Intensive training at a young age may adversely affect the growth and sexual maturation of female athletes, resulting in compromised adult stature.
Purpose: To compare the somatic growth, sexual maturation, and final adult height of elite adolescent female athletes.
Methods: Serial measures of height, sitting height, and breast and pubic hair development were taken on 81 gymnasts, 60 swimmers, and 81 tennis players between 8 and 19 yr of age. Menarcheal age, parental heights, maternal menarcheal age, and number of training hours were also recorded. Final adult heights were obtained from a subsample of the athletes (N = 110).
Results: Gymnasts were significantly shorter than tennis players and swimmers at all chronological ages during adolescence, and they attained menarche at an older age (P < 0.05). No significant differences were found in adult heights. During adolescence, no difference were found in standing height to sitting height ratios, leg length to standing height ratios, or sitting height to leg length ratios between sports (P > 0.05).
Conclusion: The results from this study suggest that regular training did not affect final adult stature and that, when aligned by biological age, the tempo of sexual maturation was similar in these young athletes.