This begs the question: Does playing basketball make you taller, or does competitive basketball naturally select for taller athletes because of the advantage it gives them during play?
This is an especially interesting question if you’re looking to add a few inches to your height.
Unfortunately, for those looking to increase their height, no evidence to date suggests that basketball — or any form of exercise — plays a statistically significant role in increasing your maximum height.
Your maximum potential height is primarily determined by genetics, with environmental factors like nutrition during childhood and adolescence playing a secondary role in determining how close you get to your genetic height potential.
The good news is that despite the lack of effect on height, playing basketball offers a host of other benefits that make it an excellent activity for youth and adults alike.
This article breaks down everything you need to know about basketball and increasing your height.
No scientific evidence supports the idea basketball increases your height, and this lack of evidence is not due to a lack of research.
The sport of basketball has been around for a while, and plenty of research has analyzed its effects on physical parameters.
For example, a recent study looked at the effects of 10 weeks of basketball training on youth anthropometric and physiological characteristics. It observed improvements in lean body mass, jump height, grip strength, and other athletic performance (1).
Additional research on adults found that recreational basketball improved various health metrics, such as blood pressure and body fat percentages, after several months of play (2).
Although these specific studies were not specifically meant to assess changes in height, any theoretical height increases would have been noted, as this data was collected from participants.
The point is that basketball is not an understudied sport, so it’s fairly safe to assume that any research on basketball and height would be well published and publicized.
You can further assess the potential effect of basketball and height by breaking down the sport’s athletic movements and looking for research on whether these activities have the potential to increase height.
Basketball as a sport relies heavily on the following movements, all of which have been well studied for their effects on human physiology:running and sprintingjumpingchanges of directionoverhead tossingchest passing
If you expand your search to studies that have looked at these athletic skills, there’s still a lack of evidence supporting height gains from training programs incorporating exercises in these categories.
Although scientific discoveries can always change the potential evidence supporting the causes and effects of various exercise programs, no evidence supports basketball or any other physical activity intervention as a means to increase height.
There’s no evidence that basketball or any physical activity has a positive effect on maximum height.
Independent of athletic activity’s lack of effect on height, maximum height and the factors that affect it have been very well studied.
Growth in height is driven by bones growing in length. This process occurs throughout childhood and adolescence.
Bone elongation occurs at the epiphyseal growth plates, which are cartilaginous structures located on the ends of many different bones in children.
The greatest increases in height occur primarily during infancy and again during the pubertal growth spurt.
Toward the end of adolescence and early adulthood, the growth plates harden, and further growth in the length of bones ceases.
Note that it’s still possible to increase bone width and density via a proper exercise and nutrition program. Improving bone density is beneficial for your health, strength, and longevity, but it does not influence your overall height.
The overwhelming body of research on height shows that genetics plays a 60–95% determining role in maximum adult height (3).
Proper nutrition during childhood and adolescence fills in the final determining factor.
Adequate nutrition ensures that you reach your full genetic potential, but you cannot exceed your genetic maximum, which is predetermined at birth.
The same body of research suggests that malnutrition, which can include being either underweight or obese as a child, can decrease your ultimate height as an adult (4, 5).
If nutritional intake is insufficient during youth development, the body prioritizes vital functions and diverts the key nutrients away from bone elongation growth.
If your goal is to maximize the height of your children, ensuring they consume enough of a wide variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods while limiting junk food is your best bet.
Once again, the limiting cutoff is their genetically programmed maximal height.
When it comes to increasing your height as an adult, there’s no scientifically proven method to do so.
Maximal height is genetically determined but can be stunted during childhood by inadequate nutritional intake. It’s impossible to increase your height in adulthood.
Although basketball will not increase your height, it’s an immensely beneficial activity for youth and adults alike.
The scientific benefits of basketball and its associated athletic skills have been well studied and include the following (6, 7, 8):increased maximal oxygen uptakeimproved time to exhaustion during physical activityimproved lean body massimproved bone mineral densitydecreased mean blood pressuredecreased body fat percentagedecreased resting heart rateimproved upper- and lower-body explosive strengthimproved coordination in both able-bodied and disabled athletes
In general, participation in physical activities delivers a host of benefits.
Given that basketball includes both cardiovascular training as well as plyometric, explosive movements like jumping and passing, playing basketball improves health in several ways.
Additionally, competitive basketball players and serious recreational athletes likely participate in related strength and conditioning to improve basketball performance. This separate training likely compounds the benefits experienced from basketball alone.
Although basketball does not increase maximum height, it offers many health and performance benefits.
While there’s no evidence that basketball increases your height, you may still be unconvinced when looking at the rosters of elite basketball teams.
This boils down to correlation versus causation.
Since basketball requires players to out jump one another for scoring, blocking, and recovering the ball, taller players have a distinct advantage.
For the same jumping ability, a taller player will reach a greater maximum height.
While a shorter player may be able to compensate for their height by increasing their vertical jump, there’s a practical limit to how much higher you can jump once you’re already an elite athlete.
An elite player with a height disadvantage of 6 or more inches (about 15 or more cm) compared with a similarly skilled player will have an exceedingly difficult time overcoming the physical discrepancy.
For proof of this fact, consider this 2020 statistical evaluation of elite basketball players. It found that teams with greater average player heights consistently outperformed teams with shorter average heights (9).
This was true on both a team level and individual player level, with taller players consistently outperforming shorter players.
As such, coaches selecting players for elite teams will likely favor taller players because, on average, these players will perform better.
Since players are selected on a performance basis, the ultimate result will be that elite basketball team rosters have players who are substantially taller than the average person.
It may be tempting to assume that the years of play required to even try out for an elite team might have influenced the players’ height. Nevertheless, there’s simply no evidence to support this.
Taller basketball players outperform shorter players, on average, leading to elite basketball team rosters having much greater average heights than the general population.
Although basketball is an overall healthy activity and fairly low-risk sport, there are a few considerations to note when it comes to height and bone growth in youth populations.
Because basketball involves jumping, cutting movements, and the potential for falls and fractures, care must be taken to minimize fracture risks and properly address any fractures that occur.
Research on long bone fractures in children reveals that upward of a third of fractures result in damage to the growth plate (10).
When effectively managed and treated, youth can often fully recover with little to no long-term damage.
In the event of improper treatment, damage to growth plates can stunt or halt growth regarding the overall length of bones.
Growth plate damage can cause a number of problems related to a reduction in maximum height, including the risk of limbs being different lengths.
To avoid this, ensure that any bone fractures sustained during the growing years are promptly assessed and treated by a medical professional.
Another preemptive measure to avoid the risk is ensuring that your child’s youth sports coach fully understands the risks and safety protocols when it comes to youth athletic activities.
During certain stages of growth, the plates are more susceptible to damage, and certain forms of exercise may be contraindicated.
A coach certified to work with youth populations will be very familiar with the ins and outs of safety regarding fractures and plate damage.
Overall, the benefits of youth physical activity, including potentially injurious activity, far outweigh the risks. If proper caution and care are taken both preemptively and following any injury, there’s little risk of stunted growth in youth populations.
For adults, fractures are serious injuries that require varying degrees of medical attention, but they’re not at the same risk of decreased maximal height given that bone length growth is complete in adulthood.
In addition to fractures, basketball has the potential to lead to other soft tissue injuries like sprains and strains.
While these injuries are painful and temporarily debilitating, they do not pose a serious risk of decreased maximal height.
Among youth, proper preemptive and post-injury care should be taken to minimize growth plate damage risk. Adults are not at risk of decreased height from injuries, and the overall benefits of basketball outweigh the risks among both youth and adults.
Although there’s no scientifically proven method to increase height beyond genetic capacity nor following the hardening of epiphyseal plates, a number of exercise programs and dietary supplements claim to make you taller.
Generally, the only risk of exercise programs aimed at increased height is that they will not work, at least when it comes to height.
The programs may be beneficial for other fitness goals, but be wary of any positive claims about exercise making you taller.
When it comes to supplements, you should practice even more caution. There is no evidence that supplements can increase the height of an adult.
Furthermore, the supplement industry is not regulated, and you run the risk of taking supplements with unverified, untested, or tainted ingredients.
The best-case scenario for height-improving supplements is that they do not work and are a waste of money.
In the worst case, you run the risk of taking potentially harmful ingredients, particularly when you do not know the specific amounts of each component in a supplement blend.
Exercise programs and supplements claiming to increase height are unproven and unlikely to have the intended effect. Always exercise caution when taking any dietary supplement and consult your healthcare provider in advance.
You may strive to increase your height for any number of reasons, including sports performance and general aesthetics.
Given that basketball players tend to be tall, you might assume that basketball can help increase maximal height.
Unfortunately, no evidence suggests that basketball or any other physical activity increases your maximal height. The same is true for supplements and any other tricks marketed to increase your height.
Height is determined primarily by genetic factors and secondarily by nutrition during childhood and adolescence.
By the time you reach adulthood, your bone growth plates close and further increases in height are biologically impossible.
Great basketball players are taller, on average, because height gives players a distinct advantage on the court. Accordingly, team selections consistently favor tall individuals.
The good news is that playing basketball and participating in similar physical activities offer a wide range of benefits for both health and athletic performance.
Do not be discouraged by the fact that you cannot increase your height.
You can still be a healthy, thriving individual and increase your performance in basketball and other sports through consistent participation and training.