Tokyo Olympics 2021: Why are Gymnasts so short?

Published 06/27/2021, 3:12 PM EDT
Simone Biles practices uneven bars during the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics trials in St Louis, Missouri, U.S. June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson


If you follow Gymnastics closely, you might have wondered “Why are gymnasts so short?” Is it that gymnastics is more suited for people who are short? Or is it that gymnastics stunts gymnasts’ growth?

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It is a pretty similar question to “What did come first: the Hen or the Egg?” In this case, it’s a combination of both. So, here’s why Gymnasts are short:

The shorter you are, the better you may do!

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It is for a reason that gymnasts are mostly short. The shorter a gymnast is, the easier it is for them to rotate in the air or spin at high speeds. It is hard for long limbs and joints to handle intensive training. It can also be explained by keeping a law of physics in mind.

The larger you are, the larger your moments of inertia will be. Hence, it would become harder to rotate and large turning forces will be required to generate the same number of acrobatic moments.

Or, you can simply say that flipping would come easier to shorter people, than taller. So, just like being tall is an advantage for basketball players, being short is a boon for elite gymnasts!

As per a study on the performance of female gymnasts with respect to their growth, it was found that smaller gymnasts have greater potential for performing skills over taller gymnasts. So, shorter and lighter gymnasts are able to perform better.

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Gymnastics stunts your growth

Brandon Briones competes during the final day of men’s competition in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for gymnastics in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 26, 2021. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

It is found that practicing gymnastics can stunt the development of the bones in the body. Moreover, training for the Olympics can leave an intense impact on your body.

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In women, it can delay the onset of menstruation or cause amenorrhea. This is because they get trained for long hours and years, causing stress on the development of the body.

In men, however, gymnastics isn’t known to stunt growth because their intense training starts post-pubescent, while that of women begins at a pre pubescent stage.

However, in the research conducted in the study titled ‘Role of Intensive Training in the Growth and Maturation of Artistic Gymnasts’, it was found that gymnastics does not appear to have any effect on their growth – whether it be the upper body or the lower.

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There’s no straightforward answer to whether Gymnastics stunts growth or not, but it is to note that shorter height can be a privilege. Moreover, the effects of intensive training are temporary and reversible, especially once it is discontinued.

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Aastha Kochar

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Aastha is an author at Essentially Sports, who loves to write about Gymnastics. She is a graduate in the field of Journalism and Mass Communication, from University of Delhi. She has been into sports since high school.

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