14 February 2023
We’ve all heard the rumours of gymnastics stunting the growth of children, but how true is this and is there really any science behind the rumour?
Increasingly we have had the pleasure of watching elite gymnastics on our TV screens, not just at the Commonwealth Games or at the Olympics, but also at national level. If your children are anything like mine, they are likely captivated by the twirling, graceful and somewhat mystifying acrobatics being performed. However, you might’ve wondered, why is it that all gymnasts are so small and is it because gymnastics stunt their growth?
To put your fears to rest – no, gymnastics does not reduce growth. So, why is it that they are often so small?
Gymnastics is a deeply physical sport that requires strict fitness regimes and intense training. Therefore the sport has a very direct impact upon the shape and appearance of an athlete’s body. It would therefore be fair to assume that the gymnast’s fitness regime is in some way negatively impacting their growth. However, a 2013 study by kinesiologists at the University of Texas demonstrated that gymnastics training did not have any impact on a gymnast’s height as an adult nor upon growth during puberty.
A further study presented in the Journal of Paediatrics concluded that although there might be a relationship between gymnasts and their short stature, the vast majority of gymnasts end up with an average height by the time they reach full adulthood. Therefore, making up for their seemingly short stature later on in life.
The study goes on to note that it is likely that rather than gymnastics producing short athletes, gymnastics might just attract smaller stature individuals. It’s clear to see that this sport, which requires extreme control and manipulation of the body, acrobatics on a 4-inch balance beam and tightly spaced parallel bars - therefore favours smaller athletes.
This is similar to how positions in a rugby team favour a certain size of athletes, or how basketball players tend to be tall. It would be ridiculous to say that basketball players are all tall because of their training. A similar argument applies to gymnastics.
If it is not the training, then is it their diet? There have been some arguments that gymnasts’ strict diet results in limited growth. However, their strict diet regimes, like any other athletes, are designed to strengthen and assist in natural growth. The diet of a gymnast echoes those of other athletes, such as swimmers, who are never accused of being stunted by their sport.
To conclude - there is no need to worry about the rumours that always circulate around gymnastics. The science demonstrates otherwise. It is instead a question of the nature of the sport and how it favours smaller athletes.
So, no. Gymnastics does not stunt the growth of children and, actually, has numerous and varied benefits to offer!