Does Cycling Make You Taller: A real-life experiment


Many people take up cycling as a fun hobby, others as a way to get fit and lose weight. However, some look to cycling as a way to increase their height. You often hear it said that cycling can increase your height, but I always wondered why people said this, and how it would even work. As a result, I thought I’d take some time to look into the effect of cycling on your height and run an experiment of my own. So, does cycling actually make you taller?

Before puberty, cycling is able to increase your height through increasing levels of growth hormone in your body. Once you have gone through puberty, cycling has less impact on your height, with studies showing that it can only transiently increase your leg length through muscle and joint stretching.

So, cycling can actually increase your height before puberty? But how does it actually do this? And what about after the age of 16? In the rest of this article, I take a more detailed look into all of these questions, including running an experiment of my own to see the impact of cycling on my height in the short and long term.

Please note, that if you are trying to increase your height through exercise or any other method, you should start by speaking to a medical professional. Some studies have suggested that certain forms of exercise (for example weight lifting) can actually harm a child’s growth, and many supplements can have negative side effects. The information in this article is intended as a general look into the topic, but should not be taken as formal medical advice.

Does cycling increase height?

Many articles have looked into the impact of cycling on your height, however, I feel that they are looking at the research too superficially.

In general, there are two main methods that people suggest that cycling could increase your height.

The first is through a “stretching” of your muscles and joints, and the second is through an increase in levels of growth hormone.

Increase in muscle length

Many of the articles that look into this topic quote the same two studies from 2010 and 2014. Both of these studies looked into the impact of saddle height on how efficient a cyclist’s pedal was.

As a byproduct of their research, they found that a cyclist’s legs were able to accommodate for this increased saddle height over time by over-extending their hip, knee, and ankle joints as well as stretching out their muscles to increase leg size.

Many take this increased joint size as proof that cycling increases height, however, this was not directly noted in the study, and the increase in joint extension was in fact found to be transient (meaning that the cyclist’s legs went back to normal after they stopped cycling).

Other studies have looked into the impact of stretching (rather than cycling specifically) on muscle length, and have also found that any increase in muscle length was transient and not long-lasting. 

Overall, there is a possibility that cycling could stretch out your muscles and joints over time, however current evidence only shows that this is transient, and none of the studies people use to “prove that cycling can increase your leg length”, actually do so.

If you want to take a closer look into the ways that cycling impacts muscle, take a look at my article Does Cycling Burn Muscle.

Growth Hormone Levels

The other main way that cycling is believed to increase your height is through hormone levels in your body. Studies have shown that regular exercise such as cycling leads to increased growth hormone levels in your bloodstream.

Growth hormone is a natural hormone made in the body, it works in combination with another hormone (called IGF1) to tell the bones, muscles, and other organs to grow by adding more cells. Growth hormone is one of the main ways your body grows when you are a child, and thus, increased levels of growth hormone result in a taller final height after puberty.

However, the large caveat to this is that growth hormone only works on your body before and during puberty (up to around the age of 17). The areas of the bones that growth hormone works on (called the growth plates) close off after puberty and no longer follow the signals of growth hormone.

This means that once someone has gone through puberty, extra growth hormone will not have any effect on your height.

Can cycling increase height after 16?

So, we’ve established that the two main ways that cycling might impact your height are through muscle stretching and growth hormone levels.

Growth hormones only work up to the time when your growth plates close (around 16 or 17), and so anyone over this age will not notice any benefit to their height as a result of cycling.

Given there had been no clear research done into the impact of cycling on leg size and overall height after the age of 16, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look myself (as well as dragging my partner into it).

Blow you can see the results of two different experiments that I ran over the period of 1 month to see the impact of cycling on my height.

Did cycling increase my height over the short term?

I measured both my and my partner’s leg length as well as our overall body height. Following this, we both took part in a planned 30-minute cycle. She rode at her normal saddle height while I rode with an increased saddle height of 1cm above my normal (to replicate the methods of the studies above).

As you can see, the 30-minute cycle did increase both of our leg lengths by 0.5 and 1cm, however, when looking at our overall height, surprisingly my partner’s height did not change and mine actually decreased from 182m to 181cm.

While both of our leg lengths increased, this was not a significant change from our initial leg length (account for less than a 1% change in our initial leg length in each case.) It is interesting that both our heights remained the same or even decreased. I’ll be taking a look into this in more detail in the “Does cycling decrease height” section below.

Did cycling increase my height over the long term?

As a regular cyclist, I also thought it would be interesting to track my height over a more prolonged period of time. During a regular month of cycling, I tracked the changes in my height compared to my baseline (181cm) and compared this to the time I had spent cycling each week.

As you can see, over a 1 month period of cycling my height fluctuated between 181 and 182 cm. Overall my final height was 1cm taller than my starting height however this appears to be within my normal range, and the cycling appeared to have a minimal impact.

Certainly, within different weeks of monitoring my height, it appeared that there was no correlation between my amount of cycling and my height.

In my experience, cycling seemed to have no significant impact on my height in the short or long term.

So why do people think that cycling increases your height?

So if there is so little research or evidence that cycling will increase your height, why do so many people seem to think that it does?

The answer may come down to a selection bias. Many of the cyclists we see on TV taking part in cycling events are often taller than the average person. For example, Michael Schar, who took part in the 2021 Tour De France, comes in at 198cm (20cm taller than the average for a man).

Seeing so many tall professional cyclists may lead people to believe that it is the cycling making them tall, rather than realizing that the fact that they were tall in the first place, may have helped them to become good cyclists.

Being taller often means you have more lean muscle mass and power, this can be very beneficial when cycling as these muscles are what help to propel you and the bike along, especially during inclines.

Taller cyclists have also been shown to have a better pedaling technique, which can have a huge impact on speed and cycling efficiency.

On top of all of this, the physique of many professional cyclists is that of a lean fit athlete, this lean body type may actually make the cyclists appear taller than they are and help to increase the idea that cyclists are made tall by cycling.

Does cycling decrease height?

In reality, cycling can actually cause you to become shorter than you were when you started!

The position you sit in as you cycle can lead to a poor posture, this can be especially bad if you are using drop handlebars or cycling in a more urban environment.

This posture change can result in you leaning over more as you stand straight and make you appear shorter than you actually are.

On top of this cycling can result in over-training of certain muscle groups around your buttocks called the glutes. These are attached around your bum and lower back, and if not trained properly can result in lower back pain.

This may also have an impact on your posture and result in a more “hunched appearance”, again making you look shorter than you are.

Fortunately, both of these can be overcome by ensuring you take steps to work on your posture, for example through regular stretches or yoga.

Including other exercises like yoga can also be helpful as this will also work the other muscles in your lower back and legs, allowing them to grow more evenly and therefore having less chance of causing you backache.

You should also make sure to take a conscious effort while riding and walking to focus on your posture.

Overall

As you can see, there appears to be little or no evidence that cycling can help to increase your height once you have passed puberty.

In fact, cycling may actually decrease your overall height through poor posture created from the position you cycle in.

However, before puberty has ended, the growth hormone changes in your body may be enough to impact your final height in adulthood.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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