“Lifting weights will make you short.”
“Use only your bodyweight instead of free weight or else you’ll shrink.”
“I stay away from lifting because it’ll turn me into a buffed up midget.”
I’ve heard these way too many times. People telling me that I shouldn’t be lifting weights, or claiming that they don’t lift weights because it’ll make them short. Now, I’m not a personal trainer capable of coaching you on the treadmill, nor do I take myself so seriously as to wear lifting gloves to the gym. However, I’ve done my research and can assure you that lifting weights WILL NOT cause you to grow shorter or even stunt your growth. Let’s consider this case in detail:
Teen Bodybuilding. Skinny freshmen with their sleeves rolled up yelling at each other on the curl rack. Huge seniors with loud music propelling their performance at the bench press. These images would lead one to define teen bodybuilding as lifting for the single goal of getting bigger and stronger than all their friends.
Personally, I think that one of the benefits of starting the fitness and lifting at a fairly young age is that you have a strong foundation for when you grow up. You will be stronger than your friends and possibly healthier than them because you would have the diet and exercise plan established and know that it works for your boy.
If you are thinking about pursuing body buidling in the future, it does not hurt to start young. Still, many modern teens and parents seem inclined to adhere to some misleading myths about bodybuilding to suggest an all-together different notion of what the sport actually does to you.
To bust these myths, we first have to find out how they surfaced. Let’s start with the most common one: lifting heavy weights as an adolescent can stunt your growth. The most reasonable hypothesis on the internet suggests that, when lifting weights, pressure is put onto the growth plate in the long bone, causing it to harden and therefore not expand to its full extent as the body matures.
Another common one I’ve heard myself from the adults in my gym (and my parents) is that lifting weights with movements which compress your body (such as overhead presses or squats) can shrink your frame and literally make you smaller over time. The response is simple; there has never been sufficient evidence from research to support this claim. Contrary to the common assumption, research has shown that lifting weights put the same amount (if not less pressure) on the body frame than any other sport.
Adding to that, height has been determined to be 60 to 80 percent genetics and the rest a contribution of environmental factors such as nutrition. No evidence exists that lifting weights as a teenager has an effect on an individuals max height achieved in life.
Contrasting this idea, I might argue that the endeavor of consistent weight training might even improve height, and here is why: Bodybuilding is ultimately a sport that necessitates hard work, motivation, and serious consideration of nutrition. This nutrition component is fundamental, and thus the motivation to take weight training seriously would lead to healthier eating which, in return, might actually boost the growth potential compared to inactive teens that do not care about nutrition.
World-renowned former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, five-time Mr. Olympia and seven-time Mr. Universe winner started lifting weights at the age of 15. His height? 6’2”. Again, should we be afraid that lifting as a teenager will result in a vertically-challenged future?
“The most swole boi on earth,” Andy Park (a frequent user of SAS’ own Apex facility, affirmed: “Lifting hasn’t stunted my growth and I’ve been lifting over a year with heavy weights.” Andy suggested that people might be led to believe this fallacy because most adolescents don’t eat enough to support the added nutrition needed for substantial muscle growth. He continued: “Your body will use the calories you have to repair muscles first because it’s more important. If you eat enough you will start growing muscles and height. I had a problem with this when I first started. I only had around 2500 calories. Once I kicked it up to over 4000 a day. I saw my lifts go up insanely fast and my height grew from 172 to 176.”
An important misleading (but natural) phenomenon can be that of temporary compression. When you deadlift or squat insanely heavy loads (like 3 times your bodyweight, the body can see some compression in your spine, shortening even the best athletes (like strongman competitors) a few inches for weeks. Andy has seen this in his own workouts: “For me, it compresses around an inch for 2-3 days but [then] decompresses [… ] it does not stunt growth.
And what about protein shakes and creatine powders? The simple truth is that they are called supplements for a reason. They are supposed to supplement your daily nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and more. The idea of them either making you way bigger or shrink way smaller is a common misconception for teens new to bodybuilding. Start with a solid, balanced diet. Then add the supplements to boost (but not replace) muscle-building macromolecules available for the body’s growth.
A common myth decries that protein (or any supplements for that matter) are dangerous for your health. The two most common types of protein supplements are Whey and Casein protein. Whey and Casein protein powders are simply natural sources of protein found in milk. Mixed with a complex of coagulant enzymes, milk separates into different constituents — one being Whey in its liquid form and the other being Casein and cheese.
The difference between Whey and Casein is that Whey is a fast digesting protein so it is best taken right after your workout while Casein is a slow digesting protein best taken before meals to have protein flowing throughout the whole day. This does mean that protein powders are forms of whole food and constitute complete dietary protein. However, a simple check of the ingredients will show you the following: Protein powders are not filled with dangerous chemicals and the most common supplements are not much different than concentrated portions of natural foods.
But there is an exception; unlike other muscle building supplements, substances such as pre-workout compounds are very unnatural as most people know. It has never been stated clearly whether or not pre-workouts are attained from natural substances. But unlike protein powders, a check of the ingredients list shows you that these substances are among the most unnatural things you can put in your body.
Pre-workouts are always unnatural because they all consist of stimulants which can be found in processed chemicals mixed with caffeine to give you an extra kick in the gym.
I would recommend staying away from supplements with proprietary blends which classify a list of ingredient under one name such as “Enos Super Performance System” and “CNS Contractile Stimulant System.” IN professional sports, Banned ingredients include 1,3 Methylhexanamine or DMAA, though these can be purchased over the counter in many pre-workout mixes.
Andy Park says: “For supplements, there is some science behind it but I find if you follow the label you will be safe. And as long as you aren’t unhealthy or way too young it would be alright to start taking supplements. ” So what is way too young? There are studies that suggest that weight training should only be undertaken past puberty. That is when the body is most chemically prepared for extra muscular growth. “At any age, REAL food comes first,” Alex reminds us.
So, no bodybuilding will not make you shorter. I did not write this to offend anyone, only to educate both students and parents to be wary of the myths out there. I would urge anyone, regardless of their size, to try weight training as a viable means toward better health and fitness.
From friendly rivalry between buddies to lifting competitions, to simply experiencing the joy of watching your body transform from your hard work, the lifting community is a truly enjoyable one.