A persistent rumor in the fitness community is that the barbell back squat can make a lifter shorter, often with vague theories about the spinal column and vertical pressure caused by the resistance of the barbell’s weight.
As unfounded as these claims may seem, there is in fact some validity to them - though, like any myth, only partial accuracy is applicable at all.
Squatting can indeed make you shorter through two routes - the first of which involves the soft tissue of the spine being compressed, and with the second being from simple muscular fatigue as a result of high exertion.
As was briefly mentioned, squats can make you shorter by either compressing the soft tissue between the discs of the spinal column, or by inducing muscular fatigue in the core and lower back so as to affect the posture of the lifter.
The first and far more frequently encountered reason is simply a side effect of vertical pressure placed on the torso itself, of which is caused by the loading of the barbell atop the back of the lifter. This results in the intervertebral tissue that connects the discs of the spinal column shrinking temporarily.
The second is a simple consequence of the exertion involved during sets of the squat, causing the various smaller muscles of the torso to weaken and lose their capacity to maintain an upright posture.
The muscles of the abdominals, erector spinae and various other stabilizers of the lower back are all recruited to a significant extent during the squat - causing them to become fatigued.
Once this occurs, they are less capable of maintaining the isometric contraction needed to ensure proper posture is being held, resulting in the lifter appearing shorter as well.
Fortunately, the spinal compression effect from squats is not permanent - and will usually go away within the same day. While there are several methods that allow the lifter to reduce or remedy the shrinkage of their spinal column, it will naturally return to full length on its own over time.
If you wish to directly aid your intervertebral tissue in returning to its original length, simply hanging from an inversion table or even lying flat on your back is enough to undo the effects of spinal compression in short order.
Apart from spinal compression and muscular fatigue, squats do not otherwise make the lifter shorter in any manner, permanent or not.
While it is technically possible to sustain an injury that can hamper proper posture adherence, so long as proper form is followed and a reasonable amount of weight is lifted - it is unlikely that injuries like this will occur from squats.
Though the shortening effect from squats is temporary and negligible at its worst, there are those that would rather not experience such a detriment, however small.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to mitigate, undo or entirely avoid the shortening from back squats.
Simply performing alternative exercises to the squat may be enough to prevent any negative effects of your stature - alternative exercises such as the hack squat, leg press or even the front squat can all retain the same muscular activation and training stimulus of the conventional squat, while also placing less pressure on the spine.
If choosing to substitute out the conventional back squat for this reason, it is advisable that you seek out the advice of a qualified coach so as to ensure that the flow of your training program is not disrupted by the substitution.
Another method of quickly returning the intervertebral tissue back to its original length is using a foam roller along the center of the entire back.
This, apart from having a number of recovery-related benefits, will also aid in mitigating the spinal shortening effect of back squats.
Inversion training is a subset of athletic training with a primary focus on inverting the exerciser’s body, often placing them upside down or at a steep torso angle so as to reduce pressure on the joints and induce training stimulus.
As one may guess, inversion training or other activities that place the lifter in an inverted position will quickly remedy the spinal shrinkage associated with back squats.
Though the shortening effects of squatting are temporary and altogether small in scope, the effects squatting can have on making you taller are likely permanent and quite noticeable in the correct circumstances.
Squats are capable of increasing the density of the lifter’s bone mass, improving their posture via muscular strengthening and can even induce hormonal changes that aid in maximizing a growing individual’s potential height.
It should be noted, however, that the majority of actual vertical bone growth is unlikely once you have reached the point of physical adulthood - and any improvements in your height from squats are likely due to factors other than actual elongation of your body.
Barring any severe injuries that can trigger premature closing of the epiphyseal plates - no, squats cannot stunt the growth of a teenager.
In fact, proper exercise and diet will only improve their potential height, thereby maximizing the growth that their genetics dictate.
Exercises that place a direct compressive force on the spinal column like the back squat or trap bar shrug will often result in the aforementioned spinal shrinkage effect - which, as was also mentioned, is temporary and not very significant in its impact.
As such, there are in fact no exercises that can actually make an individual shorter, especially in a permanent manner. This, of course, is not counting exercises that place the lifter at risk of serious injury that can affect their bone mass or ability to stand upright.
And there you have it - squats do not make you shorter in any way that actually matters.
As persistent as this particular fitness myth is, there is actually little clinical evidence that supports its claims, and as such it is entirely considered a falsehood by well-studied exercise professionals.
If the rather small loss in height from squats is nonetheless something you want to avoid, the usage of various spinal decompression techniques or substitutes to the back squat are simple and rather easy to implement.
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2. Deursen, Leo & Deursen, D.L. & Snijders, C.J. & Wilke, H.J.. (2005). Relationship between everyday activities and spinal shrinkage. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon). 20. 547-50. 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2005.01.005.
3. Reilly, Thomas and Kirsten Anne Freeman. “Effects of loading on spinal shrinkage in males of different age groups.” Applied ergonomics 37 3 (2006): 305-10 .