When it comes to building massive, strong legs, squats are the go-to exercise for virtually every gym-goer. There is a belief, however, that this basic compound exercise can stunt a person’s growth.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
The Answer in a Nutshell
Squats, be it a front squat, back squat, or overhead squat do not stunt a person’s growth. While the amount of weight on the bar does have a compressive effect on the spine, the body can tolerate this level of stress and quickly recover from it. As long as you are using a proper squat form and not trying to lift a weight that is beyond your ability, the exercise will not affect your growth.
What Causes Stunted Growth?
The growth of our bones is the result of growth plates. These cartilage plates sit at the end of the long bones in the body. They keep growing until we reach physical maturity. If these growth plates are injured, stunted growth may result.
So, what could cause injury through the growth plates at the end of your bones? Obviously, any type of activity that causes the bone to break or fracture would not be good for the growth plates. Injuries in a weight lifting set could cause injury to the growth plates.
But this would only occur if a person is performing their weight resistance exercise incorrectly, massively overloading the weight or otherwise doing the wrong thing. When you train properly in the gym, including when you do squats, you will actually strengthen your bones.
A study that was published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine specifically analyzed the spinal health of the world record holder in the squat exercise. it was found that his spine was in excellent health, having suffered no ill effects from his decades of heavy squatting. In fact, his spinal bone density was recorded to be the highest that the researchers had ever measured!
Should Kids Avoid Squatting?
Many people believe that, because their growth plates are not yet hardened, children should not squat with a weight on their back. However, as pointed out, it is not squatting that is the problem. It is squatting or doing any other exercise, badly that may potentially damage the growth plates. Any form of exercise or sport can be done badly. So, it is just as illogical to say that kids should not play soccer or basketball as it is to say that they should not lift weights. There is just as high a likelihood of them having a growth plate injury when playing these sports as there is when doing squats with improper form.
Teaching children, from the age of around 13 or 14, to perform resistance exercises with a very lightweight and proper technique is one of the best ways to avoid bad form in the gym as they grow older.
How Squats Affect your Bones
Squats, along with other resistance training exercises, will increase the mineral density of your bones. This will make the bones stronger, allowing them to perform efficiently without risk of injury. So, rather than compromising the growth plates on the end of developing bones, when squats are done the right way, they will benefit them.
People who regularly engage in weight resistance training, including squatting, will significantly reduce the chances of developing such bone-related problems as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in later life. In addition, the strengthening of the muscles of the lower and mid-back will benefit the spine. Having strong erector spinae muscles at the base of the spine is one of the best things that a person can do to take the pressure off the bones and prevent the lower back pain that is chronic in the wider population.
While it is true that loading a heavyweight on your back will lead to spinal compression, the effects of that compression do not last once you rack the weight. The spine will quickly decompress and return to its normal length. However, you can assist this process by hanging from a pull-up bar for 30 seconds after you complete your last set of squats. You can also try hanging with gravity boots or stretching with a built for purpose stretching machine.
The placement of the bar across your back will also affect the level of spinal compression. If you place the bar high across your shoulders, rather than low across your trapezius, you will have less spinal compression.
The Benefits of Squatting
Having established that squats will not stunt your growth, let’s focus on reasons why you should do this exercise. We have already established that squats will help to improve the mineral density of your bones, making them stronger, less likely to fracture or break, and helping to offset osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
Squats will help to improve overall muscle mass. They will particularly add size to the quadriceps. However, this exercise will also help to stimulate the release of such muscle building hormones as human growth hormone and testosterone, leading to greater all over development.
Squats are also an excellent exercise to help a person lose weight. It is an anaerobically taxing exercise, especially when performed with high reps. In addition, squatting will improve your ability to perform a range of agility type exercises, including jumping, sprinting, and pivoting.
Proper Squat Form Essential
Because it is an exercise where you are moving through a vertical plane with a lot of extra weight on your back, it is essential that you perform squats with proper exercise form. Here are the key points to follow when squatting:
- Feet shoulder-width apart, toes slighted pointed outward
- Knees in line with toes
- Hips back
- Core tight
- Spine neutral
- Chest open
- Shoulders and back down
- Eyes looking straight ahead
The idea that squatting will stunt a person’s growth can safely be put in the ‘gym myth’ category. Squats will not stunt a person’s growth, not even that of a developing child if they are executed with proper form. Like any exercise or sports activity, when done the wrong way, a squat might cause some spinal problems. But that is all the more reason to start teaching the proper technique early on in life.
- Journal of Athletic Training; Injury Rates and Profiles of Elite Competitive Weightlifters
- Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology; Effects of Resistance Training on Bone Mineral Content and Density in Adolescent Females
- International Journal of Sports Medicine; The Upper Range of Lumbar Spine Bone Mineral Density? an Examination of the Current World Record Holder in the Squat Lift
- British Journal of Sports Medicine; Strong Correlation of Maximal Squat Strength with Sprint Performance and Vertical Jump Height in Elite Soccer Players
This article was last updated on October 8, 2020 .