Objective: The increasingly dominant performance of smaller-sized female gymnasts and increased magnitude of training beginning at an early age have prompted public and medical concerns, especially from an auxological perspective. The objective of this review is to determine if gymnastics training inhibits growth of females.
Data sources: An extensive research of MedLine (PubMed interface) along with cross-referencing was conducted using the Text and MeSH words "gymnastics" in combination with "growth," "maturation," "body height," "body weight," and "growth plate." Our analysis is limited to English articles only.
Study selection: All published studies that included data related to the research questions were included.
Main results: Although data from three historical cohort studies indicate that female gymnasts are short even before they begin training, clinical reports and cohort studies do suggest that some female gymnasts experience attenuated growth during training followed by catch-up growth during periods of reduced training or retirement. There is conflicting evidence whether the "catch-up" is complete. There were no studies reporting prevalence or incidence of inadequate growth. Three cohort studies provide evidence of reduced growth but training was not partitioned from other confounding factors in the gymnastics environment. Although there is a paucity of studies examining the link of dietary practices with diminished growth in female gymnasts, a review of related dietary literature indicates the potential for insufficient energy and nutrient intake among female gymnasts.
Conclusions: Elite level or heavily involved female gymnasts may experience attenuated growth during their years of training and competition followed by catch-up growth during reduced training schedules or the months following retirement. However, a cause-effect relation between gymnastics training and inadequate growth of females has not been demonstrated.