Who hasn’t heard it? Even if you’re not a bodybuilder or someone that lifts at all, I guarantee you’ve heard this phrase. “Lifting weights stunts your growth!”, “You need to wait until you’re at least 20”, “You don’t want to be short!”. So now here you are wondering, “does lifting weights stunt your growth”?
Unfortunately, this tale as old as time has gone on too long. Even a google search today does not present many results explaining that it does not stunt your growth. It saddens me that many still think this myth as fact and spread it as so. I remember when I started lifting at 14, my own mother was worried I would stunt my growth. So I did a lot of research, and understood that it doesn’t.
Here are 5 Reasons Why Lifting Weights Does NOT Stunt Your Growth!
What is Stunting Your Growth?
The World Health Organization classifies the stunting of your growth as the impaired growth and development children will develop due to problems with nutrition, poor psychological stimulation, and infection.
The World Health Organization’s definition is very different than what the facebook mom’s saying is. The old wives’ tale goes that if you weight-lift your growth plates will suffer too much permanent damage so your height cannot grow, but they say nothing psychological will really happen.
For the purposes of this article, we will be relying on the old wives’ tale definition, but if there is psychological damage incurred from weight-lifting I will not hesitate to discuss that aswell.
#5 – People Ask Vigilant, “Does Lifting Weights Stunt Your Growth?” It never stunted mine.
The difficult part about all of this is that it is a hard topic to research.
For starters, few people start lifting weights at 14. Furthermore, even fewer that start lifting weights ever keep lifting for the rest of their life. This makes it incredibly hard to do a study because many kids that lift, will quit. That’s why whenever I see big people I respect them, because I know the hard dedication they put in. It takes 4-5 years to look huge, it’s not an overnight process.
#5a – Vigilant’s Height
I’ve never seen a doctor to seen my projected height, but I have a brother and sister a year younger than me. My mother is very short, she is like 5’2 and my dad is 5’10. I wasn’t really expecting anything crazy tall. However, I ended up being 5’10, and so did my brother.
Usually females will naturally be shorter than men, so I cannot take her height into effect. My brother never weight-lifted, meanwhile I have been weightlifting nearly everyday since I turned 14. I still ended up at the same height as him.
If lifting weights stunted your growth, how come I am the same height as my brother? Shouldn’t I be way shorter?
#5b – Vigilant’s History Compared to His Brother
The fact is, my brother never did much for exercise. He was slightly overweight before he lost lots of weight the past 5 months, but me and him roughly had the same garbage diets.
I would eat whatever I could; meats, cookies, brownies, vegetables, etc. He would do the same. My brother did get fairly active when he started fishing recently. He often goes and walks far to fishing spots around the state. He never has been in any serious contact sports or anything.
Me however? I wrestled, played baseball, weight-lifted about everyday since 14, did MMA/BJJ, and work constantly.
We live radically different lifestyles, if someone should have stunted growth, it’s me. However, we both ended up the same height. Considering even with wrestling being literally the biggest contact sport there is and me not being shorter than my brother, it is safe to say weight-lifting never contributed to anything detrimental to my growth in height. However, it definitely contributed to some sweet growth in my muscles.
#4 – Does Lifting Weights Stunt Your Growth? With BAD Form, yes!
Weight-lifting itself does not stunt growth, however if you use bad form, then you can increase your chance to stunt your growth.
Many sources will claim that is is impossible to stunt your growth via a growth plate fracture, but I am here to say weight-lifting hard enough CAN and WILL stunt your growth or injure you in some other way that will if you’re using bad enough form.
#4a – The LiveStrong Article
Livestrong.com references an article featured in Sports Magazine stating that many gymnasts who were injured actually had no stunting of growth nor did doing gymnastics stunt their growth. This was not only a very recent, but very surprising study. The study was published in 2013 and examined many gymnasts and came up with the conclusion that the reason most people are short in gymnastics, is purely because short people find it easier to do gymnastics and participate in it more, not because of stunted growth.
Livestrong tries to use this as defense to say, if gymnasts can’t get injured, weight-lifters can’t either. However I disagree with this argument. While I am one to say most injuries are ones you can walk off and rest, some can be serious.
A few months ago I was attempting to hit a squat PR and injured a bone in my back. I am not sure which, but I had tons of back pain and discomfort for months, and it’s only just started to go away. I should not have been trying to hit the max with no spotter, nor should I have violated proper form as bad as I did.
That single injury taught me enough to know if I had put on a heavier weight or screwed up that form bad enough, I could’ve been in a much worst situation. For instance, I could’ve been paralyzed, passed out and got a concussion, etc. That’s just from me making a bad choice.
#4b – What Injuries Can Happen?
Many may say, “oh, well, I won’t make a bad choice at the gym”, but most of us will at one time or another. If you weight-lift with proper form and use a good weight, then you will not injure yourself and continue. Choose to be stupid and put a heavy weight on? You’re going to pay for it.
To make matters worse, a very powerful article by builtlean.com, which I encourage you to read on your own, reiterates some of the horrible injuries you can get by weight-lifting. These injuries include: herniated discs (hurts to bend over), SLAP tear (shoulders are gone), knee pain, tear a hamstring.
A long time ago I flew over the handlebar on my bike and my rotator cuff has never been the same, it hurts so much to ever bench press, and I wouldn’t wish the injury upon anyone. Lift with good form or you’ll be the next one in misery like me.
Honestly, most of the time these injuries happen you’re fine. However, if you put too much weight on your bench and tear your shoulder out, you aren’t going to have a good time. You will likely stunt your growth too or damage something that may give you a permanent disability for life.
#3 – Improper Diet Will Stunt Your Growth, NOT the Weights.
You may be asking, “what does diet have to do with lifting weights?”. The cold hard truth is, you won’t ever put on muscle without gaining weight.
Many people come into weight-lifting with the goal of a better body, and these people sometimes end up with severe anorexia because of it. Infact, that happened to me. You can read all about my experience with anorexia on my blog post here. I am lucky I survived my growth not being stunted, infact once I was cured from anorexia, it was all I could think about.
Personally, I was roughly taking in 900-1000 calories a day, and running 10 miles a day to lose weight. Sure, I looked horrible, but I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted a better looking body. The hard part is, when you’re anorexic, it brainwashes you.
Aside from the severe health effects that anorexia will do to you, many don’t think about the future. A quick google search will yield that anorexia does not stunt growth nor mental capacity. However, this is wrong. Many of these articles do not even claim a single science paper nor have dealt with it. They simply claim, “people with anorexia aren’t that short”.
An science paper published by, “Stunting of Growth as a Major Feature of Anorexia Nervosa in Male Adolescents”(src:^1) claims otherwise. The accurate paper tells us that 11/12 patients admitted into a anorexic treatment center exhibited “growth retardation”. The paper later goes on to say if these patients started to gain a healthy weight, they would start to grow again. However, for 9/12 patients in the study, they were never able to reach their full growth potential.
#3a – Conclusion
This study confirms that if you aren’t eating enough and start to develop a bad eating disorder, you will stunt your growth.
Many people who start dieting for bodybuilding need to understand they need to NOT starve themselves, and they need to give their body a proper diet with proper rest.
Proper amounts of proteins, water, sleep, and calories are all necessary for the immense strain you place on your body when weightlifting.
#2 – There is NO Science That Lifting Weights Stunts Your Growth, period.
I’m going to be honest with you, the reader, one on one.
I tried to hard to find, any, and I mean, ANY evidence or science paper that proved that weightlifting stunts your growth. I looked on the last pages of Google, went to Google Scholarly and continued.
The only thing I could find was something that wasn’t even really science, but a guess. According to an interpretation from heaveyduty.com, the author Brandon Heavey states that a NY Times article titled “Phys Ed: The Benefits of Weight Training for Children” talked about how this myth came around. Heavey talks about how the NY Times article talks about how many japanese workers seemed to be abnormally short, and tacked this up to their labor hours. Due to the kid’s labor hours being reduced, people associated it with working so hard and exercising so hard it stunted growth.
Unfortunately that really wasn’t the truth. While the kid’s hours were cut, the real reason was probably they did not have enough food to feed the workers for the calories they were burning everyday. As I mentioned in subheading 3, being anorexic WILL stunt your growth.
So does lifting weights stunt your growth? There isn’t a single science paper about it, just a myth spread from a factory.
#1 – Weight Lifting is the LEAST of Your Worries for Stunting Growth
How come everybody says weight lifting will stunt your growth, but not football?
Look at how many contact sports kids are expected to be in these days. Football, wrestling, in a way baseball, basketball. And through all of this I rarely hear, “football is going to stunt their growth!”.
Infact, I am so surprised that it’s only just recently coming out the horrors of football. It seems every other month you’re finding out what these aggressive contact sports do to people. Look at Dave Duerson, an NFL player who took his own life, purely to donate his brain to science because he did not want to live anymore because of the damage. Dave Duerson thought he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy,
According to the MayoClinic.org, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a horrible disease with many symptoms and causes. It is casued by repeated head trauma; and hockey players, football players, military personnel, all can easily acquire it.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Cognitive Impairment (can’t think as well, hard to use brain)
- Emotional Instability and Problems
- Poor Planning and Decision Making
- Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior
I’m not a wise guy, but I can’t think of a feasible way a weight lifter can develop CTE. I hate how there’s not more coverage about this.
Stop telling me that my weight-lifting is going to ruin my height. Even if it did ruin my height, who cares? We have teenagers getting permanent brain damage from equipment that isn’t safe enough for them. We NEED to be researching how to prevent this brain damage that is going on.
These football players could be some of the greatest minds of our generation, but are penalized by brain damage. The brain damage that is barely talked about, all because weight lifting “supposedly stunts your growth”.
It’s sickening for me to see so many of my friends affected by CTE already in high school, and there is no focus on how to fix it. These parents need to stop asking “does lifting weights stunt your growth”?, “my son just started and I’m worried”, we NEED to be focusing on the horrible brain damage our youth faces.
So the answer to, “Does Lifting Weights Stunt Your Growth” is, no.
From a personal account of my height being unaffected, to finding out it’s only caused by bad form or injuries, then learning really the only way is being anorexic (which is fairly common to new lifters), learning there is NO science behind it, and then learning it is probably the least of your worries, you have learned so much today.
I think we all as a fitness community need to bring awareness to actual troubles such as support for those with eating disorders, and support for those suffering brain damage at high school football practice.
You’re safe to lift weights, you will keep growing, make sure you eat right and you’re lifting with good form! Leave me a comment or message on your thoughts about if weight-lifting stunts growth, or if you think another sport actually stunts your growth ( such as rugby?)!
Stunting of Growth as a Major Feature of Anorexia Nervosa in Male AdolescentsDalit Modan-Moses, Amit Yaroslavsky, Ilia Novikov, Sharon Segev, Anat Toledano, Edith Miterany, Daniel SteinPediatrics Feb 2003, 111 (2) 270-276; DOI: 10.1542/peds.111.2.270