For swimmers, the question of whether or not swimming can make you taller is a common one.
Swimming is a great workout for your whole body, and with the average height of an elite female swimmer being 7% taller than the average US female, and male elite swimmers being 9% taller than the average US male, it seems logical that swimming and height are related. [source]
A common misconception is that swimming will make you taller, when in fact, it only creates the optical illusion of height. When you are in the water and gravity is no longer compressing your spine, you may appear taller, but this effect is temporary.
Swimming does not increase a person’s overall height.
While swimming cannot make you taller, there are many benefits that come from swimming that can improve your quality of life. Swimming is a really great form of exercise that provides a full-body workout.
In this article I will cover:
- Can swimming increase your height?
- Are swimmers usually tall?
- Can I be a good swimmer if I am short?
- Swimming tips for short swimmers
Can Swimming Increase Your Height?
Swimming cannot increase your height in the long term or make you taller.
Swimming can help to stretch your body and improve your overall flexibility, which may promote better posture and a host of other health benefits.
Additionally, swimming is an excellent exercise for your overall health and well-being, which can also contribute to better overall growth.
There are many reasons it is a common misconception that swimming can make you taller.
Here are some facts related to swimming and height.
1. Top Elite Swimmers Are Mostly Tall
In swimming competitions, being tall is an enormous advantage. Therefore, the vast majority of successful swimmers are very tall.
Not only do taller swimmers have less distance to cover, but their tall and thin bodies also make them the ideal shape to cut quickly through the water.
Long (or tall) is a good thing in the water.
Taller swimmers typically have other benefits that come along with being tall, for example:
- Taller people may have larger feet, which means more power from their kicks.
- Taller people may have longer arms, which means greater levers and pulling power in their stroke.
- Taller people may have larger hands, which means greater pull of water and increased speed.
But above these factors, being tall is one of the greatest natural advantages a swimmer can have in the water, as they will swim quickly through the water without great effort.
As a result, since we are so used to seeing successful swimmers being tall, it can be very easy to assume that it was the sport that made them tall. But this simply isn’t true; they have a natural advantage in the sport because they are already tall.
2. Successful Child Swimmers Tend To Be Tall
Just like elite professional swimmers, child swimmers who are tall tend to stand out.
Again, because of their height, competitive child swimmers who are tall generally win more races on average.
From a spectator’s point of view, you may see lots of competitive child swimmers who are tall and believe it is swimming that is making them all so tall. Taller children stand out and succeed at swimming because they are already tall and have a natural advantage.
Swimming does not make child swimmers any taller than average.
3. Our Height Varies Through The Day
Just like our weight fluctuates throughout the day, our height also fluctuates.
We are typically tallest in the morning, just after we wake up and get out of bed.
This is because we were lying on our backs and our spines decompressed and slightly elongated overnight.
As the day progresses, we lose this gained height, only to regain it again when we sleep.
If you have a morning swim, you may measure yourself and find that you are slightly taller than the night before, as your spine has fully decompressed and will remain decompressed while you swim.
Once you stand up and go about your day, this very slight height gain will be lost.
However, if you measured your morning height after your swim, you might actually believe that it was the swimming that made you taller.
Are Swimmers Usually Tall?
Elite swimmers are usually taller than the average person.
Swimmers who compete at the elite level are taller than the average person in the United States. Women who swim at an elite level are about 7% taller on average than American women, and men who swim at an elite level are about 9% taller than American men.
Swimming at an elite level requires every advantage you can get, as fractions of a second can make the difference between a medal or going home empty-handed.
As a result, most swimmers who make it through to the elite level are on the taller side, however, shorter swimmers can still compete at the highest levels with some notable swimming legends who are on the shorter side, including Janet Evans, and Brad Cooper.
To learn more about how tall the shortest Olympic swimmers are and what their actual heights are, I have covered this in greater detail in this article, “How Tall Are The Shortest Olympic Swimmers?”
Can I Be A Good Swimmer If I Am Short?
Short swimmers can be World Swimming Champions and Olympians. Just because you are on the shorter side, this does not mean that you cannot swim or compete. You can be a great swimmer if you are short.
In medicine, they classify a person as having a shorter stature if their height is more than two standard deviations below a population’s mean for age and gender.
As a general rule, you do not have to be tall to be a good swimmer, fast swimmer, or competitive swimmer. There are many examples of successful shorter swimmers.
Shorter swimmers can still compete and perform just as well as our taller counterparts. It comes down to technique and practice.
There are certain swimming competitions that are more suitable for shorter swimmers. For example, tall swimmers usually dominate short swim sprints, but for longer swim events (over 400m) the height advantage disappears.
I discussed what the best event for a short swimmer is in this article, “What Is The Best Event For A Short Swimmer?”
Swimming Tips For Short Swimmers
Just as taller swimmers can use their height to their advantage, shorter swimmers can use their shorter height to their own advantage, too.
Here are some things shorter swimmers can do to compete in the pool.
1. Extend Your Reach
As mentioned, being tall or long helps us to move more efficiently through the water. However, you do not have to be 6ft to swim tall.
When swimming, extend your arms’ reach, elongate your spine and make yourself as long (tall) as possible when swimming.
When swimming freestyle, imagine you are trying to reach out and touch the other end of the pool. This causes your arm to get the maximum extension and improves your hip and shoulder rotation.
As a result, you become more “slippery” and glide through the water.
The idea is to make yourself as long as possible by reaching your arms out as far as possible, beneath the water.
Here is a brilliant demonstration of good arm reach, taken from the Total Immersion Swim Method. As pointed out in this video, ensure you extend your arm underneath the water, not on entry.
2. Swim Narrow & Streamline
Another tip to help extend your reach is to imagine that you are trying to swim through the eye of a needle.
This might seem strange, but by doing so you become very narrow and straight in the water, which has a fantastic impact on speed and swimming efficiency.
Being long, straight, and narrow in the water will allow you to glide through the water, increasing your speed and competing with your taller counterparts.
3. Less Legs & More Hip Action
At the best of times, kicking contributes to a maximum of 15% of our swimming power.
Shorter swimmers are at a disadvantage in the leg region, however, by practising kicking to get the most effective kick, we can maximise our potential in this area.
More importantly, however, is using our hip rotation to roll and go faster through the water. In swimming, so much of good swimming technique and speed come from our hips.
Here is a beautiful example of swimming effortlessly where the swimmer has an extended arm reach and perfect hip action to glide through the water. Skip to 1 minute on this video to see the underwater shots.
4. Perfect Your Turns
Doing tumble turns might be one area where shorter swimmers may have an advantage in the water.
A tumble turn is a turn that is done when a swimmer reaches one end of the pool and wants to turn quickly to swim back up the pool.
If you are competing, the more efficiently you turn can gain you a few extra milliseconds helping you make up for any lost time.
This is a skill that can be practised and improved with training and can provide shorter swimmers with a slight advantage.
5. Wall Pushes & Underwater Strokes
When seeking an advantage as a shorter swimmer, look at all aspects of swimming and take nothing for granted.
Another area of swimming that you can optimise to gain speed and swim advantage is how you push off the wall and your underwater dolphin kick.
If you can push efficiently off the wall with a good tumble turn, make good contact with the wall, get excellent propulsion, and maximise that propulsion with a strong dolphin kick, then you can dramatically speed up your swimming times.
Here is a really marvellous example of how to improve the tumble turn:
6. Improve Overall Swim Technique
To get faster and swim longer, it is important to have excellent technique.
Personally, I recommend the Total Immersion Swim Method if you need to improve. This swim method revolutionised how I swim and removed all my anxieties about being a shorter swimmer.
I learned it is all about understanding how we move in the water, and how to make the most of the body I have in order to swim well.
7. Dryland Exercises
To get better at swimming, you do not always need to be in the water.
Anyone, short or tall, can complete exercises on dry land, which is a great way to improve our fitness and get our bodies into the best shape for swimming well.
Although all exercises will help improve your cardio fitness for swimming, resistance bands with paddles attached are one of my favourite dry-land-specific swimming exercises.
Using these resistance bands, we can target specific muscle regions used for swimming and improve our strength without having to take a dip.
Here is a nice demo and an explanation of how to do some dry-land swimming exercises using resistance bands:
For more tips and information about improving your swimming technique, take a look at my article that covers training tips and guides on how long to train before you see results:
Swimming will not make you taller, but you can be short and still be an amazing swimmer.
Overall, there are many things we can do as short swimmers to give ourselves an advantage in the water.
By practising excellent technique, doing dryland exercises and improving our overall fitness level, we can swim faster and longer regardless of our height.
Additionally, learning how to tumble turn quickly and use our hips to roll through the water will help us glide effortlessly through the pool.
To learn more about how you can swim fast if you are short, check out my article here which covers this in depth.