Can Swimming Make You Taller?

By Elaine K. Howley

If you’re like me and are ‘vertically challenged,’ this is an appealing notion

We all know how good swimming is for overall health and fitness. From improved lung capacity and lowered blood pressure to toned muscles and increased endurance, swimming has many benefits to offer.

So how about the idea that swimming might make you taller? If you’re like me and are “vertically challenged” this is an appealing notion. Wouldn’t it be excellent if you could gain a little height each time you swam?

Alas, this idea is indeed too good to be true. It’s a myth that swimming can make you taller.

What it can do, however, is allow you to stretch out your spine, which may improve your posture and could leave you feeling a little taller. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, some basics about why you are the height you are.

Factors that Contribute to Human Height

As bipedal primates with a drive for finding ways of classifying ourselves based on perceived hierarchies, height has become an important marker of stature in both the physical and metaphorical sense in our culture.

Being tall is generally perceived as a positive thing in western culture. In fact, in one paper, researchers investigating stereotypes about height found that participants rated tall (5’ 10”) and average-height women (5’ 4”) as more attractive and successful than short women (4’ 10”).

And short men (5’ 4”) were rated less socially attractive, less successful, less physically attractive, and less masculine than average (5’ 10”) or tall men (6’ 4”). Tall men were also seen as more athletic. These findings led researchers to write that “shortness is more of a liability than tallness is an asset.”

Economists have also long noted that tall people make more money, with one study finding that each additional inch of height was worth more than $800 extra in earnings per year. Why exactly isn’t fully elucidated but the association between height and leadership qualities, educational attainment, and overall confidence seem to play a role.

In swimming circles, tallness is clearly an advantage, too; few and far between are the Olympic swimmers who stand shorter than average, and some of the fastest swimmers ever to grace the sport are tall; Michael Phelps is 6’ 4” tall and Katie Ledecky is 6’ tall.

Clearly, being tall has its benefits. But the problem with height—as with so many other physical attributes—is that it’s beyond an individual’s control to change it. Genetics plays the largest role in determining how tall one person will be versus another. Other factors include ethnicity, sex, and hormones.

Adequate nutrition during childhood and adolescence is also a key component of whether a person achieves their full height potential. During a fascinating conversation in January 2024, NPR show On Point investigated the link between nutrition and height, highlighting how social and political factors can significantly impact the average height of an entire generation.

But swimming? No. Sadly, no matter how many laps you swim, that won’t stimulate any additional growth in your bones that will make you taller.

Exercise and Height

Unlike weight-bearing exercises such as running or weightlifting, which can promote bone density and potentially influence height during childhood and adolescence when the body is still going through a process called endochondral ossification—that’s when cartilage at the ends of the bones hardens and mineralizes to make longer bones—swimming lacks the impact necessary to stimulate bone growth.

Endochondral ossification continues until the skeleton reaches maturity, a timeline that continues usually until the late teens and is primarily dictated by genetics, hormones, and nutrition. This means that if you’re hoping for a tall child, you’ll be better served by offering them superlative nutrition and plenty of all kinds of exercise, rest, and routine health care rather than focusing on swimming specifically.

As we age, however, swimming may be able to make you feel taller. More precisely, swimming regularly can improve muscle tone in the core and back, which may improve your posture so that you feel or look a little taller without having added any actual height.

Swimming can improve overall health and wellness in many ways, and the social connections forged through swimming, along with successes you achieve in the sport, can all contribute to making you feel good about yourself and “stand a little taller,” so to speak.

Swimming can also ease some of the compression that accumulates between the vertebra—the bones that make up the spine. These bones are separated by intervertebral discs—flattened sacs of cartilage and a gelatinous fluid that provide flexion to the spine while absorbing shocks to cushion the bones.

These discs make up about a quarter of the spine’s total length, and as you age, they can compress, which can lead to a reduction in height. Swimming can help you stretch out those spaces and, temporarily, you might regain a little bit of lost height. Once you climb out of the pool and are again at the mercy of gravity’s full strength, however, any “height gains” you experienced while swimming will be erased.

By the time you’re old enough to be a Masters swimmer, you’ve probably finished all the growing you’re ever going to do, and it’s time to work on your technique in the pool to make yourself as long, sleek, and fast as possible while swimming.

About The Author

Elaine K. Howley is an award-winning freelance writer and editor specializing in sports, health, and history topics. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including AARP.org, Atlas Obscura, espnW, and U.S. News & World Report. A lifelong swimmer who specializes in cold water marathon swimming, she has contributed to SWIMMER magazine since 2009 and USMS.org since 2012. Contact her via her website: elainekhowley.com