High level gymnastics does. At least temporarily. In recreational gymnastics, the athletes aren’t working out that much and they aren’t watching what they eat that closely. It’s different when the gymnast is on an elite training plan. This usually involves a much more intense level of training combined with a much more restricted diet. Most elite gymnasts start training seriously at a young age. Of course, this will change how they grow. Intense training will not hold off growth forever. Most female elites seem to hit puberty sometime in their 16th year. If they have it earlier, it’s usually due to an injury that forced them to train less intensely while they were injured.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors that make gymnasts short. The main factor is the selection process that coaches use. Serious coaches usually select for body type. Coach Rick illustrates his blog post with a picture of Maroney posing with basketball player, Roy Hibbert.
Gymnastics does not make you short. Basketball does not make you tall.
Basketball is a much less demanding sport where many coaches are obsessed with having tall players on their team. So a guy like Hibbert who was barely a good player, let alone a great one, couldn’t run, do a single squat or a pushup ended up with a scholarship to a D1 team.
Cut to 2004, Hibbert’s first year at Georgetown. In an early fall workout, Hibbert lay prostrate in the weight room, watched by strength coach Mike Hill. He’d hit the ground to bang out a few push-ups, but a problem soon became clear: Hibbert couldn’t do one. So while women’s soccer and lacrosse players looked on, Hill straddled the freshman big man, reached down, and grabbed him by the sides, pulling him up and pushing him down while Hibbert struggled to pitch in. “It was humiliating,” Hibbert says. “All these girls are watching — they can do push-ups but I can’t.” Not only could Hibbert not do a push-up, he couldn’t bend his knees enough to do a single squat, even without holding weights.
That’s not all. “He couldn’t run,” says Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green, who was part of the same Georgetown recruiting class as Hibbert.3 “He was pigeon-toed, and he had these size 18 shoes, so he was just tripping over himself trying to get up and down the court.” (Says Hill: “It was more of a waddle than a run.”) But in the half court, Green says, “he was a load.” Big, with good defensive timing and a soft offensive touch, Hibbert was capable of scoring when he got the ball down low. But this was the Big East, a league stacked with elite athletes. As long as Hibbert was incapable of passing a middle school fitness test, he wouldn’t have an impact.
Basketball players are tall because coaches pick tall players. Gymnastics coaches also select for height. They are more likely to select a gymnast for serious training if she’s small for her age. Then, because the gymnast is receiving intense training, she will stay smaller for much longer than if there were no intense training going on.
While gymnasts eventually grow no matter what, I don’t think they will be as tall as they would’ve been. Children around the world end up with stunted growth just due to not getting enough to eat without factoring intense training into the mix. Why would gymnasts be any different?