Does Weightlifting Make You Shorter?
The Internet sometimes feel like a Petri dish for lies, misinformation, and fabrications. We’ve all probably heard some dubious news that originated somewhere on the internet, something so incredible that people couldn’t possibly believe it was real, and yet because someone read it on the internet, people began to assume that it was true, actual, and real.
Similarly, we’ve all probably grown up with well-meaning adults in our lives telling us “old wives tales” about actions that we absolutely should or should not do. You know what I’m talking about here; this is the stuff that the show Mythbusters was made of.
It was the so-called “conventional wisdom” like people shouldn’t go swimming right after they eat because they might cramp and drown. Another one that comes to mind is that you shouldn’t take a shower and go to bed with your hair wet or relatedly, you shouldn’t go outside with wet hair during the cold winter months or you’ll get really sick. The list goes on and on, and it seems that the dubiousness of these claims just grows exponentially.
One oft-claimed pronouncement is the idea that weightlifting makes you shorter. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about weightlifting before that turn out to be so far from the truth, it’s almost comical -- among them, that women shouldn’t lift weights, else they’ll “bulk up” -- but weightlifting affecting a person’s height is up there on my list of “ridiculous things I’ve read on the internet today.”
So what’s the story here? Why do some people fear that weightlifting makes you shorter? I’ll explain.
The thinking behind the claim
If you look around a gym, you may notice that there are a lot of really muscular, very apparently strong-looking people who are also on the shorter side, relative to the general population.
This leap from correlation to causation is natural -- the thinking that weightlifting must stunt people’s growth -- because if you just happen to see a lot of short people lifting weights, you might think that one caused the other.
“Causation does not equal correlation” is an axiom in statistics. In this circumstance, think of it this way: just because many people who are short lift weights, that doesn’t mean that lifting weights actually caused those people to be short in the first place.
Instead, think of it like this: the mechanics involved in weightlifting, and the concomitant appearance of being strong and muscular, somewhat favors individuals who are comparatively shorter.
Consider the physics involved in the situation. If a person is very tall, that person has that much more body area space over which his/her muscle can spread. In comparison, if a person is short, then he/she doesn’t have as much body space over which muscle can spread, so he/she will look noticeably more muscular and bulky than his/her taller counterpart.
In addition, some studies suggest that shorter individuals have greater power and strength propensities than their taller-bodied colleagues again due to the height discrepancies.
It’s akin to other sports, really; just because you’re born tall doesn’t mean that you’re naturally a basketball phenom. Instead, it takes a lot of hard work and practice to cultivate your skills, and in this particular sport circumstance, your natural, genetic advantage -- your height, written into your DNA that your parents gave you upon conceiving you -- can help make you that much better a player.
So it goes with people who enjoy lifting weights: they may be drawn to the sport because their genetic predispositions give them biological advantages in that sport over others.
It’s not to say that short individuals can’t excel in other sports, such as basketball or volleyball, or that tall people can’t be successful weightlifters; it’s just that it’s simply not as statistically common.
(Also read: Does Running Make You Taller?)
But what about growth plates?
Many people have decried weightlifting for children for fear that kids lifting weights will somehow damage their growth plates and therefore stunt their growth. Perhaps because of this, most physical education programs for young children omit any type of weightlifting endeavors.
While the intention behind this type of thinking might have been pure, the reality is that weightlifting for children, when done with proper form and with supervision, is actually more beneficial to kids than it is detrimental.
Children don’t produce muscle in the same way that adults do, and oftentimes -- because they’re kids -- they may be more inclined to lift with improper form and thus be at greater risk for injury to their growing bones, tendons, ligaments, and musculature.
hus, if children want to lift weights, and if they have adults who can help ensure that they’re lifting safely, by all means, they should have at it.
Lifting makes you stand tall
More than anything, the fact of the matter is that weightlifting actually seems to make people taller simply because the activity gives them more confidence.
So many people enter into a gym each day thinking they don’t know anything about weights, that they don’t belong in the weight room, and that they have nothing to gain from picking up and putting down metal.
Imagine their surprise when they realize how much fun it is and how much their self-esteem blossoms when they realize they’re capable of doing so much more than they ever realized.
While lifting weights won’t physically or literally make you taller -- your height is determined only by your genes and your nutrition -- it can make you figuratively taller, and for most people, that’s enough.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Jane Grates: Sports blogger and vegan, Performing at the crossroads of simplicity and programming to create strong, lasting and remarkable design. I'm fueled by adventure and trail running events.