The perfect combination of strength, agility, balance, flexibility, and incredible power makes gymnastics one of the most exciting games to watch. It is real fun to see people swing, flip, turn, and land perfectly on their feet. It leaves everyone with mouth wide open, and yearning to see more.
But have you ever noticed that most gymnasts are short people? Almost all the competitors are shorter than their coach, parents, and even siblings. For example, the 16-year-old Simone Biles only stands at 4’8″ while Flavia Lopes Saraiva, a Brazillian gymnast is 4’4″. Aly Raisman was one of the tallest on the United States female gymnasts team at 5’2”.
When you carefully examine the height of gymnasts, you will notice that they are below the average.
According to the CDC, the average height for women is 5’4” at around 19 years of age. Simone Biles and others do not make this cut, and it points to a particular trend. It is almost certain that all gymnasts are short.
But do these exercises have a stunting effect on the body?
The Urban Myths
Most mothers will stop their children from pursuing gymnastics because they believe that it is a growth stunting activity. They believe that the significant amount of time spent exercising takes a toll on the body, and it does not have sufficient time and space to develop sufficiently.
Before 1972, the female gymnasts were prepubescent and small. The sport was once dubbed as The Hunger Games, because of the rigorous training, and strict diet associated with it. It was a hotbed of eating disorders, as Joan Ryan would note in his best-selling book.
However, that has changed over time, and gymnasts have a more muscular body and are well-toned. They are healthier, stronger, and more explosive as opposed to skinny.
But does the sport have any effect on the developing body in any way? Is it a myth or a fact that joining gymnastics will stunt your growth?
The truth about gymnastics and height
Physiologist Dr. Kevin Thompson, noted that being short helps with somersaults and other rotational exercises. As a result, short people are more likely to excel in gymnastics in the same way that tall basketballers excel in basketball.
In other words, short people are more likely to take up gymnastics because it is the only sport that they have a chance of excelling in. One study shows that the terminally short are more likely to join the gymnastics than their taller counterparts. By age four, most of them are already shorter than their peers.
A professor at the University of Texas and who has studied the development of young athletes, Dr. Robert M. Malina, found no evidence in research to indicate that gymnastics has a stunting effect on the body. He was part of the committee hired to look into the impact of intense exercises on the developing body by the international governing body for gymnastics.
Malina and his team analyzed numerous studies done over four decades, and could not find any conclusive evidence on the matter. Most of the studies were inaccurate and confusing, and that did not help matters. They often overlooked genetic factors and age.
According to Malina, most of the gymnasts have short parents, and it only makes sense that is they are short as well. It is not about intense exercises, but rather a question of genetics — nothing to do with gymnastics.
An orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports injuries, David McAllister has a different opinion. McAllister acknowledged that most gymnasts experience delayed puberty mostly because of their low weight and intense exercises.
But Malina could not discount intense exercises as a cause for delayed growth and development. He said that there are studies that show that those who drop out continue living normal lives experience better growth than those still engaging in gymnastics.
McAllister noted that most gymnasts develop wrist and knee injuries, and sometimes, abnormal bone growth. The good news is that they ultimately grow out of the injuries. It is not a cause for alarm.
Evidence on the effect of gymnastics development is not conclusive. It remains just a myth. If anything, any effect completely reverses when the gymnast retires from the sport. As such, there’s no reason why a parent would stop their child from achieving success and happiness associated with gymnastics.