The idea of weightlifting stunting an individual’s physical development has existed for quite a long time - with the conventional barbell deadlift exercise being of particular infamy when speaking of such effects.
Because of the popularity of this rumor, clinical science has made quite a few attempts at identifying whether it is actually true or not, with practically all studies seeming to agree on the same conclusion.
Performing the deadlift safely - alongside proper nutrition and rest - does not stunt an individual’s growth, regardless of age or relative athleticism.
In order to understand why this is so, we must first delve into what exactly the deadlift is, how the human body develops over time and what weightlifting does to our inner bodily systems.
The deadlift is an intense full-body compound resistance exercise most often performed with a barbell for a low number of repetitions per set.
It is a frequent sight in many strength training or powerlifting routines due to the numerous benefits it can induce in regards to an exerciser’s physical strength, explosiveness and posterior chain muscle mass.
When an individual performs the deadlift, they pull a loaded barbell from the floor with the use of knee extension, hip extension, lumbar spine neutrality and a number of other biomechanics all activated in a simultaneous manner.
This makes for a rather complex and neurologically taxing movement, hence why the deadlift is so often omitted from low-intensity workout routines, or those geared towards inexperienced individuals of a younger age.
Though growth is possible in a variety of contexts, what most people mean when they say that weightlifting stunts growth is in regards to vertical bone growth - or what is otherwise known as height.
During adolescence and occasionally into the early twenties, the human body elongates at both ends of all bones - of which are capped with hardened cartilage known as epiphyseal plates.
It is through these plates that, through certain hormonal changes, someone will grow vertically.
As can be guessed, these hormonal changes are not in fact affected negatively by weightlifting or deadlifting. In fact, it is quite the opposite; rigorous exercise, both aerobic and non-aerobic, can result in boosted levels of HGH or human growth hormone, as well as IGF-1 or insulin growth factor.
These two hormones, when released within a growing teenager or child’s body, will not only speed up height growth but also maximize the genetic potential for such physical developments.
The deadlift does indeed affect an individual’s height and growth, though it is not in a negative manner - much like other forms of weightlifting and exercise, deadlifting can only have beneficial effects on the human body’s growth, so long as it is performed in an appropriate manner.
The idea that teenagers or young adults performing the deadlift will cause their growth to be stunted or slowed is, for the most part, a myth.
Many clinical studies have delved into this subject, only to come to the conclusion that there is little to no relevant causation between the two variables.
However, other studies into the role of exercise in adolescent and pre-pubescent height development have shown that there is a definitive beneficial connection between the two, so long as it is within the right context and circumstances.
The myth that deadlifting (or weightlifting in general) can negatively affect an individual’s growth is a persistent one - despite little to no evidence backing it up.
The most likely source behind such an idea is that the deadlift is known to place pressure on the spinal column and lower back, potentially resulting in injury if the exercise is executed in an improper manner.
While safe and normal performance of the deadlift is entirely unlikely to affect an individual’s growth negatively, injuries of the spinal column or similar osseous structures can potentially damage the epiphyseal plates present at both ends of such bones, impacting future growth potential.
Yes, it is advisable that teenagers not only perform the deadlift, but also a number of other weightlifting exercises so as to maximize their health, confidence and physical growth.
So long as proper procedure is followed, the exerciser is supervised by a coach and an adequate amount of nutrition is supplied to them - deadlifting is perfectly safe and provides many benefits.
It is important to ensure that a teenager is meeting these needs, however, as improper rest and nutrition while exercising improperly can indeed stunt their growth as more metabolic energy is directed towards muscular repair instead.
The sole instance where deadlifting can directly affect a younger individual’s growth is if they injure themselves to a severe degree.
Damage to the spinal column or similar structures can cause their bones to heal improperly, leading to an unbalanced posture or even prematurely closed epiphyseal plates - causing puberty driven growth in that particular bone to cease permanently.
As such, if a novice is unsure of their own ability to maintain proper form during the deadlift, it is advisable that they seek out the supervision of an athletic coach.
Like all forms of exercise, deadlifts cause certain hormonal and systemic changes that can spur a number of physical benefits - with the most relevant of which being a significant boost in correct posture adherence.
This is a combination of the many benefits instilled by the deadlift, such as stronger and more enduring core musculature, greater bone density and even an improved sense of self-confidence; all of which will lead to the exerciser standing taller.
With an improvement in posture and the hormonal growth benefits provided by the deadlift, there is no doubt that deadlifts only improve growth - not stunt it.
With the correct supervision, a young individual may begin performing the deadlift as young as twelve or thirteen - though there are indeed cases of younger children doing so, it is generally advised that one wait for the child’s brain to develop the requisite proprioception and intelligence first.
As both the deadlift and the squat are the most common heavy weightlifting exercises available, the squat is also often subject to claims of inhibited or stunted growth in teenagers.
Much like the deadlift, the squat can only aid in the physical maturity of a young individual - so long as it is performed correctly, and proper training methodology is in place.
As effective a training tool as the deadlift is, it is not appropriate for everyone.
Individuals with a history of lower back or knee injury, as well as novice exercisers without the required experience to perform it safely should both avoid the deadlift in favor of other exercises that can produce similar effects without the same risk of injury.
This is especially applicable to adolescents and young adults who have yet to perform heavy compound movements like the deadlift.
As a final reiteration, we would like to stress that deadlifting does not stunt growth and that quite the opposite is true - teenagers should not be discouraged from weightlifting, as doing so will help them maximize their physical maturation.
Combining the deadlift with other resistance exercises, sufficient caloric and protein intake as well as adequate sleep will make adolescents taller - alongside many other benefits that will invariably improve their life.
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2. Pierce, Kyle C., W. Guy Hornsby, and Michael H. Stone. “Weightlifting for Children and Adolescents: A Narrative Review.” Sports Health 14, no. 1 (January 2022): 45–56. https://doi.org/10.1177/19417381211056094.
3. Fares MY, Fares J, Salhab HA, Khachfe HH, Bdeir A, Fares Y. Low Back Pain Among Weightlifting Adolescents and Young Adults. Cureus. 2020 Jul 11;12(7):e9127. doi: 10.7759/cureus.9127. PMID: 32789068; PMCID: PMC7417116.