on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If you've ever watched gymnastics on the television you've probably noticed they are all tiny, both in size and height. Growing up in the sport I commonly heard that its the training that stunts your growth and have always wondered if it is true.  While most gymnasts are not commonly underweight for their heights, they are as a whole unusually short in comparison with other athletes and the general population.

I found this article that investigated whether is was their training that makes them smaller.

One concern about the small stature of gymnasts was that their small size may increase injury risk and may cause their skeletal systems to be less well-developed in comparison with other female athletes. What was found was that "the 'skeletal ages' of gymnasts are often average or 'on time for chronological age' during childhood, but by late adolescence most gymnasts’ skeletons may be classified as late-maturing.

This confirms that gymnasts in general are much smaller, but still hasn't answered if it the training that causes it. While the specific aspects have not been identified, many sports scientist believe that characteristics of gymnastics training are the cause for the stunted growth. This is what the article had to say regarding a few studies that were done.

 For example, researchers from Deakin University in Australia and Western Washington University in the United States who analysed 35 clinical reports (cross-sectional, historical, and prospective cohort studies) found that √©lite-level gymnasts may indeed be at increased risk of adverse effects on growth. This group found that adolescent-female-gymnasts’ skeletal systems matured at decreased rates during periods of regular gymnastics training, but then began to catch up during periods of reduced training or else retirement, suggesting that something about gymnastics training was affecting growth and maturation. The Deakin-Washington researchers found that the greater the number of years of gymnastic training, the greater the reduction in growth; they also found that gymnasts tended to have more problems with their spinal growth, compared with elongation of the bones in the arms and legs .

U.S.  National Team

Gymnastics seems to cause some very interesting effects in the young athletes. In general swimmers tend to have skeletal ages that are either average or advanced in adolescence and childhood compared to sedentary females, yet gymnasts have ones which are less than average. Its interesting as well going back to the age debate, because many of the injuries and issues with growth seem to begin in childhood. The average age of retirement for a gymnast is only 21 years. Gymnastics is the only sport where the elite athletes are always so young, yet it seems there may be something to not want to train them so hard at such a young age.