Young elite gymnasts acquire more femoral located bone mass because of their intense workouts, which stunt their growth and delay puberty. A study conducted by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism proves that with excessive, impactful workouts, gymnasts gain significantly more amounts of bone mineral density than swimming and other low impact sports. The effects of this only happen to gymnasts who train 20-24 hours a week, not to those who spend less.
Normal vs high bone density
This is one of the causes of elite gymnasts begin smaller than average. In fact, the tallest female olympic gymnast is Svetlana Khorkina, at 5’5”, which is only one inch above the average height for women.
Along with that, most gymnasts’ bone age and tanner stages are significantly lower than other children their age. The average age for a girl to get her period is 12 years old, but the average year that an elite gymnast gets her period is about 14.4 years old.
On the bright side, gymnasts who have gained peak femoral bone density are less susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
However, this is not the only reason why gymnasts are usually short. A small body makes it easier for gymnasts to flip and turn. Therefore, gymnasts who are taller typically have a harder time, especially when they get to an elite level.
In conclusion, the reason why elite gymnasts are smaller than the average human is because excessive, impactful workouts, cause gymnasts to gain more femoral bone density which stunts growth, and gymnasts who are smaller are more likely to succeed.