Squatting is one of the most basic compound exercises in weight training. It is used to target multiple muscle groups, primarily the leg, core, and gluteal muscles. It is also a fat-burning and muscle-building exercise that can increase both leg and bone strength. However, there is a common misconception that squatting can make a person shorter.
While there is truth to this, the details will show that the relationship between squatting and height loss is just an overblown myth. Squats can negatively impact height, but it is minimal and temporary.
This article can help dispel this myth by going deeper into the science behind it. This will also illuminate how squats can make a person taller or appear taller; the different effects of squats between adolescents and adults; precautions for people with certain spinal disorders; and guidelines to help minimize temporary height loss and facilitate recovery after squatting.
Going Deeper Into the Myth
The myth of stunted growth originated in the 1960s when Japanese scientists hypothesized that the children’s stunted growth could result from lifting heavy objects because of heavy labor. The conclusion of the research, however, only showed a correlation between height and lifting heavy objects and a definitive relationship between height and nutrition.
From a scientific standpoint, squatting can negatively affect height, especially among adolescents, if the epiphyseal plate is still developing. The epiphyseal plates are present among children and adolescents. These plates solidify into the epiphyseal line once they reach adulthood. This process called epiphyseal closure marks the end of vertical growth for adults.
Another factor that can lead to height loss due to squatting is the compression of spinal discs known as spinal compression. Spinal discs or the intervertebral discs separate the bones of the spine or the vertebrae and function as soft cushions for shock absorption to allow fluid motion to the body.
Disc compression can lead a person to lose approximately 3-4mm of height after squatting. The range of disc compression varies depending on the time and intensity of the squatting set.
The height loss is not only very minimal but also temporary, as the elasticity of the discs will eventually revert to its normal state. This process can take from 20 minutes to 2 hours. So far, there is no scientific evidence of permanent height loss due to squatting, even in the extreme mode of the exercise.
Squats, therefore, cannot result in observable stunting or height loss. Height is still a function mostly of genetics, but also nutrition and ethnicity among others.
Squatting Can Make a Person Taller or Appear Taller
Height is usually related to posture. Proper form and execution of squats can lead to an improvement in posture through strengthening of back muscles that support the spine. In certain cases, weight training exercises such as squatting can lead to increased production of testosterone and other growth hormones that can help increase vertical growth, especially for adolescents.
Caution for People with Spinal Disorders
Lordosis and Kyphosis are spinal disorders characterized by inward and outward spinal curvature respectively, leading to a chronic posture abnormality. For people with such disorders, squatting can negatively affect height as it can aggravate the spinal curvature when done without proper supervision from a medical or fitness professional.
Effects of Squatting on Children and Adolescents
Dr. Malina’s research for the Clinical Journal for Sports Medicine in 2006 showed that there is no definitive scientific evidence that concludes that resistance training such as squats can negatively affect vertical growth of children and adolescents as long as there is proper supervision for and execution of the exercise.
This does not say, however, that squats will never affect a child’s vertical growth. Proper observation of exercise techniques, form, and intensity is always at play. Thus, reckless use of weights to supplement squatting can lead to injury of the epiphyseal plates and reduce the potential for vertical growth.
However, research from the University of Pennsylvania showed that there is consensus among sports medicine experts that weight training and resistance training exercises are safe even for children and adolescents. The research showed that there is a minimal risk of injury for children and adolescents when performing such exercises given proper form and moderate intensity.
How to Minimize Temporary Height Loss When Squatting
An underrated factor that can help minimize height loss during squats is ensuring proper form and reducing the impact of the exercise on the spine. Doing squats with more pressure on the legs and hips will reduce the pressure on the spine and prevent excessive compression on the spinal discs.
Focusing more on high repetition and lower intensity squats will also ensure that the spinal discs do not receive undue pressure from the exercise. This can facilitate greater mastery of the form and reduces the risk of injury.
It is practical to speak with professionals and train with experts to supervise the exercise and ensure proper form and execution. This is especially necessary for children and adolescents who want to enter the fitness world at an early age.
Lastly, proper rest after the workout will facilitate the healing, restoration, and decompression of the spinal discs. Spine disc compression is a normal day-to-day occurrence, and decompression and disc resetting occur primarily through rest.
Using Equipment to Reduce Pressure
There are several fitness tools and equipment that can help reduce the pressure on the spine during squats: the lifting belt and the pneumatic decompression belt. These tools can help ensure support for the spine during and after squats.
The lifting belt is placed along the waist area to provide support for the abdominal muscles and the lumbar area of the spine during squats, keeping the body in an upright position. This equipment can prevent the back from hyper-extending during squats and can ensure safer repetitions of the exercise.
The lifting belt can minimize the temporary spinal shrinkage due to its capacity to reduce the spinal load during squats. While supporting and stabilizing the spine, the lifting belt can reduce the spinal discomfort from the spinal disc compression.
The pneumatic decompression belt, on the other hand, is a post-exercise tool used for spinal support which reduces the pressure on the lumbar area and activates healing after squatting. Its inflatable mechanism facilitates spinal healing after compression which can lead to more than 4mm of height increase due to decompression as compared to less than 2mm of height increase for non-users.
Using Exercise to Augment Squats
Balance training exercises such as yoga, pilates, and stretching are good exercises to reduce the pressure from compression due to squats, which tend to put the body in a non-optimal state. These softer workouts ensure that the body reverts to optimal form after squats, fixing posture and facilitating healing and decompression.
Harnessing the benefits of squats lies primarily in the proper form and execution and moderation of intensity. It is important to always prioritize safety and avoid injuries at all costs through proper pre-workout and post-workout conditioning.
Looking at the science behind the myth of height loss due to squatting should dispel the misconceptions towards the exercise and allow people to not only recognize, once again, its power and benefit but also to acknowledge the various adjustments and additions that can make squats safer and more effective.