The idea that weightlifting stunts your growth is a common concern among parents with young kids and beginning lifters alike. It makes sense to worry about it, but the fear is unfounded.
Does weightlifting stunt your growth? Lifting weights will not stunt your growth or hurt someone’s ability to grow, especially for young athletes. In fact, most strength training exercises have little to no effect on height. Compressing exercises like squats and overhead presses affect height, but those are temporary and reversed with good sleep.
If you’ve been hesitant to begin lifting weights, or you’ve been trying to talk your child out of starting a lifting program because you’re afraid it can stunt growth, you’re missing out on many strength training benefits.
In this article, I’ll discuss why you shouldn’t hold on to the belief that lifting weights stunts growth and discuss why strength training is healthy and important for your development.
Does Weightlifting Stunt Your Growth? (What the Science Says)
Due to growing worries about weightlifting’s safety, there is a lot of research in this area. The studies have no intention to further one opinion over another, but most studies show little to no correlation between weightlifting and growth plate fractures or spinal shrinkage.
This first study showed that physical activity compared to a lack of it in pre-pubertal children had a positive effect on muscle and bone growth. While that encompasses all sports, not just strength training, strenuous activities like lifting weights, gymnastics, and football help increase bone mass overall.
When looking at weightlifting and weight training, the research shows neither is dangerous to children and is safer than most sports from an injury incidence perspective. However, while the author warns that these actions are not inherently dangerous, young athletes still need someone’s supervision to keep them safe.
Faigenbaum and Myer state that resistance training does not cause injury to growth plates or growth cartilage in adolescents. Some children did report injuries, but it is because those kids were trained with improper technique and without appropriate supervision.
Where Does the Fear That Weightlifting Stunts Growth Come From?
Parents are the main culprits behind the fear that strength training stunts growth, as they hear the term “growth plates” when discussing their child’s development with their doctors. They start worrying that anything affecting growth plates will immediately harm their child’s growth. Thus, the myth sticks around.
Beginning lifters are the next biggest group promoting this myth, as they tend to fear that lifting weights will make them shrink. “Spinal shrinkage” is a term they might hear, and when they learn that doing a squat or an overhead press can cause spinal compression, they hesitate even more to start lifting weights.
What Are Growth Plates, and What Is Spinal Shrinkage?
Growth plates are the ending portions of long bones like those found in the arms and legs where new bone growth occurs. Bone growth happens in children and adolescents and stops around the age of 15 for girls and 18 for boys. At that time, growth plates will start to harden and become part of the bone itself, preventing any more bone growth.
Spinal shrinkage, or more correctly, spinal stenosis, is the natural process over time of the spaces in the spine narrowing. This narrowing creates pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots and can lead to some height loss as the spine compacts.
Will Weightlifting Damage Your Growth Plates or Shrink Your Spine?
You should not fear growth plate damage or spinal shrinkage due to weightlifting. Lack of supervision and unnecessary risk-taking can be dangerous and lead to injury. But the injuries are not because of lifting weights, but rather your recklessness.
Growth plate injuries do happen and are usually due to falling or twisting during contact sports like football and rugby or fast-moving sports like cycling or skateboarding.
So if you’re wondering, “Does lifting weights stunt growth at 15?” you don’t have to worry. Lifting weights at any age will not stunt growth.“
What about strength training and your height? Does lifting weights make you shorter?
No, lifting weights will not make you permanently shorter. While you may experience some spinal shrinkage, it is temporary. Your height will go back to normal after a good night’s sleep.
Severe spinal stenosis most commonly occurs because of aging or a disease that directly affects the spine and surrounding area. The chances of an outside-related cause of spinal stenosis are slim.
We discuss whether or not squats and overhead presses can make you shorter in Do Squats Make You Shorter? (What The Science Says) and Does Overhead Press Make You Shorter? (Science-Backed).
Benefits of Lifting Weights for Teens and Young Athletes
So long as there is good technique and proper supervision, strength training will elicit positive effects in teens, including but not limited to:
Increase in Muscular Strength and Endurance
Lifting weights over time causes tiny tears in your muscles that heal fast and, in turn, make you stronger. Having your body overcome an external force like a 100lb bench press makes your body adapt to be more capable in the future. Next time you bench press, the weight should feel easier and lighter.
Likewise, from an endurance standpoint, your muscles adjust to the stimulus you give them and become more efficient at performing the movements.
You can see this with weightlifting if you do circuit-training where, for example, you complete four exercises each lasting 30 seconds and go through four rounds of that. Your first time may be hard, but as the days and weeks go on, you will be able to do the exercises smoother and faster and increase the weight of each exercise.
Increase in Bone Density and Overall Skeletal Health
In the same way muscles tear and grow back stronger, bones also fracture and heal stronger from physical stress. Bones are unique because they need constant pressure and tension to stay strong; a lack of physical stimulus makes bones deteriorate and get weaker.
Like driving down the same road repeatedly, you learn how to do it without a GPS and without thinking about it. Your nervous system works in very much the same way. You either follow the same routes and remember them easily, or you never take them and get lost along the way.
You must drive these “road networks” so your body becomes more efficient at moving.
Reduced Risk of Developing Diseases
Staying active keeps your organs, brain, and other body systems strong and pushes them to be their best. Over time, this constant positive pushing makes them capable of fighting off illnesses and preventing diseases that come from something as simple as aging.
How to Prevent Injury in Teens Who Lift Weights
Here are some steps you can take as a teen or as a parent of a teen to make sure weightlifting is safe.
Find a Solid Lifting Program
Many beginner-friendly programs exist, like Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, the push/pull/legs split, or the 5/3/1 method by Jim Wendler.
Picking a proven method like one of these does two things:
- It provides you with all the workouts you would need for several months, so you don’t have to think about it.
- It helps you maintain safety, as adjustments and reflection periods are throughout each training block.
Starting out, you won’t know what to do, so having a plan from a professional can be a big boost to keeping you on the right path.
We also have beginner powerlifting programs in the PowerliftingTechnique training app. These are good programs to start with for anyone who wants to get stronger in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Learn the Exercises and Do Them Well
Now you know that you have 5 sets of 5 back squats on Tuesday based on the program you found, but how do you back squat? You or your teen have never done this exercise before and don’t know how to do it. Thankfully, the internet gives us access to both visual and verbal guides that can help us perform exercises correctly.
We have several guides that can help you learn good technique on the squat, bench press, and deadlift:
- Powerlifting Squat Technique Rules
- 9 Squat Cues to Improve Technique
- Powerlifting Rules For Bench Press
- 13 Bench Press Cues For Max Strength
- Powerlifting Rules For Deadlift
- Top 10 Deadlift Cues For Stronger Pulls
Have Proper Supervision While Weightlifting
If you still don’t feel comfortable with the program you’re following and the exercises you learned, have somebody with you as you train. If you can find someone with lifting experience, like your parents, a sibling, or a friend, ask if you can work out with them. If not, go to a fitness professional like a personal trainer who will help you feel confident lifting weights.
Check out our guide on the best gyms with personal trainers if you want to hire a trainer to help you with your lifting technique.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Weightlifting Affect Height?
Some exercises like squats and overhead presses can affect height. However, the effects are insignificant, and your height will return to normal after a night of sleep. Spinal shrinkage/stenosis is unrelated to lifting weights, so it’s not something to fear if you work out regularly.
Should a 12-Year-Old Lift Weights?
The start of adolescence is a prime time to start lifting weights. Many studies show that weight training generally helps stimulate muscle and bone growth in children and teens. A well-regulated lifting program is a great benefit for a teen.
Should a 14-Year-Old Lift Weights?
Though a child at 14 would be hitting puberty more intensely, science supports weightlifting as a positive. At this age, teens start seeing the physical effects of lifting weights, like bigger muscles, more definition, and greater strength.
At What Age Is It Okay to Lift Weights?
Under control and with proper supervision, lifting weights at any age is okay. Remember that growing as an infant into young childhood, we learn to lift our heads, sit up, stand up, and walk. We don’t think about it, but these are all forms of lifting weight to some extent. We lift weights simply by growing up.
So, does working out stunt your growth?
The answer is no.
The myth that weightlifting stunts your growth is common and is often perpetuated by worrying parents. If you have these concerns, take time to find a fitness professional in your area and speak to them about your fears. Remember that these fears are common, so you are not alone, but they are also unfounded.
Learning how to lift weights with proper form will set you up for long-term health benefits and can turn into a fun, productive hobby. Start slow and lift light weights in the beginning. You may find it tough at first, but you will feel good.
About The Author
Mikel Clark-Arroniz is a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer, currently residing
in Chicago. He has 15+ years of martial arts experience and 10+ years of team sports
experience. Ever the athlete, and student, Mikel now trains for triathlons and is looking to learn
about endurance sports.