinkage
So, we’ve looked at, ‘Can squatting stunt your growth?’, but now let’s take a look at how to minimize spinal compression and reverse associated spinal shrinkage.
Your spine will naturally decompress over time. However, you can do a few things to speed up this process and lengthen the spine.
One of the best ways to minimize the effects of axial loading and reverse the temporary spinal shrinkage it causes is to perform dead hangs. Use an overhand grip to hang from a pull-up bar and let yourself hang for 30-60 seconds. You can also simply lie down flat on your back to de-load your spine and make sure you get enough sleep to allow your body to recover fully.
You can also perform bracing to increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) to stabilize your spine and minimize excessive loading. Make sure to brace your core when doing heavy squats while maintaining proper form to minimize injury risk and spinal shortening.
Height Fluctuates Day-to-Day Just Like Your Bodyweight
Another thing to consider when looking at ‘does doing squats make you shorter?’ is natural fluctuations in height. Just like body weight, height will fluctuate on a day-to-day basis.
According to Watson et al. (2012), spinal shrinkage can occur during everyday activities, such as walking. Studies have shown between 3-12mm of spinal shrinkage throughout the day is normal — even in young healthy males.
Does Spinal Shrinkage Occur During Squats?
When studies have compared walking/running to weight training, they have shown that spinal shrinkage was not significantly different between weight training groups and those who ran 6km (Leatt et al., 1986).
Therefore, spinal shrinkage is no more occurring through squatting than other daily activities.
Is Spinal Shrinkage Normal? What Causes It?
Spinal compression during these activities is part of a normal process where approximately 1% of total stature loss occurs throughout the day. These losses are a result of height reductions in the intervertebral discs.
Any spinal shrinkage that occurs during the day will return to normal after a night's sleep.
Practical Applications For Your Training
Here are my practical recommendations for your squat training:
- Understand proper squatting technique and don't sacrifice form over load.
- Get a training program from a qualified professional who understands your individual differences and goals
- Wear a lifting belt as it seems to prevent spinal shrinkage when compared with no lifting belt (2.87mm compared with 3.59mm).
- Practice yoga or stretching after your lifting session in order to lengthen the spine and increase your range of mobility.
- Get a good night's rest as your height will be restored after your spine naturally decompresses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do squats lengthen legs?
Squats can increase bone density and muscle size in the lower body and improve overall posture. They also promote the release of growth hormone to aid muscle hypertrophy, particularly in the glutes and quads. As a result, squats may cause you to get taller due to some lengthening of the legs up to your pre-determined maximum growth potential.
In summary, do squats make you shorter? Or does squatting stunt your growth? The simple answer is no.
Squats do not stunt growth or make you shorter in the long term. The misconception likely originated from early studies in Japan, which were later debunked. It's important to note that while squats may cause temporary spinal compression of up to 3.59mm, this is a transient effect observed in other activities like walking. The height loss is restored after a good night's sleep.
Two key points to remember are:
- Squats are actually beneficial for bone health and growth when done correctly. Squats and other forms of resistance training have an osteogenic effect that can contribute to your overall growth potential. They don't affect the growth plates in a negative way, as was once believed.
- Temporary spinal compression is a normal physiological process. Spinal shrinkage may occur during various activities throughout the day, not just while squatting. Any spinal compression experienced will naturally reverse after some rest and sleep.
So go ahead and squat without worry, just ensure you're following a properly designed program under qualified supervision to reap the maximum benefits.
Feature image from @born_to_lift_ransilu
Lloyd, R., Faigenbaum, A., Stone. 2014. Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 international consensus. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 48(7): 498-505.
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.
Quatman, C., Myers, G., Khoury, J., Wall, E., Hewett, T. 2009. Sex Differences in weightlifting injuries presenting to United States emergency rooms. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 10(7): 2061-2067.
Vincent-Rodriguez, G. 2006. How does exercise affect bone development during growth? Sports Medicine. 36(7), 561-569.
Watson, H., Simpson, A., Riches, P. 2012. The effects of upper limb loading on spinal shrinkage during treadmill walking. European Spine Journal. 21(12): 2688-2692).